Manchester City’s attacking assets had the last laugh on Gameweek 21 in their important 2-1 win over Liverpool.
Some of their Fantasy Premier League options were shipped out to facilitate signing the likes of Eden Hazard (£11.1m) or Paul Pogba (£8.3m), both of whom blanked over the New Year fixtures, but ended up getting returns to punish their sellers.
Their exploits at the Etihad Stadium and the latest update on Liverpool are the focus of this Scout Notes article.
Manchester City 2-1 Liverpool
Goals: Sergio Aguero (£11.2m), Leroy Sané (£9.5m) | Roberto Firmino (£9.1m)
Assists: Bernardo Silva (£7.5m), Raheem Sterling (£11.3m) | Andrew Robertson (£6.6m)
Leroy Sané (£9.5m) and Raheem Sterling (£11.3m) combined to frustrate those who sold them ahead of Gameweek 21. They were the two players involved in Manchester City’s winning goal against Liverpool, after amassing 360,000+ sales between them following the Gameweek 20 trip to Southampton. Sané, in particular, benefitted from Pep Guardiola’s decision to focus his side’s attack down Liverpool’s right flank, hoping to pull Trent Alexander-Arnold (£5.1m) out of position and expose Dejan Lovren (£4.9m). While the German international had just one shot in the game, from which he scored, only Sterling touched the ball more times in Liverpool’s penalty box than him, suggesting he can return to the form he showed before Christmas.
Despite coming out of the game with the inferior haul compared to Sané’s, it was the Englishman who looks even better set for forthcoming matches. As already mentioned, he had the strongest presence in opposing boxes during the encounter and was the top creator too, playing four key passes, three more than anyone else at the Etihad Stadium. The performance of both he and Sané prove that Guardiola’s men had not become bad options overnight and with Wolves (home), Huddersfield (away) and Newcastle (away) their next three matches, there may be a clamour to buy either one of them back in over the coming days.
“We work a lot with Leroy to encourage and help him. He has something unique, his speed. He and Sterling are so young. I never complain about mistakes, because I’ve been out there and I know what it’s like.” – Pep Guardiola
The return of Sergio Aguero (£11.2m) to the Etihad Stadium proved crucial for Manchester City. He was the one to break the deadlock in what had been a tight encounter before his 43rd-minute strike. It was the first time the Argentinian striker had featured in a home starting line-up since the Gameweek 12 Manchester derby and, not surprisingly, he had more shots than any other player on Thursday night. His dominance of home matches continues then, even after missing two such encounters in December no player has more home goals than Aguero. Furthermore, only Aleksandar Mitrovic (£6.6m) has fired off more shots than the Manchester City talisman in home matches this season, despite him only playing 647 minutes at the Etihad Stadium. Aguero’s role in the winning goal was also important as it was his run through the middle which took the retreating Alexander-Arnold away and afforded Sané with the time and space to shoot and score.
While a revival of interest in Manchester City midfield and forward options looks likely, their defensive assets continue to disappoint. Roberto Firmino‘s (£9.1m) second-half equaliser ensured that the defending champions are now eight Gameweeks without a clean sheet. For some context, in that time every team in the league bar Everton, Huddersfield and Pep Guardiola’s charges have recorded a shut-out.
Manchester City never really looked like keeping Liverpool out on Thursday night, and, in fact, the Reds actually came away from the Etihad with a higher expected goals score than their hosts. They were fortunate not to go behind in the 20th minute when their weakness defending quick intricate play was exposed once more. Mohamed Salah (£13.3m) was able to thread a ball through the middle to Sadio Mané (£9.5m) with ease, who subsequently won the footrace with Ederson (£5.6m) to poke his shot onto the post. John Stones‘ (£5.2m) attempted clearance cannoned off his own goalkeeper, also attempting to get rid of the ball, and nearly resulted in a calamitous own-goal. With Salah also preparing to pounce on any scraps, the England centre-back managed to hook it off the line, with the goal decision system confirming that Liverpool were just 1.12cms from taking the lead. Furthermore, were it not for an outstanding save in the closing moments, Salah would have netted a late equaliser too. The Egyptian was certainly unfortunate not to come out away from Manchester with at least one attacking return, suggesting he remains likely to deliver away to Brighton in Gameweek 22.
