Premier League: Jordan Henderson overshadows Ilkay Gundogan in Liverpool's win over Manchester City; Virgil van Dijk holds off Sergio Aguero's charge
Here's an analysis of the performances of players from both camps in Liverpool's 3-1 win over Manchester City at the Anfield in the form of the key tactical battles from the night.
Van Dijk settled in as the match progressed after initially being challenged by Aguero, and was the bulwark that held off Manchester City charge
Henderson made sure that the momentum was seized early in the second up by setting up Mane with an acute cross from the very edge of the goalline
DeBruyne made the most threatening plays for Manchester City, but his team-mates were not his level on the night, tactically or technically
Advantage Liverpool. This top of the table bout was billed as one for the ages, and with a little exaggeration. The quality on show was fitting to the precedent set by the two teams last season, which was deemed as the best pound-for-pound title chase in the history of the Premier League, with Manchester City eventually winning the league with a margin as slender as a point.
However, it's Jurgen Klopp’s men who are now sitting pretty on the top of the table after Sunday night’s exchanges with Manchester City. The Merseysiders are 8 points clear of the defending Premier League champions. The game ended 3-1 in favour of the swashbuckling Reds, with Liverpool’s Fabinho, Mohamed Salah, and Sadio Mane getting on the scoresheet, while Bernardo Silva notched up the consolation goal for the Sky Blues.
We take a look at how the two sides performed as the bright floodlights beat down on the lush green of Anfield. Here is a tally of the key tactical battles from the night that decided the way the momentum swung:
Jurgen Klopp vs Pep Guardiola
Manchester City’s 4-5-1 was set up to plug the gaps in their midfield against Liverpool’s 4-3-3. Raheem Sterling and Silva occupied an average position that were 10 yards deeper than their usual roles. This backfired leaving Sergio Aguero in want of service. Pep Guardiola counted in the threat Jurgen Klopp’s wingbacks would provide when opting for this change of approach.
With the City midfield holding a deeper line, Fabinho cracked in the opener from 30 yards away, with all the time in the world, proving the safety-first approach didn’t play to City’s strength.
Trent Alexander-Arnold vs Raheem Sterling
Trent Alexander-Arnold prefers chess, not checkers, and it shows. The switch of play that led to Salah’s 13th-minute goal was inspired. A crossfield ball delivered into a charging Andy Robertson’s feet was not merely impressive because of its execution, but doubly so as the right-back was facing the other way on the other side of the pitch.
There is little or no debate on whether Liverpool’s right wing-back is a generational talent. Manchester City’s attacker Sterling tried to make a case against that opinion on the night, trying to trouble the usually composed teenager. On occasions, especially towards the end of the match, Sterling and Manchester City succeeded. The delivery for Silva’s 78th-minute goal came from Alexander-Arnold’s corridor which should have been shut and locked with a collapsible gate.
Sterling, a former Liverpool player, was booed with every touch. That didn’t deter him and continuously tried to stretch Alexander-Arnold to the end of his wits. If this bout went on for another 10 minutes after the final whistle, you’d imagine City would have had at least another goal down that side.
To Alexander-Arnold’s benefit, Dejan Lovren was covering his flanks.
Lovren’s game defying blocks on Sterling will have given him bucketloads of confidence. The Croatian, who is so often dismissed as a liability by many Liverpool supporters, was also a calming presence beside the reliable beside Virgil van Dijk, to make due for the Dutchman’s early wobbles.
Virgil van Dijk vs Sergio Aguero
The Dutch behemoth looked off-pace in the early part of the game. Dangers were mitigated by the intervention of Lovren and Robertson on either side of him. But he was also aided by yet another poor showing from Aguero at Anfield.
The instruction Guardiola had for the diminutive Argentine was abundantly apparent: To beat the high Liverpool offside trap on the counter, and attack the channels vacated by their bombing full-backs.
Initially, Aguero’s cerebral off-the-ball runs required van Dijk to readjust his positioning and press on the pitch. This made the Liverpool backline askew in moments where City were around the edge of their box.
Van Dijk, however, settled in as the match progressed and was the bulwark that held off Manchester City’s charge in the final 10 minutes.
Andy Robertson vs Bernardo Silva
The cross that met Salah’s head to make it 2-0 was delivered to the Egyptian with an invisible bowtie around it. The bend on the cross made Kevin DeBruyne’s deliveries look like an everyday occurrence. One swoop of his boot and the ball evaded three defenders, making Fernandinho stretch every sinew of his body in vain, underpinning the quality of the curve. It was doubly satisfying seeing the ball being cushioned by Salah’s curly hair into the far corner of the net. The ball was placed with all the comfort of a pigeon coming to roost in the nest.
The Scotsman coupled the attacking side of the game with an impressive defensive one, nullifying the dangerous Silva for most parts of the match, which most full-backs in the world will tell you is no mean feat.
Silva’s quality eventually shone through inevitably as Robertson’s attacking duties took a toll. Silva found himself free on the 78th minute in the Liverpool box and fired an exquisite low, curling effort into the near post, made more difficult as the Portuguese international was leaning into the shot.
Jordan Henderson vs Ilkay Gundogan
The Liverpool captain was the timely whip to their gallop. He made sure that the momentum was seized early in the second up by setting up Mane with an acute cross from the very edge of the goalline.
His influence overshadowed that of the technical Ilkay Gundogan. Staying wide right of the Liverpool midfield, he forced the German international to cover large expanses of the pitch either side of him, thereby moving his away from the position where the Manchester City man offered the most amount of threat. This allowed Liverpool’s Gini Wijnaldum to overpower an unfit Rodri and Fabinho ample time on the ball in the heart of midfield.
Fabinho vs Kevin De Bruyne
The Brazilian is progressively taking on the airs of a former Liverpool fan favourite. What seemed like fragments of the image of Xabi Alonso came together finally with a triple exclamation of a strike from some distance away from the Manchester City’s box, marking Liverpool’s first goal on the sixth minute.
Fabinho’s job of stifling Manchester City’s midfield was made easier by his team-mates either side of him. This meant DeBruyne had to drop progressively deeper, away from goal, to retrieve the ball and enforce his metronome on the match. The testament of DeBrunye’s distribution is that it doesn’t deteriorate even then.
DeBruyne’s freekick in the first half from 30 yards away on any other day would have gotten the respect it deserved from Aguero’s head and the Belgian international would have another assist chalked up. He kept persisting, made the most threatening plays for Manchester City, but his team-mates were not his level on the night, tactically or technically.
Sadio Mane vs John Stones
The Senegalese international, all 5’10’’ of him may be the most natural header of the ball Liverpool have had since 6’7’’ Peter Crouch. His mudskipper-like leap and flexibility mean that the Liverpool forward will often slink into positions in the far post even when there’s little or no space. His headed goal on the 51st minute adds on to the piling evidence of his sheer completeness as an attacking threat.
John Stones had to make for the positioning, or the lack of it, from his stand-in centre-back partner Fernandinho, who is originally a defensive midfielder. The England international was often caught in two minds as Mane bore down on goal whether to cover for Kyle Walker or position himself ahead of time for a cross.
Liverpool kept hope of a title race alive as a 3-1 win over Crystal Palace cut the gap on leaders Manchester City to nine points.
Kevin De Bruyne curled home a brilliant second-half goal to earn Manchester City a 1-0 win over Chelsea and a 13-point lead over its nearest rival in the Premier League.
Jota's 13th and 14th club goals this season underlined his value at a time when Liverpool are without Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane due to the African Cup of Nations.