You wouldn’t think that given the reaction to Liverpool’s 1-1 draw with Manchester City on Saturday afternoon but a point away at the Etihad is a good result.
Granted, the Reds weren’t at their best and the stats didn’t paint an overly impressive picture, but Jurgen Klopp’s men managed to halt Man City’s 23-game winning streak at home while also limiting the hosts for the most part.
Per FotMob, the reigning champions landed just five efforts on target and carved out just two big chances. By their standards, that isn’t great. They finished with an Expected Goals total of 1.36 and 0.26 of that was the Erling Haaland goal following on from the skewed Alisson clearance. For context here, the last time the two sides faced off at the Etihad, City had four big chances and finished with an Expected Goals haul of 2.96 in their 4-1 win over the Reds.
So, this was a marked improvement, regardless of what some are claiming on Twitter.
A key reason for this was the midfield. It is a divisive part of the pitch for the Reds. Klopp named a three of Alexis Mac Allister, Dominik Szboszlai and Curtis Jones. The latter was a controversial pick after just returning from injury, with some preferring Ryan Gravenberch to get the nod on the left side of the three.
In the aftermath of the 1-1 draw, it was claimed the trio struggled in the middle third.
For example, Jones was replaced after just 54 minutes. Mac Allister lasted 85 minutes while the new Liverpool No. 8 was subbed off after 73 minutes. From an individual point of view, the midfielders weren't at their best.
The Reds had just 40% possession and won 34% of their ground duels. And yet I thought the midfield played their part in the draw.
Mac Allister completed 93% of his passes against City and helped the Reds evade a high press on a number of occasions. His calmness and composure gave Liverpool a platform to build and sustain phases of play.
Szoboszlai found a teammate with 88% of his passes while Jones was a little more erratic than usual, only finding a player in red 86% of the time. As a collective three, they completed 89% of their passes. As a team, Liverpool completed 82% of their attempted passes.
The player I wanted to focus on was the World Cup winner, Mac Allister.
Prior to the match, Klopp singled out his No. 10 in his press conference after he was questioned about the suitability of the Argentine as the deepest midfielder.
“I understand that from the outside world it is always about how is a player in this position. but in the end it is all about how the whole team is set up,” the manager said.
“Is Macca a natural-born six? No. Did football develop in the last years in directions we couldn’t imagine before? Yes. Does that mean that a player like Macca can play the six. Definitely.
“It depends on how the whole team defends. Easy as that. If we do that properly then we have an incredible player in a central position who can find passes, a forward-thinking player.
“Do you want a player there who is just knocking players down and when we are in possession he thinks ‘not my job, give me a break’? “I like him there a lot to be honest and we as a team can benefit a lot from it if we make sure we have a really compact formation and that’s what we especially need tomorrow.”
Liverpool are fairly compact as Manuel Akanji looks to carry the ball forward. Mac Allister looks to close down the versatile defender and though he is bypassed, the Switzerland international loses possession from the pressure put on him by the former Brighton man.
City look to counter-press and some in this situation would just want to get rid of the ball. How many times in the past have we seen someone in red just rush a clearance and allow another attack to build? Not this time though.
Mac Allister plays a first time pass into Szoboszlai who then finds Darwin Nuñez and Liverpool play around the press.
It was a moment that really hammered home exactly what Klopp talks about when he’s asked about the Argentina international. He stopped Akanji from progressing and then played his part in getting Liverpool higher up the pitch.
It is what the German gaffer wants from his deepest midfielder. All in all, it was a good performance by Mac Allister and a good result for the Reds.