Did you know Liverpool were the smallest team in the Premier League? Dave Tindall looks ahead to why a clash against Manchester City could be their perfect remedy.
The best thing you can say about Liverpool 2 Burnley 1 was that it meant another three points in the bag.
But for a kind bounce in the box that fell to Georginio Wijnaldum and a swish of Emre Can’s right boot that would usually find Row Z ,we’d have been stymied again by the Clarets.
However, that’s three wins in four games now and a 10th home Premier League success means we’ve matched the number of Anfield victories we managed in 2014/15 and beaten last year’s figure by two.
We’re also just a point behind second-placed Spurs and five clear of fifth-placed Arsenal even though everyone around us has games in hand.
For a long time against Burnley, it looked as if we might blow a golden opportunity to bank crucial points as a familiar script started to unfold. A lesser team were giving us all sorts of trouble and had taken the lead. Liverpool looked completely out of sorts.
Are Liverpool ‘mentally weak’? Apparently, not so…
Was this evidence of being mentally weak again?
The more I think about that argument, the less I’m convinced. Here’s a stat: Liverpool, along with Spurs, have gained the most points from losing positions in the Premier League this season.
That simply doesn’t tally with us being fragile flowers who can’t cope with going a goal behind.
Liverpool’s height problem
It’s a point picked up by Liverpool writer Paul Tomkins, who penned an excellent article in the aftermath of the Burnley game, saying the Reds’ problem in matches like this is physical not mental.
Tomkins notes that Liverpool are the smallest side in the Premier League and collectively the second lightest. We also win the least amount of headed duels in the top flight so the best way of playing against us is to use long balls and expose our lack of height.
That’s exactly what Burnley did last Sunday.
He makes a strong argument although I read it just before watching N’Golo Kane, all 5ft 6” of him, get his umpteenth man-of-the-match award in Chelsea’s FA Cup win over Man Utd. Short can be beautiful too.
It’s also the case that the biggest physical specimens in the Premier League, in both height and weight, are Watford. We beat them 6-1!
The next two on the height chart are Stoke and West Brom. We put the Potters away 4-1 at Anfield and also defeated West Brom 2-1.
Obviously, the correlation between tallness of opponent and result isn’t foolproof but it does, I think, explain our problems at set-pieces and perhaps shows why, of all the other top six sides, we’ve struggled most (two draws) against Man Utd, who are a much taller team and, significantly, aren’t afraid to put that advantage to use.
Man City are Liverpool’s ‘ideal opponents’
And maybe it reveals why we do so well against Sunday’s opponents Manchester City.
Man City are the lightest team in the Premier League and the second shortest behind us. What’s more, they eschew using long balls and will always try and play their way out of defence, even more so since Pep Guardiola took charge.
In theory, they could be our ideal opponents; in reality, results say they are.
We’ve beaten City in five of the last six Premier League games and the 4-1 win at their place last season was probably one of our finest performances under Jurgen Klopp.
An Opta stat reveals that Klopp has won five times against Guardiola in all competitions (including a penalty shootout) and that’s more than any other manager has collected against the Spaniard.
City are perfect for the press; Klopp’s tactics, which are still a work in progress against the likes of Burnley, work incredibly effectively against a team managed by Guardiola.
It’s also probably a good time to be playing them.
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Crashing out of the Champions League was a huge blow to City, especially when they had a two-goal advantage from the first leg. Monaco, who scored six goals over the two games, showed that if you attack them with verve and vigour they’re vulnerable. Hopefully we will do the same.
City’s results after away Champions League games are also worth noting. They lost 2-0 at Spurs after drawing 3-3 at Celtic, were held 1-1 by Southampton at the Etihad following a 4-0 loss in Barcelona and edged past Burnley 2-1 on the back of a draw away to Borussia Moenchengladbach.
Since February 11th, we’ve played just three times whilst City have had eight matches over the same period. Again, the timing of the fixture looks ideal for our extra freshness to kick in.
Coutinho can rediscover his mojo against City
I’m also hoping it will prove the match where Philippe Coutinho regains his mojo after a worrying loss of form since he returned from injury.
He loves playing against City and has found the net five times in our last eight matches against them. That includes two in the last three encounters at the Etihad, a Wembley equaliser and his famous curled winner in the 2014 title showdown that….. it’s too upsetting to continue this sentence.
Going back to the height argument, when poetry doesn’t flow from the Brazilian’s feet he doesn’t offer much else. When it does, we are a very different beast and hence can simply outplay the big clogging teams.
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Coutinho was man-of-the-match in those 6-1 and 2-1 wins over the giants of Watford and West Brom, scoring a goal in each and generally being just too clever for less mobile opponents.
It’s crucial that he finds that form again, especially against the bottom-half teams in our run-in when unlocking packed defences could be the key to us making next season’s Champions League.
A goal against City will do for now and I’ll take another from Sadio Mane. He scored a hat-trick against City when playing for Southampton last season and is our leading marksman this term…. despite being only 5ft 9″!