Liverpool’s blueprint to beat Man City

Step 1 – Get Guardiola to do something weird.

In the book Pep Confidential there is one glaring flaw in Guardiola’s genius – Pep Guardiola. For all of his tactical acumen and brilliant coaching of individual players, Guardiola occasionally over-elaborates. Ahead of the crucial quarter-final against Man U in 2014, Guardiola changed his system, implementing a 2332 . Bayern drew 1-1 in the first leg and all he needs is a 0-0 draw to go through but Guardiola wasn’t satisfied with the way his team functioned in the first leg, he wanted more possession, more attack, and wanted to get his players close to the second ball (not the first shot, but the follow up).

Evra opened the scoring on Guardiola’s Bayern and Pep was forced to abandon his experimental 2332, switching back to a more traditional double-pivot and freeing Arjen Robben up to be Robben (cut in on the left). They go on to win but Pep was given a warning – mess around too much and his own team will struggle to perform.

He didn’t listen.

A few weeks later, he’s facing elimination at the hands of Real Madrid. The Madridistas have the upper hand after a 1-0 win at the Bernabeu and Guardiola stays up late contemplating which formation he will deploy. Knowing that Madrid will look to counter, he finally settles on a 343, with three center backs and two wing-backs helping to protect against counters.

A few days later he changes his mind and adopts a 4231, and then settles for his infamous 424. That 424 was the formation he had adopted in his first ever match as Bayern manager, and one which he lost 4-2 to Jurgen Klopp and his Borussia Dortmund team.

Bayern lose to Real Madrid 4-0 on aggregate. And after the match, Guardiola takes responsibility calling it a “complete f**k up” on his part.

Against Liverpool last night, again Guardiola can be accused of over-elaborating. As Michael Cox pointed out in his article on Zonal Marking, Pep moved de Bruyne back into a deep role alongside Fernandino and put Gundogan high up the pitch. This exposed Walker and despite Laporte mostly staying back (to form a lop-sided three) left the City fullback to defend Mo Salah almost all by himself.


Step 2 – Score early

This is the real trick. Systems are just numbers as Guardiola has famously said but for Liverpool’s first goal, Man City just got incredibly unlucky.

The pass to Salah was offside but regardless, City still had time to get five defenders back against the two Liverpool attackers. Walker fails to clear off Firmino’s parried shot, and Fernandino doesn’t get the block. Salah scores.

Klopp didn’t do anything tactically brilliant, and perhaps Pep should have kept 7 players back on the corner. Though it seems like five players should be enough to contain two.

It’s just an error by Walker, one that happens in high profile matches when players are under a lot of pressure.

Step 3 – run around a bit (a lot)

After the goal, however, Liverpool were not only difficult to break down but City found it difficult to create spaces for each other, found it difficult to move the ball around, and never had a minute on the ball to think. Liverpool pressed relentlessly.

They pressed throughout the entire first half which is not normal. Most teams can sustain a press for 5 or 10 minutes. I’ve even seen teams press for 30 minutes, but eventually, they can’t keep up the pace and drop deep. But Liverpool pressed all the way from the first minute to the 45th.

Liverpool made 39 tackles in this match (City also made 39 tackles, BTW), 19 interceptions, and 17 blocks. James Milner, boring James Milner who was doing LEGO on twitter last week, made 8 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 4 blocks. He wasn’t credited with a tackle, interception, or block for the action that led to Oxlade-Chamberlain’s goal but I think 90% of us would consider that a tackle. He swept in and kicked the ball away from (Gundogan?) and it landed at Oxlade-Chamberlain’s feet and the Ox just blasted it past the keeper.

There’s another element of luck here with that. Ox is not a great goal-scorer by any stretch and his shot was a poke-and-hope. But that’s what Klopp’s high press does: it creates chances like that.

I firmly believe that Liverpool’s players are all now physically dead. The amount of work they put in

Step 4 – Stay organized

In the second half everyone expected Liverpool to concede, even Liverpool supporters. But they came out and stopped high pressing as much and instead sat back in a containment pattern. Man City dominated possession 431-136 in that time but only managed 8 shots, 4 of which were blocked, 4 open shots in the 18 yard box, but 2 of those were headers by Otamendi, which left two shots in the box by the forwards (Jesus and Sane) and zero big chances created. Liverpool shut City down in that second half.

A lot of pundits are crediting van Dijk’s leadership qualities and you have to admit that Dejan Lovren looks like a new man playing next to the former Southampton defender. And the Liverpool supporters I know are happy that they got him.


