Classy Coutinho steals the show: how new Stats Zone saw Liverpool 2-1 Man City
"Relentless" was Brendan Rodgers' summary of Liverpool's Anfield victory over Manchester City. And credit where it's due, the Reds' chief wasn't wrong.
Sore heads after a potential Europa League hangover were nowhere to be found as the hosts scurried and harassed their way to a deserved 2-1 victory over the champions, who also suffered in midweek at the hands of Barcelona in the Champions League.
Liverpool had endured a gruelling 120 minutes against Besiktas a day later, however, before losing on penalties in Turkey to crash out at the last 32 stage.
"We got back at half four in the early hours of Friday morning, and by the time the players got to bed it was probably about six o'clock," Rodgers wept jubilantly at the final whistle. "To restrict them to one shot on target, I thought the players were incredible today so they deserve all the praise that they get for the performance and the result."
As such, Rodgers made four changes to his starting XI, with Lazar Markovic, Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho replacing Kolo Toure, Jordon Ibe, Daniel Sturridge and Mario Balotelli. For City there were also four changes: Yaya Toure returned after suspension, and was joined by Eliaquim Mangala, Aleksandar Kolarov and Fernandinho.
1) ...but City had the same issues
Against Barcelona, Pellegrini's 4-4-2 was heavily criticised. The Spanish side's middle men had a field day finding holes in City's lacklustre midfield which couldn't cope with the speed and precision of Barca's passing. While their trip to Anfield wasn't quite as traumatic, the visitors' engine room – this time featuring the talismanic Toure and more energetic Fernandinho over Fernando – encountered the same problems.
When Liverpool countered, which they did with regularity, Coutinho and Raheem Sterling were able to find the holes again with ease. Joe Allen, terrific in possession, and midfield partner Henderson, who pressed magnificently, both helped free up the aforementioned duo for such attacks. In contrast, Toure in particular endured a poor second half in which he almost gifted substitute Sturridge a simple third for Liverpool. Centre-backs Mangala and Vincent Kompany, meanwhile, were both at fault at big moments of the game.
Simply, City need more support in the midfield when they play against sides with the capability to outgun them. They've paid the price for a lack of it twice in a week.
2) Coutinho stole the show
Not satisfied with his show-stopping effort at Southampton last weekend, the 22-year-old Brazilian repeated his feats of last season by sinking City with a glorious 20-yarder. Yet even before that the ex-Inter playmaker was man of the match; the hub of every Liverpool attack and chief menace for Rodgers' side.
The champions couldn't deal with his direct running on the counter (see green stars for successful take-ons), one such burst helping to produce Henderson's opening goal.
His glorious winner confirmed the youngster's status as the Merseysiders' driving force, and prompted boss Rodgers to talk up his burgeoning reputation.
"He cost £8.5 million," said the Reds boss. "It is frightening to know what he could be worth. He is a joy to work with and a joy to watch. He is a kid who has so much ahead of him in the game. He is 22 years of age. People forget he came to us at 19. He is a sensational footballer."
Certainly, his 2015 is getting better by the week.
3) Liverpool's pressing was magnificent
Pre-match, Sky Sports pundit and former Liverpool stopper Jamie Carragher called for his old side to make a good start. Do that, he said, and they would have a good chance of upsetting City early on.
Carragher needn't have worried. Rodgers' men were straight out of the traps, harrying and winning the ball back brilliantly in City's half to force their surprised opponents into frequent errors.
At the forefront was Henderson, but also impressive were Coutinho and Allen in wrenching back possession for the hosts. They kept it up for the second half too – a textbook display of high-pressing football.
4) Rodgers needs Sturridge back
Sturridge not starting wasn't hugely surprising – pre-match, Rodgers had warning against 'breaking' him after five months on the sidelines – but this was a game tailored for the England striker.
With false nine Adam Lallana the beneficiary of one excellent chance a quicker striker perhaps would have buried, and another his returning team-mate may have shown more nous to avoid standing offside for, it was hard not to imagine Sturridge thriving off the service of the industrious worker bees behind him.
He did squander a glorious opportunity after a woeful Toure ball towards the end, but you sense the good times of a new era on the Liverpool frontline could soon be returning.
5) Raheem Sterling: assist king?
The numbers suggest that Liverpool's prized possession notched his sixth and seventh assists of the season – indeed, more than his previous three seasons combined – but reality tells us that the 20-year-old barely had to lift a finger to put his name to them.
Stats are a wonderful thing (*cough* Stats Zone is brilliant *cough*), but they shouldn't misrepresent what was possibly one of Sterling's more difficult displays of recent weeks.
One humbling of Mangala aside, not much the England man tried came off and as such he was comfortably overshadowed by Coutinho, whose final ball and decision making were superior to his team-mate's.
Sterling's work-rate was excellent, however, and he was more valuable to his team than the struggling Markovic, but on this occasion his two assists weren't quite indicative of a creative genius. Even if he is stronger than Kompany.