Tactics Talk: What do Javi Garcia and Gareth Barry actually offer?
Manchester City’s home match against Liverpool on Sunday offered both sides a chance to make up ground on their rivals in the English Premier League. Roberto Mancini’s City surrendered more points in the title race last week by drawing 0-0 away to Queen’s Park Rangers, but would have been confident after winning their last four at home without losing a single goal. Since the signing of Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool have lost just one game in the league and there was an air of optimism going in to this one after their 2-2 draw with Arsenal in midweek. Sitting seventh in the table they had to win to make up ground on their Merseyside rivals, Everton, in fifth.
Significantly, for Mancini, Vincent Kompany missed out through injury so Matija Nastasic started alongside Joleon Lescott in the centre of a defence with Joe Hart in goals, Gael Clichy on the left and Pablo Zabaleta on the right. Gareth Barry and Javi Garcia had the job of protecting the defence with the creativity left to James Milner, David Silva and Sergio Aguero ahead of them. With the sale of Mario Balotelli, Edin Dzeko now has more responsibility at City and the Bosnian started up front looking to add to his ten goals in the league.
There’s been considerable upheaval at Liverpool since Rafa Benitez left the club in 2010, but there now seems to be a settled look about their team under Brendan Rodgers. With the return of the fit-again Jose Enrique, Rodgers made one change to the side that drew in midweek by replacing Andre Wisdom with the Spaniard. Pepe Reina remained in goals behind a defence of Enrique, Glen Johnson, Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger. Stewart Downing began on the left with Jordan Henderson on the right and Steven Gerrard and Lucas in the middle. Sturridge remained as the most advanced of the front pairing and the mercurial Luis Suarez supported.
First Half – Sturridge and Suarez have the effect
A major talking point pre-game surrounded the absence of Manchester City’s captain. Their defensive record since the defeat to Manchester United at the start of December has seen them to eight wins in 11 games, but could they cope without the formidable Kompany?
Sturridge and Suarez began the game setting the tempo for the afternoon. A key feature of the ex-City and Chelsea striker’s game is his pace in the channels and Nastasic and Lescott were regularly stretched in the opening period. Suarez thrived in the space both between defence and midfield, but didn’t have his usual quality in the final third.
Their cause was helped by the inefficiency early on of the City central midfield. What do Javi Garcia and Gareth Barry actually offer? They’re not particularly effective on the ball – Lucas made more passes in the first 25 minutes than both combined -, three tackles between them shows they rarely break up play and neither had a shot on target all afternoon. Suarez and Sturridge were continually allowed to drift between them to pick up the ball and that must be nowhere near good enough for a manager who demands his side are strong defensively before anything else.
The first half was just shaded by the away team, but it was City who hit first. Slack marking allowed Aguero to pick up the ball in space in the middle before Milner was fed on the left and his ball was tapped in by Dzeko. Agger will be disappointed that his deep positioning kept Milner on and allowed Dzeko the room to lose him for the finishing touch.
Liverpool responded well and their patient probing resulted in City fluffing their clearances before Sturridge hit a rocket past Hart. Focus will remain on Dzeko being down ‘injured’ at the time, but what would the Bosnian have done about the goal? Nothing.
The half finished 1-1 and it was all both sides deserved.
Second half – City eventually wake up to rampant Liverpool
Liverpool’s presence grew in the game. Buoyed by an impressive first-half, the opening spell of the second half saw them dominate City. They made more than double the amount of passes of the home side, outshot and outfought their opponents before taking the lead. Enrique’s surge and cross from the left was cleared to Gerrard and his strike brought back memories of the Liverpool captain of old as he put his side ahead.
What’s surprising for City, the Premier League champions and one of the most expensively assembled sides in football, is that it took Liverpool’s second goal going in for them to wake up. Their tempo rose, helped by a roar of urgency from the fans, and they got back on level terms minutes later.
A nothing ball from Barry was chased down by Aguero who was met by Reina wide on the left of the keeper’s box. Although silly of the Spaniard to be that far out of goal, Aguero produced a moment of genius to clip the ball in from an improbable angle.
His team may not have deserved the equaliser, but Aguero certainly did. He took on more defenders than any other player on the park and, alongside the relaxed presence of Dzeko, worked tirelessly to press Liverpool’s defence. Aguero produced a Premier League title performance; his team-mates were too far away from his level.
Full-time – Liverpool dominant but mistakes let City back in to the game
“I thought we were the dominant team…you come away to the champions and play like that, but we’re obviously disappointed with the goals conceded,” Brendan Rodgers summing up his side’s day perfectly.
They bettered their opponents, who were uncharacteristically poor at home, and should have won the game. However, and perhaps it’s testament to why they are reining league champions, City clung on and their attacking quality made the most of silly Liverpool mistakes.
Rodgers has commented on his club’s growth and Sunday was another sign that they are on the up, but to really bridge the gap on the top sides they have to defend better and that was the difference between three points and one in this game.Tagged in: football, Liverpool, Manchester City
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