Lessons Man City and Liverpool must learn ahead of FA Cup clash

Billed as one of the most consequential Premier League fixtures for years, Sunday’s clash between Manchester City and Liverpool ultimately had little consequence on the table with one point now dividing the two rivals just as it did before kick-off. Nonetheless, the fixture was just as enthralling as many predicted it to be.


Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final promises to be just as captivating with City targeting a Treble and Liverpool going for an unprecedented Quadruple. Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp are revered as era-defining managers and that is reflected in the growing competition between their two teams on the domestic and continental stage.


This, however, isn’t to say both managers shouldn’t learn lessons from what they got wrong on Sunday. For all the undeniable quality of the two teams, City and Liverpool produced a contest that was much about their weaknesses as their strengths. It may have been a high-quality spectacle, but it wasn’t necessarily a high-quality match.


Klopp, for starters, must find a way to push his Liverpool side closer to Manchester City when they have possession. The Reds like to play with a high line, but this was brutally exposed on Sunday as Kevin de Bruyne in particular was afforded far too much time and space to thread passes through to the likes of Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling in behind.


“City really tried to use a couple of things like the balls in behind,” Klopp observed after the match. “I can’t remember them doing it much but today they did. Fine. We don’t own the style, it’s just smart – I couldn’t respect it more. It’s easy to play the pass but the timing for the run – it’s not bad. We could have done it as well but it’s fine, we improved and it’s about winning games, not which style.”


Indeed, Manchester City made an effort to exploit the space behind Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson. This was a strategy that saw Jesus score from a Joao Cancelo pass to put the hosts 2-1 up, but it also gave Liverpool hope in quick transition with the ball turned over more often than is common for the reigning Premier League champions.


Liverpool made alterations for the second half with their midfield line pushed slightly higher to get closer to de Bruyne, Rodri and Bernardo Silva, the trio that dictated much of the first half, but this gave City more space to burst into in front of the visitors’ back four when they broke through the press. It was a difficult situation for Klopp and his players.


Naby Keita could come into the Liverpool lineup for Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final. The Guinean has found some good form of late and is proactive in pressing high on opponents and forcing them into mistakes. What’s more, Keita has forged an understanding with Thiago Alcantara. The pair appear to be on the same wavelength.


Diogo Jota found the net for Liverpool, but the Portuguese wasn’t always quick enough to snap back into his defensive shape, sometimes leaving his team a man down. This could see Luis Diaz start at Wembley with Roberto Firmino another good option, although the Brazilian might not be able to last the full match.


Guardiola might also tailor his approach from Sunday for the FA Cup semi-final against the same opponents. Positionally, Jesus offered Manchester City a lot, but the Brazilian’s execution in dangerous areas wasn’t always what was required. More than he once, he found the side netting with a shot when a pull-back to the penalty spot would have been a better choice. Riyad Mahrez, who featured in the second half at the Etihad Stadium, might start.


City and Liverpool have Champions League quarter-finals to face this week, but sights are already set on this weekend’s FA Cup final four clash. Sunday’s Premier League fixture told us a lot about both teams and Guardiola and Klopp must use that to their advantage. Lessons must be learned. City and Liverpool can produce even better.



Author: Tamara Kim