Sorry if this post is as obvious as someone saying “this is what you get when you have good coaching” but it needed to be said.

Man City and Pep Guardiola have stumbled once again in the Champions League giving Liverpool a great chance of not only going through to the next round but possibly the finals. More importantly, Liverpool beat Man City twice this season using some basic principles of football and a high energy approach. Going forward, I’d like to see every team try their luck at beating City with this approach. It would make the Premier League much more enjoyable.



  1. More impressive than scoring 3 in the first half, to me, was the game management involved in shutting City out in the second. Arsenal sometimes do the former to great effect, but I just can’t see us doing the latter.

    Great point about VvD and Lovren partnership. Chemistry matters. Kolo Toure was never a great defender, but with Sol, he looked a heck of a centre back.

  2. Ox may not be a great goal scorer but he is becoming a scorer of great goals. He has had quite a few long distance screamers. His winner vs. Chelsea in the shield comes to mind as well. The toe poke was more of a snapshot and I couldn’t help but be impressed with the amount of power generated with almost no back lift. I remember Arshavin being able to do that.

    I had a feeling this tie would belong to Liverpool. They always do well in Europe.

  3. I wonder if something’s going to be done about the behaviour of Liverpool supporters after last night.

    They have a pretty bad record when it comes to crowd trouble in Europe recently and were in trouble multiple times on their way to the europa league final a few years back if I remember right.

    That fact that last nights attack on the bus was planned/broadcast on social media beforehand adds another depressing element to it.

    1. I think many people are reticent to criticize Liverpool fan behavior because of the history.

      I am still surprised that there is very little discussion about the attack in the papers.

      1. I just read in the Guardian that the police had announced the route the bus would take a day before. That’s seems strange to me.

        Yes, Liverpool’s history does mean that the papers are reticent to go hard on the fans. But I’m not sure it’s just that. For instance, I hadn’t heard of the Heysel disaster from the English football media. And in general they have a bit of a Liverpool love in even in terms of football, with a lot of ex-Liverpool players employed and they stick by their club.

        Uefa have charged them. I’m not sure what the club can do about it really, but something like this must come with a strong enough punishment. Maybe play the next fixture behind closed doors? Or reduced fans. But that would hurt Uefa’s product especially if it is the semi final, so that isn’t happening. Probably a small fine and some sort of suspended sentence for if there’s a repeat.

        Oh just saw, they’ll charge them only after the final. Hah.. Playing it safe!

  4. In 2002 United paid Leeds £41 m for Rio Ferdinand – a world record fee for a defender then, and most people said that was a crazy sum to pay for a CB.

    Fast forward 15 years and it took €75m- another world record fee for a CB, to persuade Southampton to let VVD go to Liverpool.

    VVD has the same calmness about his play and certain elegance about him, not dissimilar to Ferdinand’s.

    Players like to play alongside other players who just reek of confidence the way Ferdinand did and VVD does now.
    I think some of it might’ve got passed on to Lovren already.

    God analysis btw,Tim.
    Spot on.

    Not only did Pep make some weird decisions for the game but also, City got probably the worst preparation possible leading up to it by facing a clueless fat Sam’s Everton, who were just pitiful.

      1. That’s what I thought it was but then I checked with transfermarkt and they list his fee at £41m.

        I wonder why.

        1. I remember the Ferdinand fee being £30m because it was a British transfer record at the time, breaking the previous record of £28m that Utd paid for Juan Sebastian Veron the year before.

          Van Dijk, like Ferdinand, will be worth every penny. New captain of Holland and he still has about 5-6 peak seasons ahead of him.

  5. “They pressed throughout the entire first half which is not normal. Most teams can sustain a press for 5 or 10 minutes. I’ve even seen teams press for 30 minutes, but eventually, they can’t keep up the pace and drop deep. But Liverpool pressed all the way from the first minute to the 45th.”
    Top teams are drilled to press for 10-15 minutes, then take a break, then press again for 10-15 minutes, then rest again, etc….

  6. You can’t tell me that the violence from the Liverpool fans on man city bus didn’t affect the players, it was smashed to bits. If every club’s
    fans attack the traveling players coach like that before each game, I would expect them to lose. It’s well out of order, they should play the game again under calmer circumstances or they should be band from cl. Reminds me of the seventies and eighties.

  7. Watching Liverpool go full Klopp and Ronaldo’s wonder goal the night reminded me that anticipation is often the difference at this elite level.

