The "Blue-print" to beat the Sky Blues
On Sunday, they take on Liverpool away at Anfield and going by their performances away at White Hart Lane and Old Trafford, Reds Boss Kenny Dalglish could have a lot of worries to deal with.
However, Manchester City have been far from invincible in their European encounters and that should give Liverpool and the other Premier League rivals some hope.
It must be said that although Manchester City was really placed in a very tough group in the Champions League with Villareal, Napoli and Bayern Munich, bar their performance away at Villareal, they have been pretty ordinary.
Now, this could most probably be down to the tactics of the teams from Europe because teams like Villareal and Napoli are NOT really expensive teams. Yes, they fare internationals from a host of countries but if compared with clubs like Liverpool, there shouldn't be much of a problem.
Liverpool's former manager, Rafa Benitez, on his website has given a pretty elaborate picture of the Champions League fixtures this weekend. In his discussion, he has pointed out that Napoli played a 1-3-4-3 formation, with their key attackers in Hamsik, Cavani and Lavezzi up front—thus causing a lot of problems to City on the counter-attack.
The Napoli central midfield was composed of Gargano and Inler, with the former doing a lot of defensive work too when needed. Besides this, Dossena (a former Red) and Maggio played wide and occasionally dropped off or went forward in attack when the need arose. The fact that Dossena assisted Cavani for the match-winning goal was also ample evidence of the fact that the formation paid off.
Aronica, Cannavaro & Campagnaro made up the three-man defensive unit at the back. Now, it is worth saying that every team has its own strength and weaknesses and that Liverpool should play to their own strength and not really copy a method otherwise alien to them in such a massive matchup.
However, the point here is whether the method is really alien to the Reds and whether they have the personnel to do so or not.
Although teams like Napoli (and in general teams from the Serie A) depend a lot on counter-attack, the lesson that they taught mainly is this: If you have to quieten City, beef up the midfield.
In fact, both Tottenham and Manchester United, who got hammered by the Citizens, played a very attacking lineup with a major focus on attacking through the wings—thus exposing their two-man midfield (Tottenham started with Kranjcar and Modric in the centre and Lennon and Bale on the wings, where as United focused mainly on Nani and Young on the flanks) which City, with players like Nasri, Silva and Yaya Toure, could easily tear apart.
Even teams like Everton, which played a five-man midfield (an ultra-defensive setup) caused more problems to City's attackers than both the top five clubs mentioned above, and the only time Silva came into the match was when Rodwell didn't mark him for a change and the diminutive Spaniard sent through a killer pass to Milner.
Now, Liverpool could easily play Napoli's game with a three-man defense composed of Agger, Skrtel and Enrique and Kuyt and Downing/Henderson on the wings (doing what Dossena and Maggio were doing) with Adam and Lucas doing the dirty work in midfield. Maxi, Suarez and Bellamy could be left to do the attacking.
Even Spearing could be brought into this match I feel at some point to do the dirty defensive work more if either Lucas or Adam tires—although I feel Jay would be tried in the next match against Chelsea, when we won't play our full strength anyway.This could cause a lot of problem to Manchester City. However, the main problems would be in the role of Suarez and Lucas/Adam. Of all the attributes Suarez possesses , scoring through a counter-attack like his compatriot (did in the first leg of their encounter) is not really a specialty.
To compare Gargano also with either Lucas or Adam also may not really be fair, although I think if Adam can live up to his game at Chelsea, he could be as effective and stifle Silva.
On top of this, there could be the added pressure created by Micah Richards (if he plays), who for some very strange reason, wasn't picked in City's do-or-die encounter against Napoli. The English right-back has had many a marauding run into the opposition this season, wreaking havoc.
Yes, playing in the Champions League brings in an added pressure which City weren't really familiar with and maybe that added pressure got the better of both the squad and the manager this time round, but the Premier League may be a different ballgame.
With so much of success in the league, their confidence level would also be expected to be very high when they take on Liverpool on Sunday. However, Napoli has exposed at least some of City's weakness, I believe, and if we do our homework well and take lessons from Spurs and United, if not beaten, Manchester City can definitely be stopped from taking home all three points.
Unlike home matches against Norwich, Swansea and United (who fielded a really weak team then), a draw against City in this form and tempo could well be an achievement.