Manchester City coming to Anfield could be the biggest test we face this season so far at home. This could be the game where we turn Anfield into a fortress and let other teams know that when they come to Anfield, they will leave disappointed. But to do that we must take care of business.
I expect Manchester City to line up in their standard 4-3-3, with no big surprises in the line up. We might see the false fullbacks in order to clog the middle and stifle our counter-attacks, which are sometimes pretty narrow. Sane and Sterling might stay wide for the majority of the game to leave room for De Bruyne and Silva in the half spaces.
For Liverpool, I say a 4-3-3 with Karius; Robertson, Matip, VVD, Gomez; Lallana, Can, Milner; and finally Mane, Firmino, and Salah. It will be good to have Salah back, and he could (unsurprisingly) be the key to winning this game for us.
In my opinion a 4-5-1 shape defensively would be the way to go, but instead of Firmino being the one to stay up, I think it should be Salah. Mane will drop back slightly out on the left wing, and Firmino will drop in the midfield, perhaps pushing Milner to the right, as his work rate could help in stopping Sane. Otamendi is tied for the 2nd most yellow cards in the Premier League, so Salah in open space against him could be our best threat on the counter. Get them in card trouble and force them to use a sub. This is why I would have Salah stay up top, and have Firmino drop back instead. Having Mane somewhat high and wide during the Manchester City build up could lead to Walker not being able to play as an inverted fullback, since Mane will have open space to attack if Pep’s team lose the ball. If this ends up being the case, then it could lead to Silva or De Bruyne dropping back more, meaning they won’t be in threatening positions further up the field. Firmino being back in the midfield also allows us to have another good passer to play either Salah or Mane in space.
In terms of build up, I would keep our fullbacks in line with our center backs on the flanks, maybe a bit higher if anything. If a fullback wants to move up, then a midfielder should take his place in the buildup. The reason for this is because it would be a bad idea to leave Sane or Sterling in open space. Having someone out there will delay their counter, and we can regroup. Because Manchester City more often than not play with a high line, balls into space to our forwards from our backline may be the way to go. I am not exactly saying we blast the ball up top and hope our forwards do something with it, but if we can lure their press in and force their backline to step up a bit, then the space behind will be perfect for our fast forwards to run onto. To add to this, if they win the ball back in the midfield, then we will have De Bruyne and Silva running at our defense. And with Sterling and Sane’s speed out wide… not exactly the most ideal situation.
Game management will also be vital this game. The several late goals for Manchester City this year (especially Sterling) suggest that they push the accelerator in the second half after wearing down opponents in the first. So do we preserve some energy in the first half to match their rise in intensity in the second? I say we bait them into thinking that we will lay down to them to start the game, and with say fifteen minutes left in the half we raise our game, advance our lines a bit, and really go for it. End the half with some confidence. We also start the second half the same way we ended the first, then cool down to contain the Manchester onslaught for the final minutes. Essentially, the middle thirty minutes is where we push our accelerator. Allow them to get comfortable, hit them when they let their guard down, then at the end we contain.