How they lined up
In the battle between 4th and 6th, Liverpool started with a variation of 4-4-2, which often became 4-2-2-2 with either Carroll or Suarez dropping deep, supporting (and alternating with) Kuyt and Meireles across the middle, and Lucas and Spearing offering superb protection to the back four and pressing precision.
City started with a 4-4-1-1 but quickly reverted to 4-2-3-1 once Tevez went off injured in the 15th minute with Balotelli taking the Argentine’s place. Milner came into a more central, ‘floating’ role, with Barry and Toure dropping deeper and Balotelli adopted a wide left position.
City formation problems
Not only did Tevez’s injury remove the focal point for Mancini’s side, it meant that all of City’s preparation for a 4-4-1-1 system went to waste as a 4-2-3-1 was quickly installed. Dzeko has rarely played as the lone striker for the Manchester side and this was telling, as he often found himself too deep, and was profligate in possession of the ball; the chalkboard indicates that he failed to complete nearly half of his passes – it also shows the difference in the positions he took up on the pitch in relation to his counterpart, Suarez. His movement was similar to Balotelli’s off the ball which meant that the formation was very lopsided to the left hand side; despite this, Dzeko only linked up with the Italian on two occasions throughout the 70 minutes they were on the pitch together.
Dzeko v Suarez movement and passing
Another issue caused partly by the new formation, and partly by the excellent pressing game of Liverpool, was that the space between the midfield and forward lines was often too far apart which made City’s approach play disjointed and uncoordinated. This was also exacerbated by City’s slightly deeper line than usual, obviously aware of Suarez’s runs in behind, with Meireles and Lucas the ability to thread the ball through in Gerrard’s absence. Though Toure and Barry provided energy in the centre, their passing was often poor or they found Milner too late meaning he was crowded off the ball by Liverpool’s pressing. From very early on in the game, Lucas and Spearing worked in tandem with Kuyt to press vigorously and City simply had no answer. The opening goal on 13 minutes resulted from a speculative Meireles attempt that rebounded off the unfortunate Kompany to Carroll, who blasted home superbly from 25 yards on the half volley.
Lucas and Spearing control the midfield: 130 attempted passes
Kuyt’s energy and astute movement key
Dirk Kuyt’s movement was similar tonight to Rooney’s recent display at Stamford Bridge, full of energy and verve as he attempted over 70 passes. Though adopting a starting position on the right, it was notable from the outset how willing he was to perform his defensive duties, often coming inside when without the ball to stifle City’s attacks from deep (10/13 tackles). It was the Dutchman’s excellent ability to read the pattern of the game which was fantastic; going forward, Kuyt’s movement from wide to centre had the effect of dragging Kolarov inside, with Lucas and Flanagan able to exploit the space in behind. Without possession, Kuyt’s defensive acumen allowed him to stay wide when City were threatening on the opposite flank, but come more centrally to disrupt the fluency of City’s movement when the ball was near to his starting position.
Kuyt: 10 successful tackles from 13
Kuyt’s goal on 32 minutes actually started from a poor clearance by Pepe Reina, which luckily landed at the feet of Meireles. From here, Meireles was actually involved three times before the goal was scored; firstly, Lucas and Suarez combined to find Meireles down City’s right. After an intial blocked shot and then a poor clearance from Boyata, a melee ensued, with some dreadful defending from City it has to be said. Kuyt was left alone to slot coolly into the corner from the right side of the penalty area. On the face of it a scrappy goal, but Liverpool’s passing approach play was fantastic, pulling City defenders out of position and causing the defensive panic. Incidentally, Milner was asked to keep an eye on Kuyt’s movement from the beginning but due to the early tactical switch was unable to do so, meaning Kuyt’s influence on the game grew.
Two minutes later Carroll made it 3-0, with Meireles involved again; from a breakdown in midfield – and a poor Boyata clearance again – Meireles saw the opportunity to cross from a atypically deep left position, and Carroll managed to get ahead of Kolarov to finish across the keeper.
Suarez and Carroll partnership flourishes
From the outset it was notable for how Liverpool’s strikers alternated in dropping deep, as well interchanging with Dirk Kuyt. Very early in the game, Carroll played Suarez through from such a position, but Hart was able to palm the Uruguayan’s clever attempt at an early strike to safety. Unlike Carroll who would come deep into central areas, Suarez favours movement to and from the flanks, particularly coming inside from a wide left position to centre. City were struggling to cope with both, as Lescott and Kompany were dragged out of position in order to support their fullbacks. With no Nigel De Jong, there was no natural ‘destroyer’ and the ‘false 9’ movement was causing no end of problems, especially as Lucas and Spearing were playing short and sharp passes into feet – Toure and Barry were simply playing too far apart to provide similar defensive cover to that of their Liverpool counterparts.
City were hoping to go above Chelsea in the league, but finished the evening having been taught a footballing lesson, having beaten Liverpool now only four times in their last 28 meetings. Mancini rested the likes of De Jong, Zabeleta and Silva ahead of the weekend’s Semi-final, but this had the effect of producing a very disjointed formation, especially when Tevez was replaced by Balotelli. Liverpool’s narrow 4-4-2 worked fantastically well in defensive scenarios, not allowing skillful players such as Johnson, and later Silva, any space on the ball, pushing them far too deep. On the counter, Liverpool’s quartet of Meireles, Kuyt, Suarez and Carroll interchanged superbly and created opening after opening. Question marks remain over Mancini’s rotation policy and tactical changes during games, whereas for now, Liverpool seem on the mend under the stewardship of ‘King Kenny’.