Liverpool FC: Five Keys to Victory vs Manchester City
Coming off the back of a 2-1 victory over a floundering Chelsea team last Sunday at Stamford Bridge, Liverpool welcome rampant league leaders Manchester City to Anfield in what will certainly provide the sternest test of Kenny Dalglish's rebuild team to date.
City have been in incredible form in the league this season, dropping only two points and sweeping aside opponent after opponent with some of the best attacking football seen in the Premier League since the Arsenal invincibles.
Liverpool, for their part, are in the midst of a nine match unbeaten run and have beaten Arsenal and Chelsea away from home this season and drawn at home to Manchester United in a match they deserved to win. Liverpool have raised their performances against the top teams but struggled to beat the lesser teams. Recent home draws with Norwich and Swansea have shown that they still have a lot of work to do if they wish to mount a serious challenge for a top four position.
Liverpool are certainly capable of winning this match but they must be smart tactically. They need to play a certain way to maximize their chances and marginalize City's effectiveness.
The Reds recent record against City at Anfield is certainly impressive but this Manchester City team, with Silva, Aguero, Balotelli and Dzeko all in fantastic form this season, are a much different proposition.
Liverpool must stop City's key men and make sure that their own key men perform at the height of their ability if they are to win this match.
With that in mind, here are five keys to victory for the Reds in the showcase match of this Premier League weekend.
1. Quick Movement of the Ball
Pass and move. It's a very simple theory which has reaped incredible rewards for Liverpool over the past five decades. When Kenny Dalglish returned as manager last season he got the team playing "The Liverpool Way" and Liverpool fans, young and old, began to believe that the good days were coming back.
This season however, pass and move has rarely been seen. Liverpool have become a far more predictable and methodical team and this is mainly due to the new signings in my opinion. Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing are capable footballers, but neither are particularly adept at first time passing and clever movement. Jordan Henderson is certainly capable of playing the Liverpool way, but he has thus far found himself wasted in a right wing role which isn't suited to his skillset.
Lucas Leiva, despite his high passing success percentage is another who is very slow to move the ball on and takes too many unnecessary touches. Lucas must learn the art of winning the ball and immediately releasing it to a team-mate because his slow methodical play isn't conducive to fast counter attacking football, or to pass and move. Both of which are traditional Liverpool styles of play.
For Liverpool to be effective against City and break down their defence, the ball must be moved quickly and intelligently with wingers and fullbacks dovetailing, the strikers interchanging and the central midfielders not dallying on the ball.
2. Defend in Numbers
If you look at the one to one match-ups between Liverpool and Manchester City they do not make good reading for a Liverpool fan. City have the individual players to cause Liverpool major problems while Liverpool really only have two match winners in the current line-up, Luis Suarez and Craig Bellamy.
For Liverpool to have success in this game, the defence must hold up to the pressure they will undoubtedly be put under and the key to that is defending in numbers. Liverpool can not allow their defenders to be isolated one on one with City's attackers.
Lucas and Adam are going to be important here as they are going to have to defend from touchline to touchline, something they have failed to do on a number of occasions this season. They must not allow City too much time and space in wide positions and they can't allow Johnson and Enrique to be left alone with no support.
As well as Lucas and Adam, the Liverpool wingers are going to have to double up with the fullbacks because City's fullbacks will almost certainly spend the majority of the game overlapping and trying to create two on one match-ups on the wings.
Dirk Kuyt will run all day, that we know. If he's selected to start then he's got to stop City's leftback, be it Clichy or Kolarov, from getting forward too often, likewise whoever is selected on the left wing for Liverpool must stop Micah Richards and can't allow Jose Enrique to be left trying to deal with Milnar and Richards by himself.
3. Deny David Silva the Ball
David Silva is the best player in the Premier League. He is the key to everything good that City do and has really proven himself to be incredible value for money for the Eastlands Billionaires.
While stopping Silva doesn't necessarily stop City, it does make them less effective and less efficient. Silva's ability to drop into space and play a killer pass has seen numerous teams put to the sword by Roberto Mancini's charges this season.
If Liverpool don't want their name added to the list of teams that have received a hammering from City, they need to stop Silva playing. The best way to do this is simply to deny him the ball.
