Looking ahead to Liverpool may have cost Manchester City in their Champions League game against Atalanta on Wednesday night. After such a promising start the game slipped out of City’s control as time went on. And then once Claudio Bravo came flying out of goal it was all chaos from then on.
Manchester City Survive Despite Looking Ahead
Manchester City’s Performance
From the start of the game, Manchester City was really up for it. The pass from Bernardo Silva and the backheel by Gabriel Jesus were both simply exquisite. And Raheem Sterling finished off the move for his fourth goal against Atalanta itself.
To be fair to City they played well for most of the first half as well. But as the game went on, control of the match slipped further out of their grasp as it went on. They really lost control immediately after Gabriel Jesus missed a penalty just before halftime. Jesus should be furious with himself over such a poor penalty.
Once the second half got underway they barely showed any control. And its quite easy to imagine they were looking ahead to Liverpool. It happens in sports, and City has a five-point lead in the UCL group. They only need 1 point from their games at home to Shakhtar and away to Dinamo Zagreb.
Manchester City Goalkeepers
Obviously, the only place to start is with Ederson, who was taken off at half-time. Guardiola said after the game taking him off was a precaution rather than a reaction. But it is concerning that Ederson was seen with a bit of a limp leaving the San Siro last night. Particularly with the important upcoming game, we will get into later.
This means that Claudio Bravo had to come into the game, but he didn’t last that long either. Bravo came flying out to make a challenge on Josip Ilicic 40 yards from goal. He got nowhere near the ball and though he made minimal contact with Ilicic he was sent off.
So with Ederson off injured and Bravo ejected we all got graced with Kyle Walker making his way into the net. And he made a solid cameo, stopping a shot hit right at him and doing the goalkeeper dive after an uncontested catch. Overall it wasn’t the best way to prepare for Liverpool but there have been worse ways.
So let’s get into what the Liverpool game could look like. It’s probably going to be Otamendi & Fernandinho in the backline, though Stones might get a chance. The concerning thing for City is that a midfield three of Ilkay Gundogan, Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva lacks the bite required to take on Liverpool.
That is a real problem City will have to account for. It might be a game for Pep to slot Fernandinho back into defensive midfield. But Fernandinho hasn’t been playing well and slotting him back into midfield might create more problems than solutions.
A Concerning Trend
Fernandinho has been far too reckless in his challenges since the start of this season. It’s quite easy to write it off as a product of the position change or getting older. But it’s more than that; it includes a change in decision making. Fernandinho has far too often gone in for a challenge rather than merely allowing the play to continue.
The challenge he made in the second half, unnecessarily shoving Hans Hateboer out of play was careless. Even if Fernandinho had been beaten for pace his teammates had him covered. The concern is that he has been making decisions like this all season. Both of his yellow cards when from the Villa game came in this type of situation, as did his card against Southampton last weekend.
He didn’t play like this in his multiple appearances at centre-back last season. It feels like he’s playing more aggressively than he would’ve at defensive midfielder. In situations like today where he is playing alongside Nicolas Otamendi, that seems especially concerning. It’s hard to imagine that he won’t make at least one mistake tracking Roberto Firmino as he drops into midfield.
City is going to need a top performance if they are going to take any points from Anfield. The primary factor will obviously be who starts in goal. Even Ederson at 70% would be a better option than uber reckless Claudio Bravo. And the less we know about his condition makes it harder to really know what will happen in this game.
It really will come down to what kind of play City get from their midfield. Liverpool thrives on a high energy game so if we’re going end-to-end that could be a concern. But if City’s midfield can get control of the game, we may still have a title race on our hands after all.