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How Pep Guardiola managed to overcome Liverpool last season – and what it means for Sunday


Up until last year, Pep Guardiola‘s record against Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool seemed somewhat problematic.

The Manchester City boss is revered and considered as the world’s best coach, but he hadn’t been able to exhibit as much dominance as usual when tasked with defeating the Anfield club.

In 2017/18, City’s unbeaten league run was ended by Liverpool in the January and months later, Klopp would also knock the Etihad club out of the Champions League in the quarter-finals, winning both legs.

17 clashes have occurred involving the two managers in all competitions, with the City boss winning seven and the German winning eight. Guardiola has lost more matches versus Klopp than against any other in his managerial career.

However, the Catalan seemed to overcome his hoodoo last season, with his tactical approach appearing to master the Merseyside club.

 

Liverpool’s ability to blow teams away in short spells is renowned, particularly by Guardiola considering how his 4-3 and 3-0 losses in 2017/18 unfolded.

Understandably, he wanted to avoid such an occurrence at all costs when arriving at Anfield last year.

In order to do so, Guardiola essentially nullified Liverpool’s main source of chance creation versus City – pressing. Against inferior sides, Liverpool dominate the ball and aim to break down the opposition in open play, as demonstrated against Newcastle in September for example, in which the Reds won 3-1 and ended the match with 76% possession.

Klopp‘s preference against City, though, has been to effectively relinquish possession, and instead create by pressing and luring players into making mistakes on the ball. By doing so, that allows his team to remain defensively compact and hard to break down, with little risks taken.

 

That often generated clear-cut chances for Liverpool against City, with the likes of Nicolas Otamendi, John Stones, Ederson and Fernandinho suffering from errors in the past before being punished.

Last season, Guardiola seemed to recognise and act upon that ploy.

City counteracted Liverpool’s pressing game by essentially building around the pitch rather than through the centre where Klopp‘s industrious midfielders lurked.

The passing locations of Guardiola‘s team from the 0-0 stalemate are pictured below and evidently, there was a clear avoidance of the middle (City attacking from right to left).

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City’s safe avoidance of the central midfield area evidenced a preference to build wide

By opting to play around the pitch and build using their wide players, City ensured dangerous pressing moments were avoided, as it’s essentially safer if the ball is lost on the flanks as opposed to in the middle of the field.

The problem with that tactic, though, was that it also seemed to hinder City’s attack, so both teams cancelled each other out with seven shots hit by the home side compared to six amassed by the visitors. A penalty was gained in the dying minutes, but Riyad Mahrez failed to convert.

In the second meeting of the season at the Etihad, Guardiola employed largely the same approach in terms of how to progress the ball up the field. However, due to the welcoming home surroundings, City exhibited a willingness to take slightly more risks in possession.

 

The team’s attack suffered once more, but crucially, so did Liverpool’s.

Liverpool struggled to create clear-cut moments through pressing and lost 2-1 at the hands of impressive finishes from Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sane. The goal that Liverpool did score derived from a 16-pass move rather than a pressing situation.

Ultimately, Guardiola‘s approach on Sunday remains uncertain at this stage, but the success of his cautious and conservative game last season suggests that he may stick rather than twist.



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