Liverpool’s midfield was a weak link
In a massive game against Manchester City, it’s strange that Jurgen Klopp would go for a conservative midfield trio consisting of Georginio Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson, and James Milner. If he chooses to do the same against Bayern Munich, then it’s a weakness the Bavarians can exploit.
With Xherdan Shaqiri on the bench, it was easy for Manchester City to press Liverpool’s midfield out of the game. That made it difficult for the Reds to mount any offensive impetus, as the forwards just kept losing the ball before they could execute the counterattack.
With the offensive threat from Liverpool’s forwards practically neutralized, City were able to put sustained pressure on the LFC goal, which is what eventually led to their opening goal. Hopefully, Niko Kovac will have taken note of the shortcomings of the Klopp’s midfield, because a midfield trio of Thiago Alcantara, Leon Goretzka, and James Rodriguez could really pile on the pressure.
Winning the midfield battle could be key for Die Roten, as Manchester City proved that the threat posed by Liverpool’s incredible front three is severely lessened when their midfield service is cut off. Of course, this is easier said than done, because Klopp still has the option of using Fabinho or Naby Keita against Bayern.
However, there’s finally a sort of blueprint to beating Liverpool FC, and Niko Kovac has the tools to execute it. Let’s hope that he’s ready to do what it takes.
Jurgen Klopp’s defensive press was solid
While they did concede two goals, Liverpool were very good at preventing Man City’s forwards from getting clear chances on goal. City managed only 8 shots, 4 of which were on target, which is not a lot considering the pressure they exerted.
The strength of Klopp’s press was best demonstrated in the first 15 minutes. Liverpool defended in groups of three, swarming whichever Manchester City player had hold of the ball. Potential attacks from Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane were mostly snuffed out without any issues.
Pep Guardiola’s men really had to show some brilliant link-up play in order to pull players out of position and disrupt the pressing. This was exemplified by City’s two goals, the first of which was an excellent play that was finished off by Sergio Aguero, and the second which was a lethal counterattack. Liverpool defended as a unit, so removing as many players as possible from the equation was key to City’s success.
If Bayern Munich want to do the same, then James Rodriguez will be key. In the first leg, because of Thomas Muller’s suspension, he will bear the onus of orchestrating the Bavarian offense. Kovac will want to Colombian to put in a proper David Silva-like performance, otherwise it will be hard for our wingers to break through and create chances.
Even without being at 100%, the Reds can be extremely dangerous
Let’s be honest, despite the win, Manchester City were very lucky. It wasn’t a masterclass or a dominating performance by any means — by the end, Pep’s side were just hanging on for dear life. Just look at this xG map:
xG map for Man City - Liverpool— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) January 3, 2019
What a game. Classic example of how basically any result is possible in a match where two good teams play well. pic.twitter.com/1Yi33SLwvJ
Liverpool were very unlucky to not score more. Sadio Mane hit the crossbar early in the first half, and soon after a resulting shot was cleared centimeters before it went over the line. Near the end of the game, Liverpool had such a flurry of chances that Man City were lucky to escape unscathed.
However, it’s not like they were solid at the back either. While Liverpool did manage to limit City’s clear cut chances to a great extent, there were moments where Aguero and Sterling could have put the game to bed. Pep got away with less than clinical finishing, but Kovac likely isn’t going to be that lucky.
Profligacy in front of goal has been a major problem for Bayern Munich’s forwards this season. That’s something that will need to change in the coming weeks, otherwise Liverpool can easily turn a losing tie into a winning one, just because of the quality they have on the pitch.