FA Cup

Liverpool expose imperfect Man City to display cup superiority

Craig Vickers
Liverpool celebrate
Liverpool celebrate / James Gill - Danehouse/GettyImages
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For all the fervour pre-match, that this game could transform a great season into a potentially historic one for the winning side, Liverpool's place in the FA Cup final was sealed when the team lines were announced an hour prior to kick off.

Whereas Jurgen Klopp stuck with a full-strength side, Pep Guardiola was seen fit to rotate, among more, Ederson, Kevin De Bruyne, Aymeric Laporte and Rodri out of his starting lineup.

Although Guardiola may argue that it was absolutely necessary after City's Champions League exploits in Madrid in midweek, it was a decision which proved fatal in the context of the game.

Indeed, it's hard not to imagine the Liverpool players having an extra spring in their step heading out for the warm-ups when Guardiola's selection effectively announced that Diego Simeone's rough-and-tumble football had zapped too much energy from his players.

Equally, it's hard not to imagine that it impacted Klopp's pre-match team talk. The Reds started slugglishly in the league fixture at the Etihad Stadium last weekend. Here, with Guardiola disrupting the rhythym of his side with a raft of changes, Liverpool went for their opponents throat straight from kick off. In short, Klopp's side exposed an imperfect City line-up.

The game will, unfortunately for stand-in City goalkeeper Zack Steffen, be remembered for the American's howler to gift Liverpool a second goal inside 16 minutes. But it underlined why Liverpool are so dangerous in these one-off cup ties. Even the smallest signs of hesitation, of an opponent feeling the magnitude of the occasion, and Klopp's men will invariably turn the screw.

That is what characterised Liverpool's first half display where they led 3-0 at the interval. City persisted with their attractive deep build-up patterns but, in the absence of their best No.6 and No.8, there were pieces of the jigsaw which looked out of place.

Liverpool exist on the opposite end of that spectrum. With less responsibility on the collective - certainly in possession - they can afford to exploit, and ultimately win, these one-off games on the fine margins.

It was no suprise that the opening goal of the afternoon arrived from a corner for Liverpool. It is an area of the game they have mastered over the years and, in these cup games where the result matters more than the long-term performance indicators, they can vastly alter the complexion of a game.

The prevailing narrative in this Manchester City and Liverpool dynamic over the years - reflected in the trophies won by the pair - is that Guardiola's team is built to withstand the rigours over an entire campaign, whereas Liverpool boast a greater ceiling in one-offs.

Four years after that epic conclusion in the 2018/19 season, it's difficult to argue that much has changed.

Last weekend's 2-2 draw kept Man City in the driving seat in the Premier League, while both club's exploits in the Champions League will very likely lead to another showdown between the pair in the Champions League final next month.

Both clubs will be keen to wrap their tentacles around both trophies come May, but a similar story to 2019 appears to be unfolding. The more things change, as the old saying goes, the more they stay the same.

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