    Both of Ronaldo’s goals are about anticipation. For the first, he reads the defense and starts his near-post run well before Isco gets into a crossing motion. And he was able to get so high up for the bicycle kick because he’d started a back post to near post run while defenders were ball-watching.

    Messi has supernatural anticipation. Alexis had a little too – many of his penalty box goals and especially both strikes in the FA Cup semi and final were down to his sense of anticipation.

    For these players it’s an individual talent, but what Klopp’s system does so well is prime the whole team to anticipate opposition errors and opportunities.

    The first goal: Salah’s run inside to take advantage of Firmino’s hustle.
    For Ox’s goal, Liverpool kept playing when City thought a whistle was coming.
    For the 3rd, Mane gets knocked to the ground in the penalty box but quickly jumps back up and makes a far post run when he sees Salah recover the ball.

    And anticipation and relentless running is how Liverpool’s less talented midfield totally dominated the 50/50s. When was the last time a Guardiola side failed to register a shot on target?

  8. On pressing, have you ever seen Arsenal try to press a top team? Running in the general direction of the ball without attempting a tackle or interception? Honestly, I get a good chuckle out of it. Iwobi is my favourite “presser”. Followed by Elneny, Jack, Xhaka, Ozil and Ramsey. Pressing has to make the person in possession fearful of coughing up the ball. Or forcing them back with their passing. We are simply a joke of a pressing team.

    p.s. Without meaning to, I listed our midfielders.

    1. Giroud was my favorite “presser”.

      He consistently made bottom 3 defenders look like Franz Beckenbauer as they dribbled around his vast turning circle.

  9. Liverpool’s first goal (before which City were the better team) looked very marginally offside, and City scored a late goal that looked very marginally onside.

    Obviously that isn’t the main reason Liverpool won, but 2-1 with an away goal is a very, very, very different prospect than 3-0. It’s the difference between Liverpool being strong, perhaps overwhelming, favorites to go through, and City being (arguably) slight favorites.

    I’m a complete neutral when it comes to these two teams. Just saying these things are fine margins. And minor ref errors like this make a disproportionate difference in football matches. Bring on VAR.

    1. Sterling should’ve had a penalty too, when Robertson brought him down and then handled the ball.

  10. The defensive wall didn’t jump.

    Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference, but fundamentals.

    1. lol.

      Great goal.

      But the thing is, you know, we’re playing without midfielders! A 4-0-6 formation. Look how easily they sliced through us on the counter.

      Harlem Globetrotters stuff.

  11. Because CSK are trying to out Arsenal Arsenal and that’s always a bad idea if you don’t have the talent.

  12. Halftime.

    Nice scoreline, but I’d like a bit more defensive security.

    Jack is looking like a spare wheel out there. Think I’d prefer Elneny. Too many attacking players on the pitch.

    Come to think of it, let Jack go. We need that elegant beast this summer. I hear that Fabinho is on the market, but I’d take Nzonzi.

  13. Wenger as he so often does, said it very well indeed, calling the first half “spectacular and uncomfortable.” Real Madrid may have Renaldo but we have…Ramsey!! A wonder goal and his best performance of the season. Ozil was great as well, of course.
    Is a 3 goal cushion enough to get through next week in warm and sunnyMoskva?

  14. All you needed to know about this game was to watch the You tube pre-match training by both teams: Arsenal players were sharp, quick and playful. CSKA players were slow, dour and isolated into 1 or 2 players.
    You know your team is in trouble when Arsenal played your same back line in 2006 and now their combined age is 108. Can we all say a like a “hot knife through butter”.

  15. The finishes for the 3rd and 4th goal were great. Too bad we didn’t keep it up and really push the scoreline. It really could have been anything like 6 or 8. But we seemed to lose concentration around the 60 minute mark. Still created chances. Maybe it’s better to not go to Moscow with the game completely won though.

    We need to keep this sort of play going. Some of the passing was really sharp and quick. I think the attacking side of things is coming together now after the rejig. Defensively of course we’re still lacking. But hopefully we’ll have enough for our opponents in the 2nd leg and the rest of the competition.

