Well well, that was a slightly nervy second-half on Liverpool’s part. Though, this was the kind of professional performance that every fan would have wanted. Three well-taken goals plus a stout defensive display in the second-half.
Give credit to Brendan Rodgers. He managed to send out his Liverpool side with confidence but not complacency, something that past managers have failed to do. After such a big win last week, it would have been tempting to chop and change with a view on the Manchester City game. But, as Rodgers has always been, it was taking one game at a time. A full, unchanged side was sent out to get the job done, and they did. Now he and his side can look ahead to the clash at the Etihad.
First off, Luis Suarez’s brilliance again, as usual. Not much more to write about it, other than the fact he had another two sublime goals – one a magnificent volley from the edge of the box, the other a nice curler that was just out of the reach of David Marshall. No Anfield hat-trick this time though. Suarez even claimed another assist with his unselfish square ball to Raheem Sterling after Jordan Henderson set the Uruguayan off.
Henderson had another solid game again, making forward runs, but this time showing another facet to his game, Steven Gerrard-esque passes. From deep, he made a few nice cross field passes to the right-side for either Glen Johnson or Sterling, that really opened up the Cardiff defence as it allowed the two right-sided players to attack the Bluebird’s weak left hand side. Mamadou Sakho had another quietly solid game, commanding in the air and providing a steady presence in the Reds’ defence. Daniel Agger certainly has his work cut out to get back into the first XI. However, there were some worrying signs in this display too.
Weaknesses Exposed Again
Set-pieces, yet again Liverpool concede from dead-ball situations. Peter Whittingham’s curled deliveries into the box gave Liverpool all sorts of problems, with Martin Skrtel having a hard time dealing with this threat, constantly pulling the player he was marking and at times, fortunate not to give away penalties twice in this game. For Cardiff’s consolation, where was the marking? How was Sakho having to mark two men at the far post during the defensive free-kick? It was such a soft goal to concede and one that Rodgers has to look at again, especially with City in such fine form at their offensive set-pieces.
Jon Flanagan had an OK game. He bombed forward pretty well, unlucky not to get a goal himself, but was under pressure from Craig Noone early in the first-half. Not much blame attached to him though, he just needs to relax and recover from this game. Joe Allen had a below-average performance, especially after the past two or three storming games he has had. Now the challenge for him, and to a certain extent Henderson, is to prove against Chelsea and City that their forms are truly on the up with better and commanding midfield performances.
Just like the Spurs game last week, Rodgers has to identify that the area where this game will be won or lost is in central midfield. The power of City’s two-men midfield in Yaya Toure and Fernandinho is a class above any combination Spurs could have put in central midfield this season. This will certainly be the biggest test for the Reds’ central midfield, maybe all season long.
Lucas’ eye will definitely have to be on Toure, but more than that he has to keep an eye out on the inward drifting David Silva or Samir Nasri. With the threat of Henderson’s forward runs now no longer a surprise, it is definitely time for Rodgers to mix it up and allow Allen to make runs forward as well, with both taking turns to go forward in support of Suarez. But all three has to keep the City duo in check. Rodgers will do well in identifying how Toure lost the ball to Aaron Ramsey in City’s 6-3 demolition of Arsenal for Theo Walcott’s first equalising goal, and highlight to Henderson how he needs to close Toure down in such manner as well.
Another key factor will be how the two captains, who will be in direct contact with each other most game, fare. Will stand-in skipper Suarez get the better of City’s captain Vincent Kompany? Though Suarez is in hot-form and will give Kompany much to think about, Rodgers should instruct Suarez to attack Martin Demechelis. The Argentinian centre-back is the weak link in City’s back line. For all of Demechelis’ power in attacking set-pieces, he is very vulnerable on the ground and Suarez has to capitalise on that fact by dribbling at him.
How Liverpool stops Kompany and co. at set-pieces will be another decider in this game. With Kompany, Edin Dzeko, Toure, Alvaro Negredo and Demechelis all big aerial threats, Liverpool need to limit the number of free-kicks they give away plus the number of corners they concede.
Also, if Gael Clichy continues at right-back, this is the other area Liverpool need to attack. Philipp Coutinho cutting inside might suit Clichy more, but if Sterling or Victor Moses is on the left and attacking Clichy down the line on his weaker right-foot, Rodgers could get some joy there.
Overall, this will be a fascinating showdown at the Etihad. City has already put 4 past Manchester United, 6 past Spurs and Arsenal, and are free scoring at home. Liverpool cannot go all gung-ho like they did against Spurs at White Hart Lane, and must be more considered in their approach. Yes the midfield must support Suarez, but they must also keep City’s Sergio Aguero-less attack in threat. Mind you, there’s still the speed of Jesus Navas to consider. What is going for Liverpool is that they can play without pressure now having secured six points from this batch of four difficult Christmas period games, the number of points they realistically wanted to get. If they somehow pull off an unlikely victory at the Etihad where City has been so strong, honestly, anything can happen.