My beloved Man City finished second in the league this past season, 18 points behind Liverpool, losing 9 matches.
After winning the last 2 premier league titles, racking up 100 points and 98 in successive seasons, what happened this season to essentially the same team from the last 2 campaigns?
For starters – Liverpool were consistently great. They only dropped 4 points prior to winning the title quickest in the history of the Premier League. Having lost the league by 1 point last season, Klopp and the Reds had hunger, desire and confidence to beat any team they played and went on to prove their superiority. I have new found respect for Klopp in that I think he is a far superior motivator of men than Guardiola. He has the qualities of a superior leader who is able to get the best out of his players and motivate them to play for the team. The players trust Klopp and will go the extra length on the pitch to give it their all. Also, the team is well drilled, meaning they practice well and seldom make mistakes, this was evident throughout this season where they had very few mental lapses.
City in contrast had many mental lapses this season that led to dropping of points. In the 2nd match of the season – Aguero did not cover Lucas that allowed him to score of a corner in the dying stages of the match, this was only the second shot Spurs had taken all match, the game ended 2-2. Two weeks later, Otamendi made an errant back pass to Ederson which was intercepted by a Norwich forward who put the ball into the back of the net. Norwich 3 City 2 – Norwich only took 3 shots, scored all 3 times.
The injuries to Sane and especially to Laporte also had major consequences. City missed a speedy outlet on the left wing that Sane provided that created tap in goals for Aguero and Sterling. Laporte’s injury depleted a porous back line. Fernandinho having to move back to defense created a massive hole in the City midfield that was dominated by probably the best player in this position.
But ultimately the other teams figured out City were slow and prone to mistakes in the middle of the park and went about attacking that weakness. United did it 3 times this season. Wolves did it twice.
The formula to play City is deceptively simple: allow City to have possession, hang back put men behind the ball and defend to give City wide men and forwards very little. Counter attack the City high line which lacks speed and is ordinary on any given matchday. I saw this happen over and over this season. The teams that beat City had speedy wingers and forwards who stretched the City defense and created confusion in the box. Guradiola wants his center backs to come to the half way line when City have the ball to provide additional outlet to move the ball around but this essentially leaves half the field open for a ball over the top.
A 38 game schedule played over 9 months is a grueling test of a team’s character. Only teams who are cohesive, well drilled, mentally strong, injury free and having a deep talented bench will do well. This season Liverpool had it all while City didn’t.