Liverpool did it.
Manchester City’s unbeaten run is over. The Reds 4-3 victory over the top of the table City makes them the one in 22 and 1.
Liverpool fans can rejoice, while the rest of the Premier League can take note; Manchester City are not unbeatable as once thought.
But how did Liverpool achieve the feat that 18 other Premier League teams failed accomplish?
When Manchester United took on City in early December, Jose Mourinho set his side up to defend first and counter City on the attack. The tactics were rightfully criticised and the result all but confirmed City as the title winners.
Liverpool also went out to defend, but instead of sitting back and waiting for City to attack them, the Reds intended to defend on the attack.
“The plan was to defend as well as we could all over the pitch and then attack them when we could,” Liverpool’s Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlin said after the game.
City and Liverpool are the top two scorers in the league. Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp are known for their attacking play and the match was always built up to be an exhibition of attacking football.
Klopp’s philosophy is all about pressing. Klopp has previously said his teams pressing is ‘out of this world’ and the stats prove the press has been a success.
Since taking charge of Liverpool in 2015, the Reds have scored 187 goals at a rate of 2.1 per game.
This year with Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino up front, the Reds have scored 54 goals.
Outscoring City was the only way Liverpool were going to win and to do that they had to be ruthless in front of goal.
City have been unstoppable, but there was always a question mark over their defence.
In their 0-0 draw to Crystal Palace at the start of 2018, City were pressed high up the pitch, which isolated their defenders in one on one battles with the Palace forwards. Whilst defending individually City’s defence made uncharacteristic errors and conceded a clumsy penalty. Fortunately for for the Sky Blues, Palace failed to capitalise on the mistakes.
Against better opposition City would not be as fortunate, as was the case against Liverpool.
The Sky Blues set up in a 4.3.3 formation and tried to play out from the back as much as they could. They went down a goal, courtesy of an Oxlaide-Chamberlin screamer, but levelled the scores just before half time through Leroy Sane.
The second goal City conceded was all to do with Liverpool’s press. Georginio Wijnaldum and Oxlaide-Chamberlin double teamed Kevin De Bruyne, who lost possession of the ball, before Oxlaide-Chamberlin put through an inch perfect pass for Firmino to finish off with a goal.
The third goal was again created by pressure. Four Liverpool players swarmed Fernandinho, who coughed the ball up in the middle of the ground, which then led to a Mane stunner.
The final goal was all to do with perceived pressure. Ederson has a pass completion rate of 85.3 per cent, but with the speedy trio of Mane, Firmino and Salah hot on his heel, the goalkeeper ran out of his box to win the ball and then erratically gave the ball away to Salah, who scored a long range chip.
Despite three of the four goals coming off the back of pressure, the best example of the Reds press came in the 74th minute, when left-back Andrew Robertson performed a continuous press that saw him end up in the right wing position.
Some people believe pressing is a simple task that can be performed by any fit side. But if that was the case, every team would have been able to achieve what Liverpool accomplished and Manchester City would not have been undefeated in 22 games this season.
According to Alan Shearer on the BBC’s Match of the Day, teams need “energy, pace, legs, courage and belief” to play the way Liverpool did.
Shearer also said only Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham have the capability to deploy the same tactics.
But that won’t stop other teams from trying. The rest of the league will try to deploy the same tactics and force City’s defence into one of one defending.
The first challenger will be Newcastle this weekend and it will be interesting to see how they set up against the wounded ladder leaders.