Even after the English League Cup Round of 16 between Manchester City and Liverpool, Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp were still battling for the ball. Klopp grabbed whoever was close to him after the final whistle – whereupon Guardiola kicked the ball with him. took the next hug from his hand. The City coach immediately passed it on to his staff, so even Klopp – the specialist in immediate catch-up after losing the ball – could no longer reach him.
Like very few teams in world football, Guardiola and Klopp’s side defend the ball all the time. So when City and Liverpool meet, there are always two teams in attack mode – because one wants to have the ball all the time and the other wants to put it in the goal immediately. So far, this has always resulted in blisteringly fast football, in which neither players nor spectators have a chance to rest for a moment.
Such a Halligalli could again be seen in City’s 3:2 (1:1) draw against Liverpool in the League Cup. There was a constant back and forth between the penalty areas, with even Manchester midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, known for his stamina, falling back onto the pitch after the final whistle to regain his strength. Not only was the Belgian out of breath, but the game had demanded everything from many other players. Tastes are warm as Klopp called it a ‘spectacular’ game – who could disagree? The newspaper The telegraph Certainly not, the ultra-conservative newspaper celebrated the “jubilant, eventful, high-quality” match, in which “the shreds flew” this time again.
In fact, it didn’t even take 20 seconds for the first chance to score. However, even very good opportunities later struggled to make it into match reports because there were simply too many of them. The five goals alone – with two equalizers for Liverpool before Nathan Aké secured the win for City (3:2/58.) – were of the highest quality. This was particularly true of Liverpool’s 2-2 draw through Mo Salah, resulting from a remarkable outside kick pass from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who had previously moved four opponents down the halfway line.
The line-up already showed how important success was for City and their manager. While Guardiola ordered defender Aké into the starting XI, Klopp left his defensive organizer Virgil van Dijk – although Aké and van Dijk returned from the World Cup at the same time after the quarter-finals with the Netherlands a week and a half ago. But Guardiola had recently lost three games in a row to Liverpool and had been waiting for a win against Klopp for five games. The latest so far is from February 2021.
Many players seemed to really enjoy being able to attack at their leisure again
By knocking out defending champions Liverpool, City at least adjusted the hierarchy in the League Cup. City have also been strong in this competition recently – which can’t be said for the Champions League, which the club really want to win for the first time. Guardiola won the domestic cup, named after a cheap drink, four times in a row with City from 2018 to 2021, and he hasn’t lifted another trophy more often in his coaching career. And a fifth triumph is no longer unlikely, in the quarter-finals it goes to Southampton FC.
England heralded the return of club football after the World Cup with the roar of the Liverpool City Cup game just before Christmas. In Qatar, mainly pragmatic coaches and their teams stood out. This was represented by the four World Cup semi-finalists (Argentina, France, Croatia, Morocco), who impressed with a style of play based on defensive control. Their plan was based on a defense far behind and relied mainly on counter-attacks with a solid collective. This diversion of attacking pressing, which is often seen in Qatar, is certainly also due to the fact that many teams have now become so good on the ball that they can combine forces from behind even under intense pressure. However, Guardiola and Klopp, who can be described as idealists, resist the defensive tendency. The result was obvious in the cup: offensive actions abound on both sides, because the exceptional players of the two clubs can hardly be stopped as soon as the opposing forecheck is reversed.
What trend is currently continuing? In addition to the concepts of the coaches, it is above all the players who decide on this. Even in the World Cup final, they seemed to free themselves of any tactical constraints as the match progressed. Now the performances of City and Liverpool indicated that many players were really enjoying being back in the game with their eyes wide open.
On the island, they can now do this without interruption: from the restart of the Premier League on “Boxing Day” (December 26) until January 5, football will be played in England every day. The ball will not rest until Thursday, December 29.
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