The buildup to Sunday’s mouthwatering title-impacting clash was largely about the players set with the backdrop of the 25th Anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster as well as talk about Liverpool’s desire to win a first league title in almost a quarter century. But the critical difference came in the tactical setups of the two managers.
Title-impacting match-ups are often decided by managerial moves and tactics, but these usually favor the more experienced leader. Brendan Rodgers got his Liverpool team sheet and tactics correct while Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini got it all wrong.
Rodgers figured out a way to feature Phillipe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling in the team, and set up a side where both could find pockets of space. The midfield diamond Liverpool played wreaked absolute havoc on the Blues for the first 30 minutes.
A forced change brought on Javi Garcia on for Manchester City when Yaya Toure was hurt in minute 19. The Blues couldn’t cope with the movement of Liverpool’s attacking players until Garcia found his feet about ten minutes after coming on. At that point, Liverpool was already two goals ahead.
Pellegrini, having burned a substitute due to the Toure injury, strangely did not bring James Milner on at halftime for the ineffective Jesus Navas. The Spanish international has had repeated poor matches in big games away from Eastlands this season, and Pellegrini’s decision to start him was shortsighted.
Before the match the discussion among City supporters assumed either Garcia would start and that would result in Toure pushing forward, or Milner would start out wide directly in Navas’ position. Pellegrini, by minute 50, realized he had to make the change, swapping Navas for Milner. And instantly, the match changed.
The Blues almost chased the match down, scoring twice quickly after Milner’s entry to the match, and created several more chances before skipper Vincent Kompany’s costly and uncharacteristic error gifted Liverpool the three points. But the match was in fact decided pregame with Pellegrini’s tactical and selection errors. While some Manchester City supporters will rue the missed second half chances, the two Kompany errors that led directly to Liverpool goals plus the three controversial non-penalty calls were key, however the Blues lost the match due to Pellegrini’s tactical naivety.
Editor’s note: Find out how to get Kartik Krishnaiyer’s new book entitled ‘Blue With Envy: My American Journey With Manchester City’.