Man City's array of midfield talent is putting Liverpool to shame
Man City’s array of midfield talent is putting Liverpool to shame. Gundogan is running the show for league leaders while Thiago can’t do it all on his own… a lack of creative spark is plaguing predictable reigning champions ahead of Anfield showdown
- Liverpool host Man City in a mouth-watering Premier League clash on Sunday
- The two Premier League giants’ fortunes could hardly be any different currently
- City are firm favourites for the title, winning their last nine league matches
- Meanwhile, Liverpool continue to falter and now a top four finish is under threat
Buckle up everyone, it’s almost time for the match of the season between England’s juggernauts Liverpool and Manchester City.
A while ago this fixture would have been talked up as a crunch title showdown following both sides’ utter domination over their rivals in years gone by.
But now the Anfield clash has somewhat taken on a different meaning, for Liverpool that is anyway.
Ilkay Gundogan has been the star of the show for Manchester City amid their winning streak
Thiago is struggling to carry the creative burden on his own in heart of the Liverpool midfield
While City are continuing to go from strength-to-strength and have established themselves as firm title favourites following nine Premier League wins on the trot since their 1-0 win at Southampton on December 19, Liverpool’s form could hardly be any different.
The reigning champions are on a dismal run of form, winning just two of their last eight league matches since Christmas. That slump has not only put them on the brink of losing their title, but they are now in danger of missing out on Champions League football.
Jurgen Klopp’s side all of a sudden find themselves seven points adrift of City having played a match more, and with Pep Guardiola’s men in scintillating form, the task ahead looks ominous.
But what exactly has been behind the changing of the guard between the two English giants in recent weeks?
While injuries have certainly played there part for Liverpool, it’s hard to look past the contrasting fortunes in midfield. One is absolutely thriving with a wealth of star-studded options while the other is far too laboured, overly-reliant on one man in particular.
Ilkay Gundogan is proving to be the star of the show in the heart of City’s midfield at present in the absence of Kevin De Bruyne, and if Guardiola’s men clinch another league title at the end of the campaign, then they will have the German to thank.
Gundogan has been in formidable form amid City’s nine-match winning streak in the Premier League but he is being allowed to flourish thanks to the service around him thriving too.
Guardiola is blessed with attacking options, and he has been able to count on Phil Foden, De Bruyne as well as Gundogan this season.
Phil Foden and Kevin De Bruyne have also shone alongside Gundogan in midfield for City
Georginio Wijnaldum provides an engine but doesn’t offer the creativity Klopp needs currently
In the absence of talisman Sergio Aguero, whose City future is in doubt, they have adapted incredibly and their immense strength-in-depth should certainly be recognised.
Compare this to Liverpool, who have been hindered by Jordan Henderson and Fabinho having to be utilised in defence this season amid their injury crisis, there is no match-up and they have become far too predictable in attack.
While City have a threat all over the middle of the park, Liverpool are relying on diminutive Thiago to unlock opposition defences. But he can’t do it all on his own and as a result, he is struggling to deliver the goods for his side’s deadly front three.
When you compare Gundogan’s performances to Thiago, who will flourish soon enough for Liverpool, it’s hard to look past the midfield as the main talking point ahead of Sunday’s crunch showdown.
Gundogan has been so much more efficient in attack than his Liverpool counterpart.
It must be noted that Gundogan has played more in the Premier League this season and Thiago is still adapting to life in England, but it’s proving crucial at the moment.
Gundogan has one assist and seven goals to his name this season, making late bursting runs from midfield into the box, whereas Thiago has failed to register a single goal involvement in the Premier League.
And Gundogan is taking more chances going forward, offloading 1.8 shots per match compared to Thiago’s figures of just over 1 each game.
There has also been plenty of talk about Thiago actually slowing down Liverpool’s attacking play – which under Klopp in recent times has been fruitful thanks to their devastating movement and speed through Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.
City’s midfield is bringing much more to the table than Liverpool’s current trio
And this talking point is ringing true, with Thiago struggling for efficiency going forward, creating just 1 big chance overall and 1.2 key passes per match.
Gundogan has produced three clear cut chances for his City team-mates, albeit in more matches, while he is up to 1.7 key passes per match.
But Gundogan’s superiority over his counterpart comes back to the fact that he has been given more chance to flourish due to the talent around him in midfield.
De Bruyne, City’s main man in general, and Foden have shone this season and Guardiola has an embarrassing amount of riches at his disposal in the heart of midfield.
Gundogan, De Bruyne and Foden have all played their part when their central team-mates haven’t been at their best or have dropped to the bench.
De Bruyne currently sits second in the assist standings this season with 10 to his name along with his three goals. Foden, meanwhile, has two assists and four goals.
Belgium maestro De Bruyne has also created 14 big chances this season for City – who are desperate to recapture the Premier League crown from Liverpool.
Compare this to Liverpool, who have had to play Georginio Wijnaldum and James Milner in midfield recently alongside Thiago following Henderson’s move to the back, and they have proved rather toothless going forward.
But this is to be expected with Wijnaldum and Milner, both whom are not known for their free-flowing and creative football. They provide the engine and tempo, and Klopp knows he is lacking that spark in midfield.
Wijnaldum has contributed the most goal involvements out of the three this season – scoring just twice while laying on no assists so far. The lack of killer instinct is costing Liverpool.
City’s midfield is chipping in with more goals and assists than Liverpool’s in Premier League
Opponents have worked Liverpool out, as was evident by Brighton during midweek, and the front three now need support from behind more than ever.
Liverpool’s balance has been severely knocked by Henderson and Fabinho having to be deployed defensively, and without the pair in midfield, Klopp’s side have found it tough to dominate opponents – which in turn is having an effect on their efficiency in front of goal.
If you look at goal involvements across the Liverpool team, they are reliant on the front three producing the goods.
Salah is top scorer for the Reds in the top-flight with 15 to his name, while Mane (7), Firmino (6) and the injured Jota (5) have chipped in too.
On the assist front, Liverpool’s front three have proved influential too, alongside full backs Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
But for City, it’s a different picture altogether, and their midfield are continually demonstrating their importance to this formidable City side in all attacking departments.
So come Sunday, Klopp needs to somehow find a way to sort out his midfield dilemma against a City side who have dispatched everyone in their way in recent weeks – scoring 21 times and conceding just once in their last nine league games dating back to December 19.
Sunday’s encounter represents last chance saloon in the title race for Liverpool.
Victory and they may just have a say still come the end of the season, but a draw or defeat and they will be looking anxiously over their shoulder.
Form guide since December 19 – the start of City’s nine-match winning run in the top-flight
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