Dominating throughout in Saturday’s 4-1 win over Manchester City, Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool proved their credentials despite several key absentees.
Nobody expected Liverpool to win so convincingly away to City, but their five-star performance on Saturday evening serves as another statement of intent from Klopp.
Goals from Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Martin Skrtel, as well as an own goal from Eliaquim Mangala, ensured that a sensational strike from Sergio Aguero served as a mere consolation in a defeat that City manager Manuel Pellegrini described as a “compete disaster.”
But while the ever-brilliant Brazilian pair spurred Liverpool’s victory, a clutch of key performances from their supporting cast that perhaps deserve more recognition.
With City there for the taking, Klopp’s peripheral figures stepped up to the plate and triumphed emphatically.
Key Absentees and a Surprise XI
Heading to the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, Klopp prepared his team selection missing a host of key names.
With Mamadou Sakho suffering a knee injury against Crystal Palace last time out, Jordan Henderson not fully recovered from a broken foot and Daniel Sturridge having just rejoined full training, the German was effectively without his spine.
Without his defensive lynchpin, his most clinical striker and his captain, Klopp would have been forgiven for employing a conservative approach against the title favourites.
But adapting to these changes and preparing a side capable of achieving victory, Klopp named a surprisingly positive lineup.
Most notably, with Christian Benteke dropping to the bench, Firmino’s presence as Liverpool’s No. 9 represented a signal of intentions from Klopp, with the Belgian’s absence suggesting that his anonymous performance against Palace did not go unnoticed.
Dejan Lovren replaced Sakho as Skrtel’s centre-back partner, but with Aguero returning to the City lineup the Croatian’s inclusion represented a potential problem area for Klopp.
The performance that followed, however, belied Liverpool’s lowly status heading into the clash.
Firmino, Coutinho, Adam Lallana and Emre Can all worked to swarm a makeshift City defence, with James Milner providing able support from a slightly deeper midfield role, while Lovren, Skrtel, Alberto Moreno, Nathaniel Clyne and Lucas Leiva formed a stable defensive unit.
Liverpool dominated throughout, with Firmino and Coutinho at the forefront of an aggressive, front-footed attacking display.
The Reds made more tackles, created more chances and kept the ball better than City throughout; fundamentally, they wanted this victory more than Pellegrini’s downtrodden side.
The Threat of Upheaval
“The January transfer window is not the perfect one because you have no time to train. You pick a player, put him on the pitch and say, ‘Come on, show your best performance’. But if we need, we will do [transfers]. No problem,” Klopp told Sky Sports ahead of Saturday’s win.
“I don’t know what will happen in January, if we have more injuries it will be important, of course. But at this moment, there’s no decision.”
Though Klopp continued to stress that he is in favour of training-ground upheaval more than major changes in the transfer market, this testimony served as a veiled threat to his side.
With defeat to Palace no doubt itching away at him throughout the international break, Klopp will have made a realistic assessment of his squad.
This is a squad with flaws, and Klopp’s assertion that the January transfer market could be a means to address these laid down the gauntlet for the likes of Lovren, Milner, Lucas and Skrtel, who are perhaps the most limited within his current crop.
Fortunately, however, this threat served as the ideal motivation for his side.
Lovren shackled Aguero throughout, stepping out of defence aggressively to stymie the Argentine’s pacy attacking play and rarely putting a foot wrong when in possession.
The 26-year-old won five headers and made five tackles, four interceptions and eight clearances in a no-nonsense defensive display.
His partner, Skrtel came back from a sluggish start to shine at centre-back, comfortably dealing with City’s fast-moving attacks—with the decline of Kevin De Bruyne serving as evidence of this—while his goal rubber-stamped Liverpool’s victory in the closing stages.
In midfield, both Lucas and Milner contributed with energetic and diligent performances—the former a dependable pivot in the engine room and the latter a useful creative presence from deep, also making several key interventions in defence.
As a manic Klopp urged his side on from the touchline, it was clear that this improvement was his influence; even the likes of Moreno, Can and Coutinho have improved under his tutelage.
Klopp is a master motivator, and this confident display from a weakened lineup proved it.
The Perfect Response
Defeat to Palace was hugely deflating, ending a six-game unbeaten run for Klopp’s new side and kicking off a monotonous international break on a sour note.
As the Liverpool squad departed to join their compatriots for irrelevant friendlies, Klopp remained at Melwood to plot a response.
Fortunately, with less than half of his squad called up for duty, Klopp was able to call upon the likes of Coutinho and Firmino throughout the break to formulate a response.
The Brazilian pair, Lucas, Lovren and Moreno all took part in a behind-closed-doors friendly win over Wolves last Friday, continuing to develop an understanding within Klopp’s demanded tactical framework.
The attacking telepathy shown between Coutinho and Firmino will have no doubt benefited from this exercise—Coutinho scored twice and Firmino added another in a 3-0 win—while the previously turbulent relationship shared by Lovren and Moreno seemed significantly improved, too.
Klopp utilised the break to perfection, and an overwhelming victory at the Etihad came as the perfect response to that loss to Alan Pardew’s Eagles.
His fledgling side once again proved their big-game credentials, and the improvement shown by the likes of Lovren highlights Klopp’s influence.
With Bordeaux and Swansea City to come before the end of November, Liverpool can continue their progress, with Klopp able to add to this resurgent squad with a returning Henderson and Sturridge.
But in excelling without several key players on Saturday, Liverpool proved that their manager’s influence is the most vital.
MAN CITY 1-4 LIVERPOOL
- PAPERS: Like Dortmund at their best
- TALKING POINTS: Brazilian brilliance and big-game mentality
- PLAYER RATINGS: Firmino, Coutinho and Can lead the way
- FAN REACTIONS: “You’ve been Klopped!”
- TACTICAL OVERVIEW: Fluid attacking line overwhelms City
- MATCH REPORT: Coutinho and Firmino run riot for dominant Reds