Gakpo or Nuñez: How should Liverpool line up in attack against Man City?

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is probably one of the better DC movies, but the bar isn’t exactly high, is it?

This isn’t a spoiler given it was in the trailer, but there’s a scene in which Batman asks Superman if he bleeds. Nothing really happens but it ends with the caped crusader saying ‘You will’. 

What has this got to do with football? Hold on, I’m getting to it...

Manchester City haven’t been at their best this season, losing 2-1 to Wolves and 1-0 to Arsenal already in the Premier League, but odd-goal losses aren’t a disaster. It happens every season. It is just a bad day at the office for the reigning champions, they refocus their efforts before inevitably going on an unbeaten run that spans a third of the campaign. 

However, the 4-4 draw with Chelsea could be a pivotal moment in the season. It shows that City can be got at. It showed that, if you throw enough at them, they do bleed.  

It was the first time Pep Guardiola’s men had conceded four goals in the Premier League since 27 September 2020 when they lost 5-2 to Leicester City. For a little context, Liverpool have conceded four or more on three occasions during the same period – two of which, coincidentally, arrived in defeats to Manchester City. 

The point is, City lose matches but they rarely concede goals. 

They conceded 32 in 2020/21, 26 during the 2021/22 campaign and 33 last season. On average, they have conceded 0.79 goals per game across the past three years in the Premier League. And this is with Guardiola bedding in new systems and new players on a yearly basis. 

Guardiola’s teams usually protect their goalkeeper and ensure he doesn’t have much to do but Chelsea, in transition under new manager Mauricio Pochettino, went toe-to-toe with the 2022/23 treble winners.

Chelsea actually had more shots (17 to 15) and came from behind on three occasions to salvage a well-deserved point. The hosts created chances worth an Expected Goals total of 2.95 – that is practically unheard of against a City team managed by the former Barcelona coach. 

Pep Guardiola - Pro Shots

Pep Guardiola - Pro Shots

This isn’t to say they shouldn’t be respected in the upcoming clash at the Etihad.

Liverpool haven’t won there since November 2015 when Roberto Firmino ran the show in a 4-1 victory. But perhaps the Reds should go for blood from minute one rather than looking to win the tie late on. 

Klopp’s team selection will indicate what his mindset is going into the game. If Cody Gakpo gets the nod as the centre-forward, he is clearly looking to contain the hosts and keep things tight before bringing on Darwin Nuñez for the final 20 minutes in a bid to take three points back to Anfield. 

This is probably the move he makes last season, especially if Curtis Jones isn’t fit enough to make the starting XI. The divisive No. 17 retains and regains possession for Liverpool, giving them a foothold in the middle third to put their stamp on things. Without him in the team, the Reds don’t control situations, moments or space quite as well. 

It is almost impossible to dominate the ball against City, but you can control the space. Gakpo, on paper at least, would help with this. He drops into deeper parts of the pitch as a false-nine, chips in defensively and helps with the numbers in the middle third. He’s also tidy enough in possession. 

That would be the safer option. 

Why not take a risk though?

Liverpool have tried a lot of things against City over recent years but they’ve not been able to pick up a victory at the Etihad. Why not unleash Darwin from the get-go and really put pressure on a defensive unit that conceded four times in their last outing?

If you really want to control space still, drop a little deeper without the ball, play the 4-1-4-1 shape with a compact middle third and then look to hit them on the break with the pace of Darwin and Salah. Maybe Luis Diaz gets the nod ahead of Diogo Jota too and the Reds really go for it. 

Darwin is bang in form and City are coming into the game after a ropey showing against Chelsea. These moments rarely come about, so why pass up this opportunity to put pressure on them? 

The centre-forward on Saturday afternoon sets the tempo. It will be interesting to see what Klopp opts for. 

Chelsea showed the world that this City team can bleed. Liverpool have the chance to show the world that this City team really is human after all.

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