Manchester City defeated Liverpool 2-1 on Boxing Day in a match shrouded in controversy. Much like the League Cup semi-final second leg in 2012 where Liverpool emerged the victors in a controversially referred match between these two clubs, much of the post-match discussion has focused on decisions of the officials’ crew.
But what was a more interesting takeaway from the evening was the ability of Liverpool to use Manchester City’s obsession with marking Luis Suarez to find acres of space for the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling.
On multiple occasions during the match, Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany tracked Suarez while Joleon Lescott, the left-centre back, failed to slide into the space vacated by Kompany. This gave Coutinho and Sterling multiple opportunities to score goals and punish the Blues defensive ill-discipline.
Chelsea prepares for the visit of Suarez and Liverpool coming off two clean sheets in succession. Jose Mourinho, whose defensive mastery of tactics has proven once again to be a polarizing subject in England, must take notes.
A zonal marking system will likely be employed as a response by Mourinho but that could afford Suarez more space on the ball and potentially more shooting opportunities. Keeping Suarez in check may depend on Chelsea playing two deep lying marking midfielders. This will almost certainly negate any attacking contribution Frank Lampard for instance would typically make in the match of this magnitude.
Liverpool’s ability to create numerous scoring chances on the break against City, even while the opposition was obsessed with Suarez’s movement, showed how the Reds can break down any opposition in England. It was an impressive display and though the finishing touch eluded Sterling while the officials played their role in Liverpool’s defeat, the obvious takeaway is that Chelsea will be in for a dogfight on Sunday.
Considering that Mourinho has little confidence in his attacking central midfield play, he is likely to have his side sit deep again even at Stamford Bridge. By sitting deep, Chelsea can absorb pressure but cannot afford any lapses in concentration like what Lescott demonstrated on Boxing Day for Manchester City. Similar mistakes could result in an improbable draw or even a Blues loss on Sunday, which will be a blow to Mourinho’s hopes of a Premier League title.