Premier League Tactical Preview: Man City v Liverpool



This Sunday sees Manchester City, who fell further off the pace in the title race in midweek, host Liverpool, who themselves drew 2-2 at The Emirates. Liverpool will of course be disappointed that they couldn't get all three points having dominated long spells of the game, so Brendan Rodgers will hope his side can bounce back and deliver a victory to vindicate the project he has undertaken at Anfield. City, on the other hand, simply cannot afford another slip-up if they are to reclaim their Premier League trophy. City go into the game as big favourites at 1.85 for the win, whilst Liverpool are at 4.25. A draw can be backed at 3.70

Possible line-ups

Liverpool will probably continue with a similar line-up to the one that earnt a point at the Emirates. Jordan Henderson will likely continue in the centre of midfield following another fine performance, while Stewart Downing, Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez will also likely continue up top.

City have had their hand forced at the back: Kolo Toure is at the Africa Cup of Nations and Vincent Kompany is now injured. Javi Garcia started at centre-back against QPR but I'd expect Matija Nastasic to come back into the side alongside Joleon Lescott. Sergio Aguero will likely start behind Edin Dzeko up top.

Midfield battle

The midfield battle will be key. The absence of Yaya Toure is a big blow for City; without him they lose a lot of their dominance in the midfield area. This is especially important considering that none of Lucas, Gerrard or Henderson are even remotely as powerful or dynamic as Yaya. Instead, City will have the less mobile Gareth Barry alongside either Javi Garcia or James Milner. Both players will have to be disciplined to win the ball, given that Liverpool will try and dominate possession in this area. Luis Suarez might also drop off into these areas to effect the play from deep, meaning that Barry and Garcia could have their hands full.

Liverpool might feel confident that they can dominate this area given the form of their midfield trio in recent weeks. Lucas will of course have to do a job in tracking City's central attacking player and is more than capable of doing so: he is Liverpool’s top tackler in the Premier League with 3.9 tackles per game. He is also capable of distributing the ball once he has won it, which is crucial for Liverpool's transitions.

City firing blanks?

City have been less than clinical in front of goal lately, despite having an array of attackers to chose from. They have been struggling to take teams apart of late, as we saw midweek when they drew 0-0 with QPR. Carlos Tevez hasn't scored in eight Premier League games, Aguero has just three in eleven, whilst Dzeko has four in twelve. One of the issues with their attacking play is a lack of variety.

If we observe the average positions of the Man City players for their game against QPR we can see that, of the players who started the game, only the two full backs (5 and 22) play wide. Scott Sinclair (11) came off the bench to add width on the left flank in the second half, but the three attacking midfielders in the line-up are all clustered centrally. Aguero (16) and Tevez (32) are on top of each other whilst Silva (21) is underneath them in that graphic. Nasri (18) is also very central. There is basically no width from the starting players. Silva and Nasri take up very similar positions, drifting inwards, which can lead to overcrowding in the middle. Against Liverpool they will need to address this and play with more fluidity.

This area could be exploited by Liverpool. The lack of width means that Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy will have to be willing runners down the flanks, which in turn will leave gaps in behind. If Liverpool take a direct attacking approach they can cause problems for the City back four. Suarez likes to move into the channels, and his movement might require one of Barry and Garcia to track him.

Conclusion

Liverpool are unlikely to mount a serious bid for a top four finish but wil be keen to demonstrate the improvements they have made under Rodgers. Man City will be desperate for a win; if Man United beat Fulham on Saturday, City will be ten points behind United by the time they kick off against Liverpool. Hopefully this pressure contributes to another interesting game.

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