Why Pep is scared of Reds at Anfield
Prolific front three gives City’s Guardiola the heebie jeebies
● Among the more illuminating parts of Manchester City’s recently released, fly-onthe-wall documentary was Pep Guardiola discussing his fears about playing Liverpool, and in particular their prolific front three.
“They scare me,” Guardiola told two members of his technical staff as he paced a locker room inside the stadium of Liverpool’s Merseyside neighbour, Everton.
And with good reason.
City made two trips to Anfield last season, both uncomfortable experiences.
In January a 4-3 defeat ended the quest to become the second “Invincibles” of the English Premier League after 22 games unbeaten. City conceded three goals in a nineminute span when Guardiola’s players looked rattled for the first time all season.
A 3-0 defeat in the Champions League came in April, a first-leg quarterfinal drubbing that virtually ended City’s chances of winning the biggest prize in European soccer for the first time. That night began with Liverpool fans throwing beer cans and bottles at City’s team bus. It didn’t get any better on the field.
The architects behind those two big wins for Liverpool were Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, a front three of pace and perpetual movement who so clearly worry Guardiola. They scored five of Liverpool’s seven goals, with Salah and Firmino also scoring in the second leg of the Champions League quarterfinals that Liverpool also won en route to the final.
So it’s not unreasonable to suggest Salah, Firmino and Mane have been occupying Guardiola’s thoughts this week ahead of his team’s latest visit to Liverpool and their storied, atmospheric stadium — where City have not won since 2003.
Today’s match is between the top two teams in the Premier League, tied with 19 points and both unbeaten after seven games. Liverpool finished 25 points behind firstplace City last season, but look to be the champions’ biggest title rivals this time after a net spend of about $200m (about R3bn) in the off-season.
What will be telling this weekend is if Guardiola has learned from those Anfield defeats of last season and adjusts his tactics. He is well known for his unwavering belief in a possession-based, attack-minded approach that comes with obvious risks, given that it involves his goalkeeper and defenders playing the ball out from the back and also two playmakers in a midfield three.
That plays into Liverpool’s hands — Jurgen Klopp’s high-energy game plan often relies on pressing from the front and then counterattacking at pace — and Guardiola knows it. Klopp has won seven of his 14 meetings with Guardiola over the years, losing only once in six while both have been in English football.
Guardiola tried something different in April, playing an extra midfielder in Ilkay Gundogan instead of a winger, Raheem Sterling, in a bid to exert more control. By the time Gundogan trudged off after 57 minutes to be replaced by Sterling, City were trailing 3-0 and the experiment had failed.
Will he rein in his fullbacks this time? Leave out one of his playmakers and play a more defensive centre midfield to protect the defence? It goes against Guardiola’s philosophy but he realises something has to change.
Guardiola also acknowledged City got too “involved in the environment” at Anfield last season, and that was borne out in Liverpool scoring three goals in nine minutes in the first game and three goals in 19 minutes in the second. City, in essence, folded after conceding and took too long to recover.
It makes the first goal so crucial today. Liverpool versus Man City almost always lives up to its billing as one of the most entertaining matches on the English calendar, especially now that Klopp and Guardiola are in the dugouts.
City have a score to settle after the Anfield humiliations. Liverpool want to make another early season statement that it is a genuine challenger for a first title since 1990.
And although Klopp’s men are stuttering for the first time this season — Wednesday’s last-gasp defeat by Napoli was their third match in succession without a victory, Guardiola said he believed in his players despite the daunting task ahead of them.
“I know how they fight,” he said. “Go to Anfield, win, lose, whatever. It’s a long time ago Man City were able to win at Anfield. What I want to see is the team alive, and we are alive.”
Meanwhile, Chelsea, in third place, will attempt to stay on the coat-tails of the top two away at Southampton.
Eden Hazard has scored six goals in his past five Premier League games but his form has papered over the cracks at Stamford Bridge, with Olivier Giroud looking toothless in front of goal and Alvaro Morata also enduring a goal drought until Thursday’s 1-0 Europa League win over Vidi.
Coach Maurizio Sarri, who has talked up Hazard as one of the best players in the world, is nevertheless dangerously reliant on the Belgian playmaker, who scored Chelsea’s goal against Liverpool in last week’s 1-1 draw.
Today the Blues visit struggling Southampton lifted by their midweek League Cup victory on penalties against Everton, with French World Cup winner Giroud looking to break his duck this season. — stltoday.com and AFP
I know how they fight
Man City manager on Liverpool