It was a quintessential European night at Anfield that fans have become accustomed to over the past two decades.
Liverpool’s frenetic pace was too much for the opposition to handle with the home side swarming their counterparts early on. A scouser put in a man of the match performance and the home crowd acted as 12th, 13th and maybe even the 14th man.
Once again, all of the pre-match talk surrounding the atmosphere was justified. Pep Guardiola’s men turned Liverpool around to face the Kop in the first half and no doubt rued that decision after finding themselves 3-0 down after just 30 minutes.
The intensity was too much for the Premier League leaders. They aren’t the first to be overawed under the Merseyside floodlights. Real Madrid, Juventus, Manchester United, Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund have all felt the force from the whirlwind in red.
Liverpool fans have witnessed it all before. It’s easy to take it for granted but the comfortable victory over City was special. It was a real coming of age performance for a number of players but the biggest takeaway from those 90 minutes was the fact the Reds saw out the match with relative ease.
The three goal cushion no doubt helped but Liverpool’s defensive woes and inability to manage games are well known. The issues pre-date Klopp but under the German there have been a number of implosions.
The team have often masqueraded as a solid defensive unit in the past but the general consensus was that under slight pressure their brittleness would betray them.
Games that appear to be heading towards comfortable victories turn into dropped points in the blink of an eye. Bournemouth came back from 3-1 down to win 4-3, Sevilla overturned a 3-0 deficit to snatch a point and Arsenal blitzed the Merseysiders to come from 2-0 down at the Emirates.
Even against City back in January, Liverpool, at 4-1 up, allowed the away side to get back into the game and they were perhaps minutes away from a 4-4 draw.
This game was different. The away side dominated the ball but the Reds dominated the space. Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva and Leroy Sané, for the most part, only had the ball where Klopp and his team allowed them to have it.
The opposition have done it countless times to Liverpool in the past but the home team turned the tables. They went from the frustrated to being the ones causing the frustration.
Liverpool’s defensive dominance
City came away from Anfield having had 66 per cent of the possession but managed zero shots on target. This is a side who have scored 2.83 goals and average over seven shots per 90 minutes in the Premier League this term.
Keeping them quiet is no easy feat but Liverpool managed it at a canter.
They completely blunted the City attack and nullified the danger men. In the second half, Gabriel Jesus and De Bruyne managed just one touch each in the penalty area. The away side had over 300 more touches than those in red but, when looking at the touch map above courtesy of whoscored.com, it’s as though there was an imaginary forcefield protecting the Liverpool penalty box.
That’s not to say Guardiola’s team didn’t get into good areas from time to time but that it wasn’t with great frequency or regularity.
De Bruyne picks the ball up off the centre-backs after dropping deep and is fronted up by two lines of three. The Man City No.17 usually looks to drive into midfield or thread a pass into feet but he didn’t have either of those options at Anfield.
The Belgian playmaker is forced to go backwards and Liverpool shuffle over to defend their right flank. Vincent Kompany is now in possession and there aren’t many, if any at all, incisive passes on for the captain. He can give the ball back to his compatriot or play it to Aymeric Laporte on the left – something the Reds actively encouraged.
Kompany opts for the former and De Bruyne is able to carry the ball into the Liverpool half. But again, the home side have done well to cover the passing lanes. The ball into Silva’s feet is blocked by Gini Wijaldum and a combination of Jordan Henderson and James Milner are covering the pass to Jesus.
The former Chelsea midfielder attempts to force a pass between Trent Alexander-Arnold and Dejan Lovren into the path of Sané. It’s a risky ball but City needed it if they wanted to get back into the tie. The young Liverpool full-back, however, manages to intercept the pass. Now, what’s interesting here is just how much space the home side have to play out from the back.
Guardiola’s men are famed for their pressing but they weren’t in positions to counter press after losing the ball. Why? Because players had to go out of their way, and into wider areas than they would have liked, to create passing angles due to Liverpool’s positioning. It meant when there was a turnover in possession the home side weren’t ever under intense pressure.
Their success wasn’t just down to tactics. The players put in a shift, both physically as well as mentally, to ensure City didn’t grab an away goal and find a way back into the tie. The Reds have already improved this season but they’ve not been able to shake off the narrative that they can’t sit deep and soak up pressure.
The maverick manager can use this performance to drill home to his side that they can see out leads. It wasn’t just a memorable win, it could become one of the pillars used by Klopp to build defensive foundations at Anfield. Liverpool with a solid defence is a scary prospect.