Returning to the Manchester City back-line itself, it is also worth noting that viable outfield defensive options are becoming harder to find at the Etihad anyway. Aymeric Laporte (£5.9m) was forced out of the game with an injury in the 86th minute after struggling with a problem for most of the second-half and there was no update on his condition post-match either. The Frenchman was deployed at left-back with Fabian Delph (£5.3m) suspended for the encounter, although he will be back by Gameweek 22 with the FA Cup third round his final match of the ban. Guardiola explained he could have started Oleksandr Zinchenko (£4.7m) there but preferred a more experienced player to take on the in-form Salah, who this time was stationed on the right after a spell as Liverpool’s centre-forward.
“We don’t have many left-backs. We have Zinchenko but I didn’t want to use a young guy against Salah. I wanted a more experienced defender to be used for that situation. It was a great compliment that Laporte was able to play that position.” – Pep Guardiola
Elsewhere in the defence, it looks as if Kyle Walker (£6.4m) may have lost his place to Danilo (£5.1m). The England international has played just eight minutes from a possible 270 in the last three Gameweeks, while Danilo has started each of those.
While Liverpool lost the game, their defence still feels in decent shape looking forward. It remains fairly settled with Andrew Robertson (£6.6m) quashing pre-match rumours of him not travelling to start a sixth-straight game, and Virgil van Dijk (£6.4m) continuing alongside Lovren at centre-back. Their ability to keep things tight this season was perhaps best exemplified against Manchester City by the fact that it took the hosts 28 minutes to have their first shot on goal. It has been two years since Guardiola’s men have gone that long without one in a home match. Therefore, Crystal Palace and Leicester’s visits to Anfield in Gameweeks 23 and 24 still look like probably clean sheets for their defensive options. Robertson still appears to be the strongest candidate for inclusion, both in our squads and in our starting line-ups. His assist for Firmino’s goal was his fifth of the season, coming when just under 300,000 of his owners benched him for Gameweek 21.
That strike came after Jurgen Klopp had made a second-half change to put more pressure on Manchester City, and it paid off. Georginio Wijnaldum (£5.5m), James Milner (£5.6m) and Jordan Henderson (£5.3m) were the central midfield trio for Liverpool, with Xherdan Shaqiri (£7.1m), Naby Keita (£7.2m) and Fabinho (£5.5m) named on the bench. The latter was introduced for Milner in the 57th minute, to allow more intensity going forward. With the Reds seven points clear of Manchester City at the start of the game, Klopp had obviously opted more for control up to that point, resulting in his side actually having a greater share of possession across the 90 minutes, a rare occurrence for away sides at the Etihad Stadium.
“I think system-wise there was not a real alternative in the beginning, especially when we adapted then pretty well after we changed the system, but actually only I think because Gini played really well then on the left wing, on the half-left, or whatever. Of course, Fabinho was good, but Hendo was really impressive [too]. Offensively I think we had already more moments in the game, but obviously when we played football, and that’s what we showed the boys at half-time, immediately we were a major threat for them.” – Jurgen Klopp
Finally, on the injury front, Ilkay Gündogan (£5.4m) and Kevin de Bruyne (£9.7m) came through their fitness doubts to feature on the Manchester City bench.
Manchester City XI (4-3-3): Ederson; Laporte (Walker 86′), Stones, Kompany (Otamendi 88′), Danilo; D Silva (Gündogan 65′), Fernandinho, B Silva; Sané, Aguero, Sterling.
Liverpool XI (4-3-3): Alisson; Robertson, van Dijk, Lovren, Alexander-Arnold; Wijnaldum (Sturridge 86′), Milner (Fabinho 57′), Henderson; Mané (Shaqiri 76′), Firmino, Salah.
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