Man City‘s vulnerabilities were on full show immediately prior to the international break, but could Chelsea‘s 4-4 draw help Liverpool to a league victory at the Etihad for the first time since 2015?
International breaks are the worst, aren’t they?
Liverpool once again resume the season with an early Saturday kickoff. But even more frustrating is that they play leaders Man City – immediately after City’s most vulnerable performance in recent history.
At least Liverpool’s coaches have had plenty of time to analyse the thrilling 4-4 draw at Stamford Bridge. What might they have learned?
Mauricio Pochettino credited his team’s mentality after the game, saying “Chelsea were brave, tried to go for three points.
“This is how we approach the games and we want to be protagonists and play high. We will always be brave.”
What does that look like?
With City lining up in a 4-2-3-1, off the ball, they press in a 4-4-2. Erling Haaland and second striker Julian Alvarez lead the press, but the wingers typically squeeze up to join them. The idea is to force opponents to go long, where City’s dominant backline can easily claim the ball.
Chelsea, however, remained determined to play through City’s press and put them on the back foot.
We saw this early on with goalkeeper Robert Sanchez attracting pressure from Haaland before playing the ball forwards. Reece James, typically a right full-back, steps into the midfield (sound familiar?) to receive the ball between the lines and attract the interest of City’s midfield.
He plays a simple one-two with Thiago Silva, opening up space in midfield to dribble forwards. This forces City full back Josko Gvardiol to step out and press him…
…and when he doesn’t get there, Chelsea storm forwards with a 5v4 in their favour.
Fight for every ball
For Chelsea’s second goal, Sanchez elected to play the ball long, trusting his forwards to compete for the ball. Ruben Dias wins the initial header, but when Rodri comes under pressure from Enzo Fernandez, he miscontrols the second ball.
Chelsea are able to break down City’s left, and when James overlaps to attack Gvardiol, the City man makes his own mistake. James capitalises to play in Raheem Sterling for a tap-in.
A simple moment of control in midfield becomes a series of unfortunate events for City – all because their opponents are hungry to compete in every moment.
Have each other’s backs
It is worth noting that both sides conceded four times in this game. Liverpool would do well to learn from Chelsea’s mistakes, as well as their successes.
Ahead of Liverpool’s 2-2 draw at Anfield in 2021, Jurgen Klopp was asked about the possibility of James Milner going up against Phil Foden as Liverpool’s right-back. His answer? “Football is not a game when you have these one-v-ones for a long time. Seconds, yes, but players have protection.”
Chelsea failed to protect each other in several instances during this game. The brilliantly tricky Jeremy Doku was key in the build up for City’s first two goals, isolating himself 1v1 versus his defender. But the third goal was most instructive.
Early in the second half, City play a throw-in backwards. Chelsea press up, but with Silva afforded too much room, he plays directly to Haaland.
Moises Caicedo elects to challenge for the ball. But with nobody following the Ecuadorian into midfield, City easily play around him, leaving Chelsea defending in a back three.
Marc Cucurella – a left full-back filling in on the left of a back three (sound familiar?) – struggles to dominate his 1-v-1 with Foden. The City winger is able to wait for support…
…and with a 2-v-1 overload, the visitors can tee up a simple cutback for Haaland to finish.
Liverpool have their own back three to protect. If Kostas Tsimikas starts on the left, he must not be hung out to dry.
Go one better
The last time Liverpool went toe-to-toe with City for the title, they served up some thrilling draws of their own. The Reds need to learn not just how to draw, but to win, this time around.
If they can have the courage to go after City, be hungrier than them to defend, and play as a team, they’ll give themselves an excellent chance.