  16. Tougher tests await I’m sure but the coverage of our 3-4 goal routs couldn’t be much less charitable. Nick Ames of the Guardian went with a headline that basically intoned capitulation by CSKA from the first whistle (

    Look, at this point we all know what this Arsenal team is in 2017/18. We are not going to turn into a well drilled outfit with superb spacing and coordinated counter pressing. If that’s what Ames and the others are waiting for, they might as well tune out for the rest of the season. It just annoys me to no end that we aren’t allowed to enjoy even when Arsenal win convincingly because then it’s all about how bad the opponents were. When we lose, it’s the flip side, we were atrocious. No credit to us when we win, no credit to the opposition when we lose. Is there another team in the world that gets this sort of treatment? There seems to be such little good will and positivity around the club these days. OK, we need a change at manager, fine. Everything is NOT broken.

    1. Agree. I don’t presume to speak for all fans but I really feel like we need to enjoy each victory in its own merit and for some reason many fans seem unable to do that. Sure, I was frustrated by Xhaka and Wilshere last night but on the flip side some of the speed of our passing in the final third was amazing to watch. We should have put the tie to bed in the 2nd half but 4-1 is not a bad score line to take to Moscow. I mean look, if you can’t enjoy a performance like that from Ramsey, Ozil, Mkhi, Lacazette and Bellerin – I think you just need to take a break from watching Arsenal because this is as good as it gets with this team. We are not going to solve our defensive/ midfield problems this season and I think either Liepzig or Atheltico will punish us if we keep defending like that but we shouldn’t let that take away the enjoyment from last night’s win.

    2. Agree with you to the extent that if you can’t enjoy Arsenal victory like the one from yesterday you should probably stop watching them play for awhile.
      But I don’t think it’s wrong to suggest CSKA played right into our hands with their game plan such as it was.

      Everyone and their uncle know you beat Arsenal either with an aggressive press, or on the counter sitting back.
      What you don’t do is go into a track meet against Arsenal ,especially when you don’t have the players to do so, leaving huge swaths of space all over the park for players like Ozil and Ramsey to operate in.

      Still , I thought it was one of the most entertaining and enjoyable games all season, at least the first half, and professional approach to the second half as well.

      As for others take on the game ,whatever it might be, it doesn’t matter to me .
      I never read them anyway.

      1. You’re right of course, I can’t let the noise bother me too much, but I can’t just shutter myself in either and it’s not like I’m consuming tabloids! It’s the double standard that really rankles; if this was the darling Spurlings we’d be seeing gushing praise for their “swashbuckling” and mesmeric attacking play. Arsene and by extension his Arsenal can do no right because the narrative against him is so pervasive and powerful at this point that we can’t even point out when he gets something right. Then if the club or the side does something well, we rush to credit someone else. Gah!

  17. Btw, pretty impressed by Golovin. Had never seen him play prior to yesterday but looked like he has a good engine, is technically sound and mature for this age. Though I did enjoy the bit when Mkhitaryan picked his pocket. Not the elegant beast we all want but would certainly be an upgrade over Wilshere or Xhaka.

    1. Golovin would be a nice wide midfielder but not sure if he’d be worth the money to displace Iwobi who is a similar player. I’d stick with the homegrown product.

  18. Your #1 point about Guardiola is perfect. I also thought watching that game that Guardiola had overthought things again. He’s the opposite of Wenger is that regard – he is so open to questions about his approach and tactics that he over-reacts. The fact that he is more prone to do this before big games speaks to a remarkable insecurity from someone so successful.

  19. Disagree, Jack. Im skeptical of the “the other team was bad” narrative, and prefer to give credit where it’s due — although sometimes it has a ring of truth to it. Liverpool were brilliant. Brilliant offensively first half, brilliant defensively second half. It’s not Pep outsmarting Pep. It’s Klopp outsmarting Pep, a coach he leads in head-to-head matchups. Pep outsmarting Pep is your failsafe if you’ve convinced yourself that Pep is invincible. He’s won games with that exact team and those exact tactics. What happened was that he came up against a damn good coach who’s had his number more often than not.

    Same with Arsenal. Let’s give credit where due. We outplayed them, although yeah, it could have ended 6 -2 or something ridiculous like that. Aside from that panicked sequence involving Mustafi and Koscielny, and Bellerin getting roasted time and again down the CSKA left, we negotiated the tie pretty comfortably. Yes, you can always cite stuff we didn’t get right. Jack looked like the 5th wheel to a coach, and all the reporting (including Tim’s on Arseblog) confirmed the impression that he was at his ponderous worst.

    I’ve never believed that Jack, Ramsey and Xhaka can play in the same midfield, and I’m even more certain of it now. I’d start Elneny over Wilshere. The question now is who would partner best with Ramsey (our most important midfielder by some distance), and I’m not sure that we have the solution in-house.

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