My thoughts on Liverpool v Man City.
- Liverpool lined up with a 4-3-3. Suarez in the middle with Sterling left and Borini right. Kolarov left wing back and Milner right wing back again.
- MCI surprisingly played their “plan B” 3-4-1-2 formation. Since this only had space for one central attacking midfielder, they chose Nasri over Silva who possibly is still a little tired. Tevez and Balotelli up front. This didn’t make sense to me from the start as this pitted 3 center backs against 3 mobile strikers without a spare defender to mop up, and stuff did happen.
- City were presumably trying to overload the flanks with their two free wing backs and score from crosses. This produced little, apart from Kelly making an awful mistake dealing with one of the crosses putting it on a plate for Yaya.
- On the other hand, City had weakened their central midfield – there were now only three men in the middle as opposed to the usual four when they play their narrow 4-2-2-2 with Silva and Nasri. Worse still, Nasri is more of a threat but far less of a passing playmaker than Silva, and was uninvolved. Hence it often felt like City were playing with two in midfield against three or more for Liverpool – exactly the same problem Newcastle had against Chelsea yesterday when they lost.
- Liverpool dominated central midfield with Allen deep, Gerrard quite deep and Shelvey surprisingly advanced and taking loads of shots. Shelvey was only on because of Lucas’ early injury but offered plenty of vertical movement in midfield and ball-winning energy. He may not be as bad as I thought. If Lucas is out for a while, he may be worth a look.
- Because Liverpool dominated central midfield they could supply the mobile front three, whose movement was brilliant and passing is improving. Sterling, after an impressive preseason, delivered with a superb game – I think this was his debut in the starting XI in the Prem and he is a possible legend in the making. Superb dribbling and general threat, if he cements a place alongside Suarez they could rip defences to shreds. Borini did his job well although still lacks a lethal edge.
- Gerrard got two assists for me, which chuffs me but I am keeping my head screwed on. This is the conundrum – he isn’t playing very advanced at all. His role is almost identical to his role for England – crosser, midfield metronome, set pieces, long shots. This is reinforced by both assists coming from set pieces. One was a superb cross from a corner, the other a bit jammy – a Suarez free kick he won because someone handled his long shot. I hate to oversimplify by using the comparison of another player again, but it helps you get the picture – I’d say Gerrard is playing the Beckham role. He’s not in the hole and rarely involved around the box. The question is basically whether his crosses and long shots are worth 9.5m, and I’m leaning towards no.
- City forwards definitely play wide in the 3-4-1-2 system, running into the corners to interchange with fullbacks and cross – as shown by Tevez’ assist.
- Mancini waited a long time to fix his midfield. The first thing he did was sub off the uninvolved Nasri for Rodwell – a classic Mancini move that allowed Yaya to get forward while De Jong and Rodwell covered him. This culminated in his fortunate goal in the box due to Kelly failing to deal with Tevez’ cross.
- The second thing Mancini did was sub Silva on for Milner. Silva drifted central as usual, made more passes than Nasri, was more involved and helped City compete in midfield.
- I am not sure Mancini will be too keen to repeat this 3-4-1-2 experiment without doing it differently next time. He may also think twice about playing Nasri ahead of Silva in this system. Nasri paid off against Chelsea in the Community Shield, but he could get away with it after Chelsea went down to 10 men. If they go back to 4-2-2-2 I can see both Silva and Nasri starting regularly of course.
- Ones to watch: Sterling, Shelvey (pending Lucas injury), Suarez
- Ones to be concerned about – Nasri, Balotelli, City defence, Liverpool defence (you surely don’t own any?)
- Ones to agonize about: Gerrard