Guardi­ola wrong from start in choice of age­ing full-backs

Who won the touch­line duel be­tween Jur­gen Klopp and Pep Guardi­ola? James Ducker re­ports

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - PREMIER LEAGUE -

Se­lec­tion

Pep Guardi­ola wants to sign two new full-backs. Un­til then, the Manch­ester City man­ager must con­tend with what he has and his de­ci­sion to start with Pablo Za­baleta and Alek­san­dar Ko­larov here against Liver­pool’s dy­namic pair­ing of Adam Lal­lana and Sa­dio Mané was per­plex­ing. Both looked slow, old and pon­der­ous against in­ci­sive, pen­e­tra­tive op­po­nents, and while Bacary Sagna and Gaël Clichy hardly have youth on their side, they of­fer greater mo­bil­ity and en­ergy, which is what Guardi­ola needed both de­fen­sively and go­ing for­ward.

Guardi­ola’s per­sis­tence with Ko­larov is all the harder to fathom given how the Serb has re­gressed as the sea­son has pro­gressed. James Mil­ner left City be­cause he wanted reg­u­lar foot­ball and a cen­tral mid­field berth. He has ended up as a left-back un­der Jür­gen Klopp (left) at Liver­pool but he was the best full-back on show and de­served more from a stun­ning in­swing­ing pass that put Roberto Firmino through only for the for­ward’s con­trol to let him down. Mil­ner pos­i­tively rev­elled in his duel with City winger Ra­heem Ster­ling, the for­mer Liver­pool winger whose ev­ery touch was mer­ci­lessly booed by the na­tives.

Tac­tics

There were a cou­ple of mo­ments in quick suc­ces­sion in the open­ing pe­riod that summed up what this Liver­pool side are about un­der Klopp. With his team pressed high up the pitch and Firmino clos­ing down the space around Clau­dio Bravo, the City goal­keeper was forced to go long. A minute later, Bravo, Za­baleta and John Stones found them­selves boxed in with nowhere to go as Lal­lana, Firmino and Emre Can hunted as a pack. Key to Liver­pool’s first-half supremacy was the speed with which they closed down the space around David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne as well as lone striker Ser­gio Agüero.

City im­proved af­ter the in­ter­val when they stopped squan­der­ing pres­sure so need­lessly, pushed higher up­field and De Bruyne and Silva be­gan to in­ter­change po­si­tion more. It left them more open to Liver­pool coun­ter­at­tack­ing but they could not con­tinue as they were do­ing. Guardi­ola has worked specif­i­cally in train­ing over the past fort­night on win­ning sec­ond balls but his team re­main too pas­sive at times and lack the ag­gres­sion of Klopp’s Liver­pool.

Mo­ti­va­tion

Liver­pool started the game sharper, faster, hun­grier, ev­ery­thing Klopp would have wanted and ex­pected. City, by con­trast, con­ceded for the sixth time in­side 15 min­utes in the Pre­mier League this sea­son and now have just four clean sheets in 19 league out­ings. Guardi­ola is renowned for de­mand­ing to­tal fo­cus and con­cen­tra­tion from his play­ers so why are they rou­tinely start­ing matches so sleep­ily, so half-baked and leav­ing them­selves with an up­hill task?

Guardi­ola will have known his team needed to get off to a strong start. They had won once at An­field since 1981. City had also not won any of the pre­vi­ous 92 Pre­mier League away games in which they trailed at half­time, dat­ing back to April 1995. City have won just one of 14 matches against the league’s top eight this term but Guardi­ola ap­pears to be strug­gling to ad­dress those big-game short­com­ings – City have 10 points from 21 against the top eight this sea­son and now been beaten by Liver­pool as well as Chelsea and Tot­ten­ham – and the in­ten­sity with which they be­gan the sea­son has dropped markedly. By con­trast, Liver­pool, un­fazed and un­daunted, are ris­ing to the big oc­ca­sion un­der Klopp. Hav­ing such a vo­cif­er­ous home crowd must aid that process, though.

Sub­sti­tutes

Klopp’s hand was forced in the 64th minute when Jor­dan Hen­der­son, who had been ex­cel­lent in cen­tral mid­field along­side Ge­orginio Wi­j­nal­dum and Can, suc­cumbed to in­jury. The Liver­pool man­ager opted to drop Lal­lana into mid­field from his po­si­tion on the left and in­tro­duce Divock Origi up front. Lal­lana made the change seam­lessly while Origi pro­vided an­other pacy out­let in at­tack along­side Mané and Firmino. The sur­prise was Guardi­ola (right) waited un­til the fi­nal five min­utes to change things. The City man­ager was not ex­actly blessed with op­tions from the bench but given the dif­fi­cul­ties his side were hav­ing try­ing to by­pass Mil­ner and Nathaniel Clyne, Jesús Navas’s pace could have been a use­ful as­set ear­lier in the sec­ond half while Agüero, who had missed the pre­vi­ous four matches through sus­pen­sion, had tired badly and Kelechi Iheana­cho might have pro­vided some more im­pe­tus go­ing for­ward. Both were in­tro­duced too late.

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