As alluded to in my preview, Roberto Mancini's unorthodox 3-5-2 met Brendan Rodgers' controlling 4-3-3, resulting in a tussle for possession and some interesting individual battles.
Here's how the two teams lined up.
*Lucas Leiva, subbed after three minutes, is not included on the diagram.
Manchester City's Game Plan
For the first 15 minutes, Rodgers' side had difficulty figuring out how to deal with City's 3-5-2. Mancini's men were creating plenty of passing triangles all over the pitch and servicing the wing-backs, James Milner and Aleksandr Kolarov, very well indeed.
The pitch was wide, Liverpool were stretched and, to add insult to injury, Lucas limped off after three minutes.
The chart shows City's passing trends inside that opening period, and a large amount of them were intended for or landed in wide areas. Milner received 10 passes on the touchline during this period, Kolarov seven and Tevez five.
Rodgers' response was excellent and proved the old managerial tussles still exist on the touchline. Reactive managers make the best ones, and Rodgers' reaction was one of genuine football understanding.
Liverpool sought to cut the supply to the wide areas and create turnovers of possession.
Kolo Toure, playing as the left-sided centre-back in a defensive three, had already completed 18 passes out of 18 by the 20-minute mark, half of which were vertical passes to the wide areas.
Similarly, Pablo Zabaleta, playing as the right-sided centre-back, had managed 16 of 17 passes, almost all of which were attacking and toward the touchline.
Liverpool increased the pressure on the wing-backs and cut out as many passing options for Kolo Toure and Zabaleta as possible. The knock-on effect was positive for the Reds, as Nigel de Jong and Yaya Toure were forced deeper and deeper to collect the ball.
This, in turn, left Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez increasingly isolated, and Samir Nasri triple-marked. Impact upon the game from nearly all City players was limited, and Liverpool overcame a tough start to lead twice during the game.
Attacking City's Wide Areas
Not only did Liverpool learn how to stifle City's attack quickly, they also figured out how to overload the defence and create chances. Credit, again, must go to Rodgers for this.
Milner and Kolarov continually got caught high up the pitch, and Liverpool were able to overload the wide areas through sheer numbers.
Rather than counterattack quickly, which would not have been effective due to City's back three, the Reds sought to build maintained pressure in the wide areas, eventually sucking the Citizens' back three across the pitch and open games.
Take this diagram as an example:
*City's back three still has some learning to do with regard to positional transitions in the wide areas.
Johnson draws Milner back, and Raheem Sterling draws Kolo Toure out wide into a full-back position. Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta automatically adjust their positions in relation to their now "full-back," meaning Kolarov slots in as an orthodox left-back.
All of a sudden, City are reduced to a flat four defensive line, the midfield is running backwards and Liverpool have two, possibly three in the box. They didn't score from this, but Borini went close when he got in front of Kolarov, and it stretched Mancini's team for the entire game.
City were never comfortable, and Kolo Toure in particular diminished severely throughout.
Solid from Liverpool, worrying for City. Anfield is a hard place to perform, but the loss of Sergio Aguero is painfully evident when Mario Balotelli isn't on his game.
Liverpool gave the fans a performance to savour and a platform to build upon, but unfortunately for the Reds, the Skrtel giveth, and the Skrtel taketh away.
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