Thursday, June 8, 2023

Manchester City 2-3 Liverpool: Talking points as Merseysiders book FA Cup final place

Veselin Trajkovic in Editorial, FA Cup 17 Apr 2022

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Having already won the Carabao Cup this season, Liverpool have booked a place in the final of the FA Cup by beating fierce rivals Manchester City in the semis on Saturday.

Ibrahima Konate scored his third goal in the last four games to break the deadlock, Sadio Mane caught Zack Stefen being too careless in the City goal for the second, before emphatically finishing off a fantastic sequence of play from his team to make it three. City bounced back early in the second half with Jack Grealish scoring a sudden chance, and on the stroke of 90, Bernardo Silva provided some added consolation for the Premier League champions after substitute Riyad Mahrez broke past Andy Robertson to create the chance.

As is always the case when the best two teams in England meet, there’s plenty to talk about.

Disgraceful behaviour of some City supporters

The talk about the Manchester City supporters kicked off long before the actual match, but the first observation many made was the fact that the club failed to sell out their ticket allocation. Granted, the FA Cup doesn’t bear the same significance as years ago, but it’s still the oldest and biggest cup competition in England, it’s a major trophy and a team that strives to win multiple silverware in one season always needs its supporters by its side.

But the real shock came just ahead of the kick-off, when referee Michael Oliver had to cut the minutes’ silence in show respect for the Hillsborough victims short, because a section of City fans disturbed it recklessly.

The Hillsborough disaster, which happened on April 15th, 1989, remains one of the greatest tragedies in the history of football, and every decent football-related person who knows anything about it acknowledges the struggle for truth over the 33 years that have passed since. It was therefore appropriate to show respect a day after its anniversary, but a number of City fans obviously felt differently.

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It should be stressed at this point that it was a minority of the City fans present in the stadium who behaved that way, while others in the fanbase distanced themselves from the vile act and condemned it, more decisively even than the club itself.

The apology, however, seems rather halfhearted, expressing disappointment but hardly any outright condemnation of the behaviour in question. It’s also notable that the club hasn’t put it up on its website, or any of its social media channels.

Perhaps the time has come for the Premier League clubs to take a more direct, more active role in educating their supporters about behaviour in stadiums and the difference between ‘banter’ and despicable acts of disrespect which have nothing to do with sport.

The packed schedule takes toll on City

City played an extremely difficult Champions League tie against Atletico Madrid in the last fortnight, with the league encounter against Liverpool squeezed in between. Having won the first leg at the Etihad by a single goal, Pep Guardiola couldn’t not afford much rotation for the second, which eventually resulted in Kevin De Bruyne and Kyle Walker both leaving the pitch injured. They squeezed their way through, but not without cost.

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Liverpool’s task in the Champions League was arguably easier, with all due respect to Benfica. This fact doesn’t really stem from any difference in quality between the Portuguese team and Atletico, but rather from the obvious difference in style. Benfica clearly don’t take anywhere near such a physical, fighting approach as Diego Simeone’s men, and with a two-goal advantage carried from the first leg in Lisbon, the Reds were able to shift a few gears down for the second at Anfield and still get through to the semis.

With the remaining matches of the Premier League campaign leaving room for getting anything wrong, Guardiola was forced to give some of his players a rest here and hope for the best. Rodri made way for Fernandinho, the freshly recovered Ruben Dias was on the bench, as was Aymeric Laporte, which meant Nathan Ake pairing up with John Stones in the heart of the defence. Joao Cancelo played on the right instead of Walker, with Oleksandr Zinchenko coming in on the left. Phil Foden was relocated into the midfield to take De Bruyne’s place, and Jack Grealish started upfront alongside former Liverpool man Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus.

The first half saw City thoroughly overrun and eventually 3-0 down, which obviously settled the contest. They picked it up with an early second-half goal and made it a bit more interesting on the stroke of 90, with Guardiola’s decision to bring on Mahrez paying off, but it was simply too late.

It’s not very often we see Guardiola’s team, even as rotated as it was, beaten into submission, but Liverpool ended the match with 52% possession and a total of 10 shots, seven on target, compared to City’s total of three, two on target.

Thiago Alcantara vs Bernardo Silva

The one man in City’s midfield who started against Liverpool a week before in the league and now again was Bernardo Silva. It was his task to press Liverpool playmaker Thiago Alcantara and limit his creativity as much as possible.

Silva was pretty successful in doing that at the Etihad, but it seems Thiago was more prepared for what was coming this time around. He efficiently shook Silva off quite frequently and won the battle, spraying passes in all direction and pulling the strings of Liverpool’s play, and topping off an excellent performance with the assist for Mane’s sublime second goal, Liverpool’s third of the game.

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Powerless to stop his opponent, Silva resorted to nasty fouls on the Spaniard a few times, and how he escaped a booking throughout the match remains a mystery. What’s more, he had help in that particular aspect from Fernandinho, whose readiness to whack an opposition player has never been in doubt. Unlike Silva though, Fernandinho did find himself in the book eventually, but for a reckless sliding tackle which took out Mane from behind, and only after he committed a number of deliberate ones on others.

Liverpool on for four trophies

Manager Jurgen Klopp has played it down a number of times, and even their usually optimistic supporters doubt it will happen, but the fact is that Liverpool remain on course for the fabled ‘quadruple’. With the Carabao Cup already in the bag, they remain locked in the Premier League title race sitting a single point behind City, with seven matches remaining for either team. They face Villarreal in the Champions League semifinals, and now they’ve booked a place in the FA Cup final as well.

Can they make it on all four fronts? For a long time it seemed pretty much impossible, especially given that it hasn’t happened for any club in history, but now it seems doable, as incredible as the statement sounds. We’re finally seeing Liverpool with a full squad at the business end of the season, and with the crisis that plagued them a year ago, it could be argued that they’ve deserved a bit of luck on the injury front.

Still, it won’t be easy. They’ll likely have to maintain a 100% record in the league to stand a chance of overtaking City. The FA Cup final is still to be played and that will surely be a difficult match as well. Villarreal have already knocked out the likes of Juventus and Bayern Munich from the Champions League, and even if Liverpool emerge victorious from the duel, it’ll be either City again or old foes Real Madrid in the final.

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Veselin Trajkovic

Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.



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