Manchester City’s 4-0 loss at Everton in January was yet another one to add the club’s poor record on Merseyside.
Defeats on Merseyside have become a routine for City and their fans as the Blues always seem leave with at least one poor result when facing Everton or Liverpool in any given season. Indeed, they still haven’t won at Anfield since 2003.
One thing that stands out immediately when City and the Merseyside teams clash is the atmosphere. After visiting Anfield on New Year’s Eve to see Pep Guardiola’s team lose 1-0 in what was a poor performance, the atmosphere was something which I have rarely experienced. Obviously, the Manchester and Liverpool city rivalry is intense, even to the extent where Liverpool fans were singing songs which are usually only heard when they clash with Manchester United.
It is the same case when City visit Goodison Park to face Everton. The Blue side of Liverpool always seem to find that extra bit of voice when City make the trip. This makes for an intimidating atmosphere and one which can affect the side.
City is a side full of players from across the world, who will be accustomed to all different types of atmospheres. However, they never seem to perform well in a hostile Liverpool atmosphere. Compared to the Etihad, the atmosphere at Liverpool and Everton is significantly louder and with City’s style of play being one based on communication and organisation, it’s no surprise that they have trouble concentrating when a Merseyside crowd barrages them with noise.
Another component that adds to City’s misery on Merseyside is the context of the match.
Whenever the Blues come up against the Merseyside teams, there always seems to be something on the line. One of the most recent examples being back in 2014, where City faced Liverpool at Anfield in what was being billed as the title decider.
The media were building the match up as if the world was going to end straight after with constant around the clock coverage.
Immediately, there were pictures of the team buses arriving with flares, flags and chanting already creating an intimidating atmosphere for City as the away side resulting in more pressure. Then came the constant booing from Liverpool fans and the spine tingling rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. It wouldn’t be surprising if the City players were nervous before kick-off at this point.
As always with a Liverpool crowd, they let their presence known whenever an offence went against their side, even when it clearly was a foul! This would not have helped a City side managed by the calm and quiet Manuel Pellegrini.
The match itself turned out to be a five-goal thriller with Liverpool coming out 3-2 winners and it seemed the Reds were set to be champions, but it – quite literally – slipped away in the last few weeks of the 2013/14 season.
Ever since Sheikh Mansour arrived at Manchester City, the Blues have been playing a very attractive and entertaining style of football. This looks great on a huge pitch such as the Etihad’s, however, when it comes to the more traditional stadiums such as Anfield and Goodison Park, playing a free-flowing style of football is not always the best.
Both Everton and Liverpool when at home will put immense amounts of pressure on their opponents and sometimes City need to use boring away team tactics. This being ‘park the bus’ for the first 30 minutes of the match so their Merseyside opponents can tire themselves out.
City as always, will try and make themselves look like the better team by playing a more attractive style of football, attempting to pass around the opponent. However, when at Anfield or Goodison on narrow pitches, playing attractive football may not be the best tactic. The Merseyside teams will try and disrupt the free-flowing style of football with their immense pressure and usually City get caught out by one misplaced pass which often leads to a goal.
Instead, City need to just sit back and absorb the high intensity pressure. This is because Liverpool and Everton are out of energy going into the closing stages of the match giving City the perfect opportunity to create chances and actually get three points on Merseyside.
These tactics may not be glamorous, but, they will probably work. Pep Guardiola, take note.
Written by Matt Astbury
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