Manchester City (the best team in the world) and Liverpool F.C. (respectable) clashed this past Sunday in Manchester and the game became an instant classic. Although it was just an ordinary league game, both teams were fighting for something much more important than a single result: they were fighting for the advantage in the race to become Premier League champions.
Both teams are considered by every soccer fan to be among the best of the best, housing world-class players alongside two of the best coaches in the game – Jürgen Klopp for Liverpool and Pep Guardiola for Manchester City. For these reasons the soccer world expected, and received, a thriller of a game.
The success of a team is most often defined by the efforts and skills of the players. This is certainly true, but from time to time the tactics of the coach provide players with the best possible strategy for winning. Both team’s players possessed the highest levels of skill and both coaches planned meticulously and pulled the strings as if they had been mentored by Sun Tzu himself.
With the game about to begin, City fans like myself began to doubt tactical decisions regarding the lineups. One head-scratching decision in particular was Guardiola’s omission of City’s star winger Riyad Marhez. Marhez, who has been in great form, was shockingly replaced by Gabriel Jesus, a Brazilian striker who has not seen a City start since January. Despite this little surprise, Manchester’s lineup still looked solid. Liverpool’s lineup, on the other hand, was drama-free.
A fast start was expected, but no one anticipated what came after only four minutes of play. Kevin de Bruyne (KDB) carried the ball through the midfield and found Jesus through the lines. Jesus, with one touch, squared the ball across the face of goal and put Raheem Sterling right in front of goal unmarked and shockingly, he missed. The temper tantrums over his miss would however soon turn to cries of joy when no more than 30 seconds later, a quick free kick caught Liverpool’s defense slacking and a ball was slotted to KDB who cut in and struck it. The shot appeared to be blocked, but instead took a nasty deflection and just like that it was 1-0 to Manchester City.
After the first five minutes of play and a Manchester City goal, Liverpool, the visiting team, looked as if they hadn’t come fully prepared for the constant pressure their opponents would put on them. However, to remain in the game, the visitors knew they needed to make something happen. City’s attack remained dominant through the next few plays, until a poor pinball-like clearance on the part of the defense granted Liverpool’s Andrew Robertson the time and space to pick out fellow wingback Trent Alexander-Arnold who then, with one touch, laid the ball diagonally back to Diogo Jota. Jota beat the keeper and scored with class. After Liverpool’s unarguably beautiful goal, the playing field was evened again at 1-1.
Liverpool did not seem their usual self in a bad way, trying to force play out of the back and struggling to retain possession. At the same time, Pep’s tactical philosophy took a 180-degree turn, as the team known for their possessing abilities played long ball after long ball trying to expose the high defensive line that their opponents were holding.
The second City goal came in the 33rd minute when Guardiola’s bet on Jesus paid off. Jesus silenced his doubters and Guardiola once again proved his ability to pick the right man for the job. Going into halftime one thing was certain: Liverpool would come back as a whole new team.
And they surely did. Right off the bat, the revitalized team stopped playing directly into the pressure of Manchester City and began attempting to escape the pressure by playing the ball long. This strategy proved successful in the first minute of the second half when a long ball found Mohammed Salah of Egypt who played a phenomenal ball to Sadio Mane. Mane’s well-struck ball found its way to the back of the net to level the game to its final score of 2-2.
Although no more goals were scored, the remainder of the game was non-stop action that every single fan of the beautiful game would love. I highly recommend watching this game if getting into football is something that interests you. It was amazing.