While it's all well and good letting him get the ball and then trying to close him down and force him into unfavourable positions, it doesn't really work. Silva has incredible ball control and is surprisingly strong for a man so small. He's more than capable of holding off a defender, working a foot of space and then leaving said defender standing while he takes the ball clear and sets up another attack.
Liverpool need to stop the ball from getting to Silva. That means that whoever is nearest to him has to be fully aware of his movement and try to intercept the ball before it gets to him.
As I said above, stopping Silva doesn't necessarily mean Liverpool will stop City, it will give certainly give them a better chance than if they allow him to dictate the game.
4. Pressure Pressure Pressure
While Liverpool would be badly served to go out and attempt to attack Manchester City by playing a wide open game, they also can't afford to sit too deep and allow City too much possession in the middle of the pitch.
Liverpool must press City high up the field and try to break up their opponents attacks before they reach the final third. Allowing City to set up camp in the middle of the pitch and launch attack after attack on the Liverpool backline will lead to disaster.
Charlie Adam and Lucas Leiva are going to be key to Liverpool's defensive security in this match. On far too many occasions this season they have found themselves outplayed by opponents midfields and while Liverpool have allowed the fewest amounts of shots on target this season, they have allowed far too many shots on goal in total.
Last weekend Chelsea had seventeen shots at the Liverpool goal and only a combination of bad finishing and some fantastic defending by Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger prevented Pepe Reina from having to do a lot of work.
Manchester City possess the best midfield in the Premier League and that is what has set them apart from the rest of the pack this season. Liverpool can not allow the City midfield to control the game or they will find themselves in trouble.
Adam and Lucas need to apply pressure on City's midfield pairing of Yaya Toure and Nigel DeJong or Gareth Barry from the off and force them to make mistakes.
In front of them, Suarez and Bellamy will be asked to pressurize Kompany and Lescott and not allow them to play the ball out of defence. While there are very few certainties in football, there's not doubt that they will do just that.
Regardless of who plays on the wings and in the fullback spots for Liverpool, they also need to keep the pressure on. If City are allowed time on the ball, they will tear Liverpool apart, particularly with their widemen and overlapping fullbacks. This is particularly important for Glen Johnson who is likely to find himself up against David Silva, and Maxi Rodriguez or Stewart Downing who will be charged with stopping Micah Richards rampaging runs.
5. Get the Ball in to Luis Suarez's Feet
It's hardly rocket science. Luis Suarez is Liverpool's best and most important player. If they are to beat Manchester City, then Suarez needs to be involved in the play as often as possible.
The important part of getting the ball to Suarez is how Liverpool get it to him. I feel the best way to get him involved and maximize his effectiveness is to get the ball into his feet in space, allowing him to turn and run at the Manchester City defence.
While Suarez will fight for every ball, Liverpool have too often been guilty of playing long balls in behind defences for him to chase. That's not his natural game and forces him to expend too much energy that would better put to use with the ball at his feet.
Suarez owns the quickest feet in the Premier League. By that I mean he has the ability to shift the ball from one foot to the other and back again in small spaces, and in doing so leave defenders looking rather silly.
By his incredibly high standards he had a quiet game last weekend at Stamford Bridge in Liverpool's win over Chelsea but he still worked his socks off and played a part in Liverpool's opening goal.
Liverpool will need Suarez at his brilliant best if they are to trouble a City defence which, when at full strength, has been very impressive this season. It is my belief that to get the best out of him Craig Bellamy, Maxi Rodriguez and either Dirk Kuyt or Jordan Henderson must start in the attacking roles for the Reds alongside the Uruguayan.
With all things considered, I see this as Liverpool's most difficult game of the season to date. My heart, of course, says Liverpool win this game and they are capable of doing so.
However, taking into account Liverpool's less than inspiring home form, and City's dominant away performances against other top six teams this season, I think a draw would be a good result for the men in Red.
I'll go for a 2-2 draw with Luis Suarez and Craig Bellamy scoring for the Reds, and a Mario Balotelli brace for City giving them a share of the spoils.
For a preview of what the Liverpool starting eleven might look like, check out Jake Rodd's recent article which can be found here, and for balanced match previews have a look at Peter Webster's article here as well as the latest from Thomas Atzenhoffer here.
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