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article imageSergio Aguero exploits limited Liverpool's make-shift defence

By Tyrrell Meertins     Feb 28, 2016 in Sports
Earlier this season, Liverpool humbled Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium to offer a template on how Jurgen Klopp wants his team to play on a consistent basis.
Manuel Pellegrini’s men were shell-shocked against Liverpool’s counter-pressing and could have trailed by four or five goals in the first half alone. However, where City's slightly learned from that disappointing result, Liverpool has failed to replicate those dynamic standards.
Klopp’s decision to field a pacy natural striker in Daniel Sturridge meant City were less inclined to constantly push forward in a cup final, thus limiting Liverpool’s opportunity to create pressing traps in the opposition’s half. Pellegrini fielded Fernandinho on the right of an attacking three to limit Silva’s defensive work, with Fernando and Yaya Toure forming a midfield duo. The Brazilian also tucked in centrally out of possession to prevent possible overloads in central areas.
Pellegrini’s team selection was functional opposed to adventurous — the full-backs selected are defensive-minded when compared to Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksandar Kolarov, where the Chilean opted for brute strength in his centre-backs and midfield positions. Often criticized for their tactical naivety in the past, here, City neutralized Liverpool’s main strengths. Fernandinho and Sterling nullified the advancing Liverpool full-backs, the proactive City centre-backs forced Roberto Firmino and Sturridge into midfield zones, thus offering improved structure to Pellegrini’s back-line.
In truth, City’s approach was logical, but realistically, they only offered three methods of attack from open play — Aguero pulling off the Lucas Leiva, Sterling’s individual battle with Liverpool right-back, Nathaniel Clyne, and Silva’s productivity between the lines as Klopp’s XI lacked a destroyer in midfield. Despite bamboozling his former teammates on a few occasions, Sterling was constantly harassed when he received the ball down the left, thus awarding City free-kicks in dangerous positions.
Nevertheless, Silva and Aguero’s combination posed a severe threat for the Liverpool back-line throughout the match.
“You have to feel a defeat. You can’t say it wasn’t important because it was," said Klopp.
“Tomorrow morning we can change everything but right now we can change nothing. At this moment we have to go the hard way, nothing is easy. But if we carry on working really hard there is light at the end of the tunnel. That is really important. But tonight we feel rubbish.”
Following Mamadou Sakho’s first half departure due to injury, Lucas proactively tracked Aguero when he received the ball with his back to goal — the Brazilian was worthy of a first half booking for a reckless challenge — but the Reds' defence couldn't cope with the simplistic moves orchestrated by City’s world-class stars. A quick City break in the first half witnessed Aguero peel off the Liverpool defence to receive Silva’s pass into the left channel, before evading challenges from both centre-backs to force Simon Mignolet into a great save.
However, Liverpool were uninspiring for large portions of the match due to City’s set-up. With City sitting deeper than usual, there was no space for Firmino or Sturridge to dart into, whereas the Reds lacked an aerial presence in the box to attack the few crosses delivered. The main issue with Klopp’s squad is that they lack a player who can play penetrative passes behind a deep defence, and they failed to bypass City’s back-line when they retreated towards their third of the field.
Liverpool’s intent to push forward played into City’s hands, as Aguero was up against the indolent Kolo Toure and a natural midfielder in Lucas Leiva, while Moreno’s advanced positioning presented space in the right channel for the Argentine to surge into. Within a minute span, Aguero received two passes from Silva in space behind Moreno to fire a wayward shot wide, and hold up Lucas and the Spaniard to create Fernandinho’s opener.
Afterwards, Moreno was fortunate not to be sent off, as Aguero exploited Liverpool’s defence once again through Toure’s instant through ball from his own box, but the Spaniard’s foul went unnoticed. Another City break that appeared to be halted finally resulted in a Moreno booking, as neither the Spaniard nor Milner acknowledged Fernandinho motoring forward from the halfway line.
It was evident City were excelling with quick transitional play into space behind Moreno, which forced Klopp to place Milner at left-back to introduce additional creativity with Lallana replacing Moreno. This didn’t improve Liverpool’s overall play because Lallana also drifts centrally, but Sterling’s profligate finishing following great combinations with Silva and Aguero in wide areas kept the Reds in the game — one of the quick moves witnessed Silva receive a pass from Toure beyond Moreno, before setting up Sterling.
Divock Origi entered the match to offer pace and a goal-scoring threat, but Liverpool’s equalizer stemmed from the Reds’ quick intricate passing and a bit of good fortune. Both substitutes were involved in the buildup, but Sterling’s botched clearance placed his side in a vulnerable state for Philippe Coutinho to level the score-line.
In extra-time, Pellegrini turned to Jesus Navas for pace and Pablo Zabaleta to help Aguero overload Liverpool’s feeble right side, and the open state of the match didn’t alter the general pattern. Origi wasted two quality crosses from wide areas, whereas Aguero failed to solve Mignolet despite storming through the Liverpool midfield and Lucas, and a suicidal Milner header towards goal saw the City striker instantly clip the loose ball over the net.
"I think we deserved to win the game, we missed too many chances, played better than Liverpool,” said Pellegrini.
"I was concerned about the amount of chances we missed. After that we played better in extra-time.
Frankly, it’s unbelievable that City didn’t win the match in normal time considering the freedom showcased in exploiting Liverpool’s make-shift defence, and the abundance of missed chances. Aguero caused havoc with his runs into the right channel, while Liverpool were probably better off with Lucas in midfield to contain Toure and Silva’s production in central areas.
Perhaps this was another case of Liverpool lacking an identity under Klopp, but Pellegrini deserves credit for negating the few strengths the Reds pose from open play. The Chilean rectified the errors made a few months ago, and maximized the strengths of his world-class stars to secure City’s biggest win of the season.
More about pellegrini, capital one cup final, Liverpool, Manchester city, Raheem Sterling
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