Man City v Liverpool made for an unusual spectacle, but one that was fascinating for the tacticians even if it did not boast a twist at the last
December 31, 2007 1:49 AM
One of the hardest tasks in football is to devise a system to play on the counter-attack as the home side, conceding possession if you must and accepting that the opposition will have the majority of the ball.
Often, when you are away from home, circumstances dictate a natural counterattacking style. Eastlands, however, brought together two thinking foreign managers - cunning, clever but cautious - who both shunned the English obsession with delivering the ball into the final third as quickly as possible from defence - "straight-line football".
It made for an unusual Sunday afternoon's spectacle but one that was fascinating for the tacticians even if it did not boast a twist at the last. Rarely do home sides allow the visitors to take the initiative and let them bring the ball out of defence without any attempt to win the ball back early and hassle and hustle as a group. To the great credit of the Eastlands crowd they seemed understanding of Sven-Goran Eriksson's tactics - his was a clear plan to concede possession and play on the counter.
Confronted by Darius Vassell alone up front, Liverpool were able to progress up to the middle third in comfort. There, Vedran Corluka and Dietmar Hamann - disciplined and decisive - competed admirably with the visitors' midfield. City's problem, however, was that Rafael Benítez had succeeded likewise in limiting the impact of the home side's key counterattacker, the livewire Martin Petrov. Had the Bulgarian winger been on his game he would have thrust Liverpool back into defence; instead his threat was nullified.
Petrov had destroyed Blackburn Rovers' right defensive flank in City's previous game, a performance perhaps witnessed by Benítez and his scouts, and the Bulgarian duly incurred astute defensive tactical concentration from Liverpool.
City's game plan relied heavily on Petrov's acceleration and delivery from the left. Steve Finnan knew he must not get too tight and be vulnerable to the one-two - when Petrov plays one touch infield and races into the space behind, City are at their most dangerous. With that in mind Liverpool cleverly reduced the supply to Petrov by mustering pressure on the passing player to narrow the angle with which he could play the ball out wide as the winger hugged the touchline.
When Petrov did receive the ball, Finnan turned to face his own goal to counter the one-two with a three-yard advantage. Once, early on, when Petrov threatened behind, Alvaro Arbeloa - having an effective stroll as an emergency right-sided centre-back - was primed and aware and intercepted with ease.
That rather stumped City, with their counterattacking plan damaged as Petrov was rendered ineffective. Slowly but surely Liverpool turned the screw, finishing with nine corners and a plethora of shots. As the chances kept coming, City leaned heavier on Corluka and Hamann, defensive pillars in front of giants in Richard Dunne and Micah Richards. This ended up as a good point for the home side, but Liverpool's efforts perhaps deserved better.
All good but was any football actually played?
It's great for the tacticians out there but who wants to watch a chess match?