FA Community Shield, August 4 2019
Penalties were required to separate Manchester City and Liverpool – the two teams expected to contest the Premier League title – in their first meeting of the 2019/20 season, on this occasion for the FA Community Shield. Regardless of whether this fixture is considered a friendly, both Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp selected strong XIs that went all out for victory, and perhaps a psychological advantage over the team they consider the greatest threat to their domestic ambitions. City went ahead when Raheem Sterling scored for the first time against his former club, but an equalising goal from Liverpool substitute Joel Matip forced penalties. City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo duly became the unexpected hero, saving from Georginio Wijnaldum before Gabriel Jesus scored the winning kick.
17 / 8
SHOTS / ON TARGET
8 / 3
551 / 473
Passes / Accurate
510 / 428
4 / 0 / 0
Fouls / Yellow / Red
8 / 1 / 0
Jurgen Klopp set Liverpool up in a 4-3-3 formation both in and out of possession, against opponents whose 4-1-4-1 became a 4-4-2 when they were defending. They very rarely enjoyed spells of sustained possession during the first half, when they struggled to work through Manchester City’s defensive structure. Their only significant threat came in transitions, when Mo Salah looked to move into the space vacated by Oleksandr Zinchenko if the left-back had contributed to City’s build-up play.
City’s defensive 4-4-2 was created by David Silva pushing up to join Gabriel Jesus, a 13th-minute substitute for the injured Leroy Sané, and Rodri pushing up to where Silva had been in central midfield. The City captain and Jesus looked to press Joe Gomez, Virgil van Dijk and single pivot Fabinho; Silva’s pushing up from midfield led to Rodri and Kevin De Bruyne taking responsibility for Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum; wide attackers Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling, who moved to the flank after Sané’s withdrawal, would then press the Liverpool full-backs when the ball travelled wide.
When Henderson was instructed to drop towards possession in the first phase of the build-up, De Bruyne was reluctant to follow him. With David Silva and Rodri already pushing up, De Bruyne following Henderson would have risked leaving a big space between defence and midfield – one Roberto Firmino in particular could have exploited with his familiar dropping movements. Granting Henderson possession deeper represented less of a risk for the City midfield.
Liverpool did look to capitalise on City’s pressing further upfield, again through Henderson’s positioning and in an attempt to get Salah on the ball in more dangerous areas. Penetrative runs from the Liverpool captain beyond City’s defensive line and on De Bruyne’s blindside looked to drag Zinchenko away from Salah, creating numerous situations for the forward to receive and drive inside. He did this repeatedly, but was unable to find a way past Claudio Bravo with a number of shots.
Substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain assumed this same responsibility from Henderson when introduced for the final 15 minutes, but Liverpool were unable to find a winner to back up Joel Matip’s 79th-minute equaliser and ultimately paid the price when Wijnaldum’s penalty was saved by Bravo in the shoot-out.
Pep Guardiola set his Manchester City team up in a 4-1-4-1 formation in possession. Raheem Sterling started as the lone striker, with Bernardo Silva and Leroy Sané supporting from wide areas until the latter was forced off injured after only 13 minutes. He was replaced by Gabriel Jesus, with goalscorer Sterling moving wide. David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne were used inside as the two attacking central midfielders, with new arrival Rodri making his debut in front of a familiar back four.
The introduction of a new rule – allowing defenders to receive possession inside the penalty area from goal-kicks – inspired City to use Claudio Bravo, Nicolás Otamendi, John Stones and Rodri in a square that worked to create a four-on-three against Liverpool’s front three at the top of their favoured 4-3-3. These overloads were significant in enabling them to consistently progress through the first phase of the press throughout the first half; for the square to succeed, City needed their front three to push as far forward as possible to occupy Liverpool’s defence, ultimately testing the ability of Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum to stop their opposing midfielders.
Liverpool’s midfielders were respectively responsible for tracking De Bruyne and David Silva, but they were also being forced to move out to press Kyle Walker and Oleksandr Zinchenko when either full-back received possession, as they often did during City’s build-ups. Beyond the first-phase, four-on-three overload, City could also create two-on-ones in the second – for example on their right, through Walker or De Bruyne joining Bernardo Silva in attacking Andy Robertson when the other was occupied by Henderson.
Klopp therefore instructed Divock Origi and Mo Salah to screen passes to Walker and Zinchenko – but City’s fine passing range limited their success in doing so, even if aerial balls gave Liverpool more time to press the ball-receiver before they gained possession. De Bruyne’s runs between Robertson and Virgil van Dijk were also a threat, often coming after diagonal passes to Bernardo Silva drew Robertson wide and therefore created space. The following pass in behind for De Bruyne was then accompanied by runs into the penalty area from further attackers.
Liverpool played with minimal distance between their outfield units, but this left space behind their defence, which Guardiola’s team also regularly targeted in a dominant first half. The Reds’ eventual second-half introduction of Joel Matip for Trent Alexander-Arnold, with Joe Gomez moving out to right-back, served to limit these opportunities in behind, but City certainly showed enough threat to suggest they would again be the team to beat in the Premier League this season.
Author: Tony Hodson