Alex Keble explains why tactical battles with Newcastle and Tottenham could take the title initiative away from Man City and hand it to Liverpool.
As soon as Liverpool and Manchester City drew 2-2 at the Etihad, attention turned to this weekend’s game at Anfield. Tottenham were widely seen as the toughest opponent left to either club, and indeed there’s a good chance this weekend will be that one; the few days that we consider decisive. But if the momentum at the top of the table should shift, it is more likely to be in favor of Liverpool.
It’s Newcastle United presenting the banana peel, not Spurs.
Eddie Howe’s men have the ability to absorb pressure and slow down games by getting everyone behind the ball, and can do so without falling so deep that they are just waiting to be beaten. Compact form, with aggressive pressure in the middle third of the pitch, is exactly how Crystal Palace and Southampton took points (twice each) from Man City.
In addition, the physical and mental fatigue of The shock elimination of City in the Champions League only makes it more likely that this team’s flaws – and yes, that includes missing out on an absolute number nine – will be stretched out.
Throughout the campaign, Pep Guardiola’s side have at times seemed to be in desperate need of the striker. Any pundits trying to circumvent the all-too-easy analysis City might do with one, and are actually a better team to have a rotating set of false nines, need only remember that Guardiola went to great lengths to get Harry Kane over the summer. He knew that was a problem.
Big weekend: Liverpool v Spurs, Man City, Jesse Marsch, Richarlison, EFL play-offs and final day
And it was clearly against Real Madrid, who should have been easily beaten on both legs given the number of chances created by City. Instead, it’s the team with a clinical, killer striker that continues to sneak through the knockout stages. Back in the Premier League, without a striker, City may be guilty of playing too much in front of the opposition. No one is making smart runs behind or sudden movements in the penalty area for a more direct approach, which helps teams like Southampton, Palace, Tottenham – and possibly Newcastle – move around and keep City at bay. arm.
By doing so from a high position (rather) – leaving some space behind in return for encumbering City’s creative midfielders – these teams don’t risk much. No one is looking to break through a higher defensive line. Newcastle therefore have a decent chance of bringing out the slow version of this City side, and they will be further encouraged by an injury to Kyle Walker, leaving Allan Saint-Maximin to counterattack behind Joao Cancelo. Cancelo tends to come onto the pitch, leaving that side open, but more importantly, he will be beaten one-on-one by Saint-Maximin.
As for Liverpool, after a grueling – and briefly fragile – midweek victory in the Champions League it is possible that they are drained at the wrong time. But despite the fact that Antonio Conte’s tactical preferences are precisely those that leave Liverpool most vulnerable, overall Jurgen Klopp’s relentless machine is unlikely to be stopped on Saturday.
Conte will allow Liverpool to have the majority of the ball, holding his side in a relatively deep block before looking to pounce behind the hosts’ high defensive line. There are two main ways for this pattern to emerge, but arguably in both cases Liverpool hold the advantage.
First, Spurs will be waiting for opportunities to counterattack via their front three. Kane abandons the front line as Heung-Min Son and Dejan Kulusevski make runs beyond, but while that tactic worked in the 3-2 win over Man City, Liverpool have the midfield setup to limit Spurs number nine. Fabinho is a better tracker and anticipator than Rodri, and he receives closer support from Thiago Alcantara and Jordan Henderson than City’s number six; Fabinho can win his one-on-one battle with Kane and keep Spurs out.
Secondly, Conte is looking to create artificial transitions by fading dangerously from behind, encouraging the opposition to press through that first wave and canter into the opposing half. But again, the sheer organizational genius of how Klopp’s team press should stop this at the source. Liverpool’s defense in the final third is better than the passing ability of Rodrigo Bentancur and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, who will be forced to take a more direct route – handing the ball back to Liverpool.
In other words, as long as Liverpool don’t start slowly like they did in the second leg against Villarreal, they will push Spurs straight back – disrupting them too much for the visitors to regularly threaten. Also, Conte’s 3-4-3 will look more like a 5-3-2 when pinned in a deeper position than the manager would like, which should mean pockets of space will open up. in front of Spurs’ full-backs and on the outside of central midfield.
These are the areas that Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson love to play in, and during Liverpool’s high pressure moments they are likely to find space in exactly the right areas to pepper the box with crosses and force a collapse. of the Spurs. This is especially likely if Klopp drops Diogo Jota, a player who always makes Liverpool more scrappy and yet continues to be picked. Certainly the big difference between their first- and second-half performances against Villarreal, when Jota was taken off at the break, means Klopp has finally learned not to play him.
If Klopp starts Sadio Mane as a nine with Luis Diaz on the left, Mane can drift across the line to double with Diaz or Mo Salah to put the Spurs wingers under pressure. No matter how you look at the tactical battle at Anfield on Saturday, there is a simple mismatch in technical ability that gives the hosts a major advantage. Emerson Royal and Ryan Sessegnon will surely not face Liverpool’s combination of full-backs and wide forwards.
Man City are already a bit injured and in shock from their Wednesday defeat. Ahead of a grueling game against Newcastle, with the added deflation of Liverpool winning their toughest game, the day before could set us up for a definitive day in the title race.