Big Match

Football: Manchester City must execute game plan to perfection in must-win game against Liverpool

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has called Liverpool the best team in Europe. It could be a genuine belief, because after Liverpool lost 5-0 at the Etihad Stadium last season, they beat City three times.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has called Liverpool the best team in Europe. It could be a genuine belief, because after Liverpool lost 5-0 at the Etihad Stadium last season, they beat City three times.PHOTO: AFP

Guardiola must get Man City to execute game plan to perfection, Silva and Fernandinho will be key

The Champions League final is on June 1. The English Premier League final, if Pep Guardiola is right, is on Jan 3. The Manchester City manager has claimed the title race is "over and finished" if his side drop points tonight.

Perhaps it is realism, perhaps rhetoric. As Guardiola seeks to exact revenge on the side who ended City's unbeaten start last season by securing a role reversal, his strategy will revolve around the tactical.

First, however, he has concentrated on the psychological.

The Catalan has called Liverpool the best team in Europe. It could be a genuine belief, because after Liverpool lost 5-0 at the Etihad Stadium last season, they beat City three times.

Maybe he is hoping Jurgen Klopp will be susceptible to death by flattery. Maybe Unai Emery thought the same when he said Liverpool could be "Invincibles", and his Arsenal lost 5-1 at Anfield.

Yet the more significant game plan will come on the pitch.

Klopp's blueprint against Guardiola has been clear, with pressing high up the pitch and quick breaks to catch the City manager's teams on the counter-attack. But, as Liverpool do not need to win, Klopp may defend deeper than usual, as he did in April's Champions League quarter-final, second-leg tie.

CITY'S TITLE EVEN IF LIVERPOOL WIN 5-0

Even if Liverpool were to beat Manchester City 5-0, I would still have Guardiola's men down as my title favourites. I know Klopp doesn't believe Liverpool's lack of title-winning experience counts against them but I'm not so sure. City know how to close out a season and they're capable of doing it.

STAN COLLYMORE, former Liverpool striker, on why he tips Manchester City to retain their title.

SHOCK IF CITY BEAT REDS

This might sound silly, but I would be shocked if City won this game. They look all over the place at the back. I just can't see how they can stop Liverpool from scoring goals. As the game goes on, I just don't see how Liverpool don't go on to win it.

PAUL MERSON, former Arsenal midfielder, on why he can't see City beating leaders Liverpool.

CONFIDENT IT'S LIVERPOOL'S TITLE

City has all the ingredients and experience to overtake Liverpool. But, at this time, I think if Liverpool win that game, I don't see anyone catching them. They're so good and they're doing it with a lot of confidence. I think that's key.

MARIO MELCHIOT, former Chelsea defender, tipping Liverpool to win their first league title since 1990.

So the onus lies with Guardiola to disrupt a rearguard so resilient it has been breached only eight times this term.

It may include tinkering with his team with a surprise selection although, as he said before victory at Southampton ended a losing run, his answer to adversity is working harder and executing better.

The principles stay the same. Guardiola's are based around dominance of the ball and, with or without Kevin de Bruyne, midfield is the one department where City definitely boast the superior personnel.

City will have more of the ball but, as their three losses to Liverpool last season came with 64, 66 and 68 per cent of possession respectively, that guarantees nothing.

So there are a couple of key elements as to how they use the ball, and they both revolve around the same man: can David Silva thread passes through the Liverpool defence? Can Silva emerge unchecked in the box to meet the cutbacks from the wingers?

Then City, who have been profligate of late, must be clinical: they have had 37 shots in their last three meetings with Liverpool and scored just one.

The other half of the job falls to Fernandinho, another who started neither the Crystal Palace nor Leicester defeats, to halt Liverpool's counter-attacks, whether by fair or foul means.

Yet as City conceded more goals in December than Liverpool have all season, it still requires better defending when the back four are called upon. City's shortcomings have been exposed in the last month. Now they must find Liverpool's to defend their crown.

MAN CITY V LIVERPOOL

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League is not won in January: Klopp

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 03, 2019, with the headline 'Solid in defence, clinical in attack'. Print Edition | Subscribe