Title defence becomes top four challenge – 5 talking points from Liverpool 1-4 Man City

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It all fell apart for Liverpool against Man City as several factors contributed to the end of a title defence.

Liverpool 1-4 Man City

Premier League (23), Anfield
February 7, 2021

Goals: Salah 63′ (pen); Gundogan 49′ 73′ Sterling 76′, Foden 83′

Alisson and the Back Four Failure

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, February 7, 2021: Liverpool's goalkeeper Alisson Becker during the pre-match warm-up before the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The easiest thing to do is pinpoint the lack of centre-backs in Liverpool’s starting XI as the reason they concede goals, but in this game a lot of the blame will fall on goalkeepr Alisson.

Jurgen Klopp said he’s persisted with Jordan Henderson at the back for organisational reasons, but there was an uncertainty about the backline whenever City approached the penalty area.

This was shown when Fabinho clumsily left a trailing leg to foul Sterling to concede a penalty, and there was a general fear among the Liverpool defenders any time the Englishman got the chance to run at them.

Ilkay Gundogan’s first goal came on the back of Trent Alexander-Arnold failing to deal with Raheem Sterling, and then the subsequent failure to clear a rebound from Alisson‘s good save.

His second was a result of general mayhem at the back and some baffling decisions from Alisson, before the Brazilian goalkeeper repeated his trick for the third, scored by Sterling.

Phil Foden breezed by Henderson to set up one goal, and past Robertson before scoring his own to complete the set for Liverpool’s back four and goalkeeper.

This midfield failure at the back should at least give Klopp an easy decision going into future games.

Though there were individual errors, the defensive unit was far from united in those moments, and Liverpool should look to get their new centre-backs in the team as soon as they can, and tell Alisson to pass to them rather than the opposition.

Fans will be clamouring even more for Ozan Kabak to start next week against Leicester and get Henderson back in midfield.


Top Four Challenge

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, February 7, 2021: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp and Sadio Mané after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City FC at Anfield. Manchester City won 4-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

This was supposed to be the game Liverpool came back into the title race, but they end it ten points behind City, possibly 13 if the Manchester club, who have won their last 10 in a row, win their game in hand.

Klopp’s side are now just one point ahead of West Ham, and three ahead of Everton who have two games in hand – the Merseyside derby in a fortnight is top-four six-pointer.

On top of that, if Spurs and Chelsea win their games in hand, they will be just a point behind Liverpool.

The focus will now turn to simply staying in the top four and not dropping further points, as not qualifying for the Champions League in the season after a title win would be unthinkable.

They also have the Champions League itself to focus on — a competition is now the only chance for a trophy this season.


Thiago vs Gundogan

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, February 7, 2021: Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara (R) and Manchester City's Phil Foden during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The Liverpool midfielder formerly managed by Pep Guardiola versus the Man City midfielder formerly managed by Klopp.

It didn’t take long for a direct clash, with Thiago leaving a foot in on the German in the third minute.

It initially looked like Gundogan might not be able to continue, but he was able to run it off.

Maybe that early knock affected him, as when presented with the opportunity to score from the penalty spot he could only sky the ball into an empty Kop, but he went on to make up for the miss with two poachers goals.

It was another mixed performance from Thiago. He has some great disguise on his passes, and his technique is second to none in tight areas, but at times it feels like he’s trying too hard to be physical in a league that is always built-up as such.

Gundogan was in the right place at the right time to pounce on a loose ball to give City the lead on two occasions, and probably the league.

The 30-year-old is arguably City’s player of the season so far, along with Joao Cancelo, and he certainly got the upper hand in this battle of two top-class midfielders.

Liverpool lost the game, conceding twice within eight minutes of Thiago – and Curtis Jones – leaving the pitch.


Need the attack Back

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, February 7, 2021: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates after scoring the first equalising goal from a penalty kick during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

“The runs are there still, just find them,” said Gary Neville as Alexander-Arnold found a rare weakness in the City defence, releasing Mohamed Salah.

Finding those runs has been difficult against most teams, as many will just sit back against Liverpool and protect their penalty area.

While this was not the case against City, Guardiola’s side do have the best defence in the league for a reason, and they are difficult to break down for different reasons.

Liverpool found one route past City, but these moments were too few and far between. They now need to work out a way to get past low blocks and find the runs Neville speaks of amid crowds of players.

Having all-round target-man Mane back on the left will help, and hopefully, Diogo Jota will be able to return in time for the Champions League.

By that time Liverpool might also have centre-backs at centre-back…


The No Fans Effect

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, February 7, 2021: Liverpool's xxxx during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

This could be a talking point for any game in the behind-closed-doors era, but the lack of fans feels especially pertinent during these big, much-hyped clashes.

Anfield has rarely been louder in recent seasons than during Liverpool’s top of the table clashes with City.

Whether in the Champions League or the Premier League, these games have been as much about the event, the competitive rivalry, and the influence the fans in Anfield can have, as they have been about the football played on the pitch.

This was the first time City have met Liverpool away from home in this behind-closed-doors environment. As a result, many thought it was their best chance to pick up a win there, something they have not done since 2003, and this turned out to be the case.

Not even second-half fireworks could spark Liverpool into action, or wake up their makeshift and fatigued defence.

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