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Manchester City are Brilliant: So Where Can Liverpool Find an Edge?

Liverpool and City are both Very Good at Football. Now what?

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Manchester City’s Spanish manager Pep Guardiola reacts during the English FA cup quarter-final football match between Southampton and Manchester City at St Mary’s Stadium in Southampton, Southern England on March 20, 2022. 
Manchester City’s Spanish manager Pep Guardiola reacts during the English FA cup quarter-final football match between Southampton and Manchester City at St Mary’s Stadium in Southampton, Southern England on March 20, 2022. 
Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images

Liverpool, like Manchester City, are a very good football team. This should therefore be a match — like most* of the recent league meetings — decided on the narrowest of margins.

Talking about tactical strategies at this level can be a bit daft given that we lack the level of analysis and the knowledge that exists in both football camps. Let’s do a bit of that, but mostly, because we can, speculate a bit instead!

Manchester City and Liverpool are very similar statistically. Both are world class teams, though both are slightly underperforming in certain areas when compared to each other. Their differences in things like chance creation and xG/shot are quite comparable, and while Liverpool have given up more chances over the course of the season, City have been giving up slightly more lately (and slightly better ones) than previously (and we can always quibble about chances against Liverpool that might have gone offside had they been scored). City look like they can be got at, not the least because of their injury-forced changes at the back this season, compared to previous seasons.

This is a match that could go either way. Obviously it will depend on the specific nature of the game itself, but ahead of the match anyone could see a world that contains any result: Liverpool win, draw, or defeat. These teams are just so good that very little separates them.

Something that we might not consider, and that might give Liverpool an edge, however, is mentality.

The continued concentration on new and creative methods for managing mentality at Liverpool have been written about in-depth, with this season focused on the penalty-taking and other individualized mental concentration work from Neuro 11. While all clubs in the contemporary era treat player mental health and mentality seriously, Liverpool’s focus on creative and cutting edge approaches is notable, and far less is written about such tactics at Manchester City.

Furthermore, the Reds have kept experienced elder players on the books (like James Milner, for example), while Manchester City have let their cool older heads (namely Vincent Kompany) go.

We all have no insider knowledge, and thus all of our assessments are speculation, but I can’t help but notice in Manchester City’s dropped-points matches that their in-game mentality seems like it would be a worry. While City player’s don’t lose their cool in the “foolishly red carded off” kind of way, the frustrations that have come with their recent dip in clinical finishing and the resulting loss of points does seem to affect some players in games.

They certainly think their own players can be got at, since away allocation has been limited for this match. Regardless, we can back the away fans to create a hostile pocket of noise despite being limited in size.

But what does this mean for Liverpool as a team?

Well, first we might expect that specific mental preparations are in place for this match on our end. Remaining cool regardless of what happens in the match is important. Liverpool have at times suffered lapses of concentration in recent matches, and can afford none of these at City.

The Reds’ style of play might also help: harrying Manchester City on the ball, especially trying to frustrate and limit central passing connections to creative outlets like Phil Foden and Kevin De Bruyne, will be pivotal. Manchester City are used to having their way in matches, and targeted intensity will be key to disrupting City’s passing rhythms.

Some gamesmanship would be nice as well. Liverpool are many things, but rarely a team that surrounds a referee to complain about a decision. In Manchester City, however, they face a side with a pivotal player — Rodri — seemingly impervious to yellow cards despite often making challenges that are arguably textbook yellows. Getting Rodri the yellow he will likely deserve as early as possible would be a brilliant thing for the Reds, and that might well require the Liverpool captain, whoever he is on the day, to make sure Anthony Taylor is aware of consistent challenges.

If we believe that Manchester City can be got at mentally, some harmless snideness might be useful as well. We certainly had that against the likes of Barcelona when we needed a result at Anfield, so there’s no reason to think that it wouldn’t be possible here.

The main plan for beating City will certainly be looking for small margins in approach (including set plays) to gain a narrow edge, but that’s not to say Liverpool shouldn’t also rely on what could be a second, softer, advantage: mentality.

*note that the matches that weren’t close in the league are informed by context: (1) early red card for Sadio Mané for nearly sheering off Ederson’s face/performing a neck tattoo removal; (2) the match immediately following us winning the league in 2019/20.

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