Raheem Sterling omission backfires as Klopp attack wins
Guardiola was at least in part architect of his own downfall at Anfield
Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling watches Liverpool win from the bench. Photograph: Reuters
Thirteen games played, seven won, one drawn. No other manager has a record against Pep Guardiola anywhere near as good as that of Jürgen Klopp. Nobody else has beaten Guardiola seven times, or six, or even five. Only José Mourinho has come out on top four times against him. So why? What is it about the ferocity of Klopp’s sides that has so often presented a problem for Guardiola?
In part it is that Klopp attacks. To sit back against a team such as City, Klopp has said, to aim to absorb pressure, is to look to win the lottery. You cannot stop them creating chances and so you are left hoping they will not convert any they do create.
His way is to look to use Guardiola’s uncompromising belief in passing football against him by making his ball-playing defenders focus on the defending section of their job rather than the ball-playing part. It is a high-risk strategy, as the 5-0 defeat at the Etihad Stadium in September demonstrated, but the rewards justify the gamble.
Yet there was a sense on Wednesday that Guardiola was at least in part the architect of his own downfall at Anfield. The use of Ilkay Gündogan in a withdrawn role on the right, taking the place of Raheem Sterling, was presumably designed to help City keep the ball and thus control the game, to calm the fury and try to stop Liverpool building the momentum that brought three goals in nine minutes in January.
But trying to squeeze Gündogan, Fernandinho, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva seems problematic. The four have started together only five times in the league, all last season. Only one of those games was won.
Perhaps they are too similar, all neat passers who prefer to operate centrally and lack the unpredictability, pace and width of Sterling, whose introduction 11 minutes into the second half seemed an admission of error. Gündogan’s reluctance to advance meant that for long spells City’s only attacking option was a long diagonal pass out to Leroy Sané, with whom Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold coped brilliantly.
And while their attack was misfiring, City’s defence were exhibiting familiar signs of frailty. The doubt had been that City have a soft underbelly that is protected by their possession. This was exposed by Liverpool’s pace and directness, all three goals resulting from just the sort of rapid transitions Guardiola’s change in shape had seemingly been designed to avoid.