Did Jürgen Klopp Get His Tactics Wrong Against Manchester City?
For the second time this season, Liverpool and Manchester City played out a 2-2 stalemate in the Premier League. Neither side were capable of snatching all three points despite their best efforts, with the draw ensuring the title race is in Pep Guardiola’s hands, should both sides win all the remaining game’s — clinching the league by a single point. It’s a title race redolent of the 2018-19 season, where fine margins defined an exhilarating end to the campaign, and regardless of the result at the Etihad, you get the sense there are still some big moments in store before we reach a thrilling conclusion.
It was a game where City had the better chances — Kevin De Bruyne put his side ahead after a frantic start, and even when Diogo Jota pulled his side level eight minutes later, the hosts were still in the ascendancy and there was a sense of inevitability when Gabriel Jesus’s well-timed finish at the back post put his side ahead before the interval.
Liverpool looked nervous but responded well following a dressing down. Their casual approach to defending and transitioning through the thirds had changed, and Sadio Mané quickly grabbed an equaliser with a clever strike across Ederson, who never really recovered from an almost fatal blunder in the first half.
You’d think Liverpool would then stamp their authority on the game, but City looked like a side possessed and had it not been for a matter of inches, Riyad Mahrez would have put his side four clear and in the driving seat to retain their title.
While some Liverpool fans will be breathing a sigh of relief that they went back down the M62 with a valuable point, with context you wonder if Jürgen Klopp could have approached the game differently.
Liverpool’s exploits in Europe, as well as their rematch with City in the FA Cup meant their squad has been pushed to its limits, and while they possess admirable squad depth, especially in attacking positions, you do wonder if his squad selection could have made a difference in a game that was so hard to call amongst the football betting markets.
Klopp went with his tried and tested back four, with the safety net of Fabinho in front of them, and while Trent Alexander-Arnold hadn’t started in the league since the away win against Arsenal, the Reds have kept 17 clean sheets but found themselves overloaded at times. Thiago was the difference maker in midfield — the Spaniard was comfortable in possession and allowed others to play through a relentless City press, which unsettled even Virgil van Dijk at times, such was the hosts ability to cut passing lanes and create turnovers.
The front three is where most questions were asked. Mohammed Salah is capable of creating something out of nothing and despite his poor form in front of goal since the Africa Cup of Nations, his assist demonstrated the Egyptian’s underlying quality.
Luis Díaz is in red-hot form after his goal against Benfica earlier in the week and his pace could have caused Kyle Walker more issues. The right back has figured out the strengths of Mané after their battles over the years and Díaz, who has added a new dimension to Liverpool’s already impressive attack, could have made the difference had he been introduced from the start.
For Klopp though, the quadruple dream is still alive, and while not entirely satisfied that his side failed to win, appeared content with a draw considering the magnitude of the occasion. “It was like a boxing fight. Both arms down for a second and you get a massive knock and you shake a little,” he said. “Then the next knock is coming from the other team.”
“It was a great game and a result we have to live with and can live with.
“What a game. Wild. The intensity of the game was crazy. It was two heavyweights, chomping at each other.”