It is awfully difficult to find a team that forces a major tactical tweak out of Guardiola. A staunch believer in expansive attacking tiki-taka football, Pep doesn’t make any compromises when it comes to attacking. Having suffered three defeats in his last three games against Klopp’s Anfield juggernaut, all eyes were on Pep for his answer. And it came in the form of some respect.
Sterling, Sane, Aguero, B. Silva… Pep Guardiola has a team blistering with attacking talent in every corner. Even his fullbacks in the shape of Mendy and Walker are great attacking outlets for a team that never relents at pressing the opposition. In Klopp, Pep has found a kryptonite, the one manager whose style thwarts everything Guardiola’s boys can come up with.
Manchester City may have been on the cusp of a famous win at Anfield, but the general feeling leaving the field – once the disappointment of the penalty fades off – will be one of relief rather than sadness. While the Cityzens were sweeping away all before them last season, Klopp’s Liverpool proved to be major spoilers, both in the domestic and European league, and they were poised to do same here again. This time, though, Guardiola was prepared to prevent any of the silly errors that aided Liverpool’s wins of last season.
Where Stones was nervy and unconvincing last January, he was confident and assured this time, never misplacing a pass or missing a clearance or tackle all game. His defensive partner Aymeric Laporte showed all the hallmarks of a classy defender that his price tag demands. And the initial collective sigh at the lack of a true leader at the back in the form of either Kompany or Otamendi was soon forgotten once the initially frantic opening to the game gave way.
Guardiola may have played a 4-3-3 formation, but this was far from typical Pep. His players were set up in a more restricted, quite defensive 4-3-3. His use of Mahrez in place of Sane showed his intention not to be too expansive in the attack, while Walker and Mendy picked their moments to bomb forward. In the Amazon Prime documentary – ‘All or Nothing’ – Guardiola admitted that City suffers at Anfield, pointing to the Red’s electric front three of Sadio Mane, Salah, and Firmino.
“If you play an open game at Anfield against Liverpool you don’t have 1% chance of winning. Maybe they are the best team in the world on transitions.” “They scare me. They are dangerous. I mean it.”
As respect goes, no team could hope to get any more than that from Guardiola. Seeing the difficulty his team had suffered while trying to impose their game on this team, he went for a more laidback approach – a compact 4-3-3 formation content on winning the midfield battle and building attacks slowly in order not to leave any spaces. The result was a goalless game on what was billed to be an epic night at Anfield.
Leroy Sane’s introduction as the Reds began to tire out served to stretch them even further, with Man City prepared to go for the kill. It soon paid dividends as Sane won a penalty – after several unawarded penalties shout by City earlier in the game –but the Anfield nets were not to be ruffled today. Riyad Mahrez missed the penalty in what was a defining moment in the game, and perhaps in the season ahead, but Guardiola will have little worries after his City side successfully contained Liverpool’s attacking threat, limiting them to only a few half chances.
Salah remains a long way away from the form that saw him hit over 40 goals last season, and he hardly saw any chances here as he was closely marshalled by both Mendy and Laporte. The Silva’s in the midfield worked hard to ensure there were might few dangerous possession turnovers. Further forward, Aguero, Sterling and Mahrez were tidy in possession. Although they could have won the game in its intense final moments, Pep will have no problems with leaving a problematic location with a point just before the international break.
“The back four was so good and we made a good build-up, Guardiola noted. We were solid against a team that punishes your mistakes. We played so well. If you want to analyze the result, it is okay, it could be better. It will always be better to win at Anfield, but do not lose.” Klopp’s summary was even more accurate, “Today was a game full of respect, both teams respected each other a lot.” It’s not often you find Pep according to a team so much respect, but as Van Dijk said afterwards, they’ve earned it.