Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge stretch Manchester City to the limit

Suarez Liverpool

Brendan Rodgers continued with the midfielders and attackers who performed impressively in Liverpool's 2-2 draw with Arsenal in midweek but made a crucial alteration in their positioning.

At the Emirates Luis Suárez was used in a disciplined left-sided role, with Jordan Henderson fielded centrally, driving Liverpool forward with his energy.

Here, Rodgers swapped those two – Henderson played on the left while Suárez became a No10, linking midfield and attack. Rodgers has indicated that this format, with Suárez playing deeper to accommodate Daniel Sturridge up front, will become Liverpool's default system – and it was a braver, more proactive strategy than against Arsenal.

Sturridge and Suárez have developed an impressive partnership – here, Sturridge offered pace in behind while Suárez found space between the lines, the variety stretching the Manchester City defence in different directions. Sturridge's movement towards the left throughout the first half was particularly noteworthy – perhaps it was a coincidence, but with City playing the left-footed Matija Nastasic as the right-sided centre-back, something Roberto Mancini tries to avoid, there was some logic in drawing the Serb into an unfamiliar zone.

But Sturridge and Suárez were also able to swap positions – the Uruguayan inevitably tried to dribble powerfully towards goal, while Sturridge's excellent equaliser arrived after a very deliberate bit of movement away from the defence into a pocket of space 25 yards from goal.

City were consistently too open in that zone between the lines – it is rare to see a top Premier League side demonstrating such a lack of compactness. The two solutions are obvious – the defence can shuffle up the pitch and play higher, or the midfield can drop back and play deeper – but City found both difficult. The defenders, of course, were too nervous about Sturridge's pace to play a high line but equally problematic was the situation in front of them, where Javi García and Gareth Barry were forced to cover a huge amount of space in midfield.

That problem originated from the lack of pressing high up the pitch – aside from a quick burst at the start of the match, Sergio Agüero and Edin Dzeko contributed little in the defensive phase of play. Their languid movement was in stark contrast to Sturridge and (in particular) Suárez, who remains one of the most energetic forwards in the Premier League when the opposition have the ball. Whereas Suárez was getting tight to García, Agüero – in roughly the same role for City – made no attempt to shut down Lucas Leiva, which forced García and Barry up the pitch to battle in midfield, affording Suárez too much space. Mancini will be delighted to learn of Yaya Touré's imminent return from the Africa Cup of Nations – García is still yet to convince in the centre of midfield, and the relationship between Touré and Barry feels much more natural.

With Liverpool dominating, midway through the second half Mancini turned to his standard plan B, a 3-5-2 system. That provided an extra body in the centre of midfield, Liverpool found fewer spaces in that zone, and City looked better after the formation change. However, it was frustrating that Carlos Tevez remained on the bench for the duration. When he is fielded alongside Agüero, it offers that clever partnership – one darting in behind, one roaming between the lines, but with the potential for switching – that Sturridge and Suárez appear to have already mastered.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Michael Cox, for The Guardian on Sunday 3rd February 2013 22.04 Europe/London

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