Almost Half Liverpool’s Outfield Players Would Get Into This Marvellous Man City Side

Almost Half Liverpool’s Outfield Players Would Get Into This Marvellous Man City Side
April 3, 2018 Paul Tomkins


There’s a vogue for “hybrid” teams when two sides go head to head, and they are always flawed, ignoring the chemistry and balance – as well as the tactics – that enable certain players to thrive whilst others struggle.

These are indeed the analysts’ version of the half-and-half scarf. Even so – flawed as it will be – I’ve gone ahead and created one ahead of the all-English Champions League quarter-final.

And I reckon that at least four Liverpool outfield players would get into the Man City side; or, at the very least, not weaken it. Obviously I’m biased, but I reckon Pep Guardiola would love these four players (luckily he can’t have them), and possibly even a fifth. Yes, I said it – I think a case can be made for half Liverpool’s outfield players making it into City’s XI, although there are two areas of the pitch where City are stronger, which is why they are setting all kinds of records. But Liverpool’s underlying figures are very strong indeed.

If you think I’m exaggerating, you only need to look at Daniel Rhodes’ excellent piece on this site yesterday, looking at the underlying numbers of all clubs since 2009; and remember, the underlying numbers for City last season were better than their results, which suggested results would improve if they simply kept doing the same things (irrespective of adding even better players).

On many metrics, Liverpool are actually right up there with this season’s Man City’s side, as well as with the 100-goals Chelsea title-winners from 2009/10, although City’s underlying numbers are still a bit better than the Reds’; just not by as much as the league table suggests.

As noted, the underlying numbers last season said that City were better than the table suggested, and also, when Zlatan Ibrahimovic had a barren spell for United, the numbers said he would start scoring a lot of goals, and he did. After a few games of this season, before Mo Salah was doing well but wasn’t really on fire, Daniel noted on here that the Egyptian’s underlying numbers were in keeping with Lionel Messi’s (something like one full expected goal per game), and lo and behold, the goals are now indeed flowing at a rate on a par with the Argentine master. Salah is indeed now worth a goal a game.

It’s also worth noting that City were well ahead of Liverpool when Jürgen Klopp arrived, and have spent more money than the Reds since, and not had to sell any of their biggest names. But Pep Guardiola has taken the Citizens to a new level, light years beyond what Jose Mourinho has been able to do at Man United on a similar budget. Whilst the cool Catalan baldy has been working wonders, Liverpool have cruised to the Champions League quarter-finals under their hirsute German, including an additional two-leg qualifier against German opposition. This has been achieved without a single defeat – albeit without yet facing a European superpower – and in terms of progress the Reds have the top four almost nailed by the start of April; the gap over 5th-place now ten points.

Overall it is a massive improvement – to balance the dual demands of both competitions, especially when it involved two standoffs from the want-away star player who left in January, and when the two main transfer targets of the summer had to wait (Naby Keita until the summer, Virgil van Dijk until January).

City already had a ton of expensive players when Guardiola arrived (although so did Mourinho at United, which made his talk of heritage a bit bizarre). While City have no one as costly as van Dijk without inflation, with inflation Eliaquim Bloody Hell Mangala cost c.£87m (via our Transfer Price Index that tracks all Premier League transfers). Sergio Aguero’s fee is now equivalent to over £130m in today’s money, to put their spending into context, although that still represents good value. (Liverpool’s most expensive player from the Premier League era after inflation is Andy Carroll at c.£95m. Eek. Which is a couple of million more than Kevin de Bruyne cost after inflation.)

Both managers have brought an incredibly exciting style to England. Klopp has yet to create an era-defining team in the way that Guardiola did at Barcelona (and perhaps is doing again at City), but Guardiola has never taken a bankrupt club on a shoestring budget to back-to-back titles in a major league and to a Champions League final. Unlike some managers, both are a credit to this country.

Anyway, onto my selections…

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To start with, you can’t argue about Ederson in goal; which is why I focused on outfield players in the title of the piece. Ederson’s form this season has been a big contrast to Liverpool’s struggles in the position, with Simon Mignolet unconvincing earlier in the campaign (after a great end to last season), and Loris Karius taking time to find his feet (I want to say ‘find his gloves’ but that would make him look mightily absent-minded, and ‘find his hands’ just sounds weird).

Karius has definitely improved – since around the time Liverpool beat City 4-3; but while good on the ball, doesn’t have Ederson’s sensational finesse. The way Ederson strokes the ball 50 yards over the opposition press is a joy to behold. The Brazilian seems physically stronger too. (Karius was unfairly hammered over Leroy Sané’s goal that night, as if getting beat at your near post is a crime if the ball is travelling at 200mph.)

Of course, if Liverpool went out and got Alisson in the summer that would mean another position where Liverpool can match, and indeed, outstrip City; after all, the Roma man is Brazil’s number one, ahead of Ederson. But you also have to suspect other big clubs will be in for a player being touted as worth £70m. (And, of course, it’s not the summer yet, so I can’t include Alisson in here.)

In Vincent Kompany I think City have arguably been the best all-round centre-back of the entire Premier League era; even as he melts, I’d take him in one of Liverpool’s two centre-back slots – although I wouldn’t exactly covet him, given his age and injury record. In a year or two he’ll be nothing but meltwater.

I like the look of Aymeric Laporte, at the age of 23, and John Stones, also 23, is still not at the magic age of 25/26 that seems to make such a difference as centre-backs iron out their deficiencies. Having said that, Stones turns 24 next month, so he’s getting close to maturation (unless he is not one of those players who never rids themselves of gaffes). I have to say, I think Stones is an excellent player who takes chances at the back (rather than hoof it), but he doesn’t even seem to be in City’s side much these days.

Also, it’s fair to say that Nicolas Otamendi’s game has come together in England this season, for the first time since his arrival with a big reputation. But is he really any better than Dejan Lovren? I don’t think so. And Lovren isn’t even nailed-on in the Liverpool team.

Kompany remains the only centre-back who really stands out from City, in a team that isn’t put under much defensive pressure – especially with teams not even trying to attack City. Indeed, when Liverpool pressed them doggedly in January we saw City’s defenders (and keeper) make all kinds of mistakes. They generally defend by keeping the ball at the other end, and Liverpool are able to disrupt that. It was utterly scandalous to see Chelsea just sit off City last month, and not even press in midfield, in the most lame performance I think I’ve ever seen from a top team, and especially a defending champion (who were not Leicester).

I also think Kyle Walker is a reasonable way ahead of both Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold at this stage, and ahead of Nathaniel Clyne when he is fit. But the City full-back is obviously 27, and Liverpool’s two right-backs this season are mere pups. Gomez should ultimately end up at centre-back, and I think TAA is two years away from having the physicality and the nous to really make a mark, and as such I would put money on him being the player to usurp Walker in the England team.

For all Liverpool’s supposed defensive woes, I’d put two of Klopp’s men into City’s back four (or two of City’s men into Liverpool’s back four) – as I will now get onto.

Benjamin Mendy only played four league games before injury struck, so it’s hard to know how good he’ll be as a Premier League player; but Andy Robertson has been sensational this season. Guardiola would surely love him, as he can attack, defend, pass, cross and has boundless energy. He looks the complete full-back, and literally the only thing I can mark him down on is an inch or two in height. At 5’10” he’s definitely not too small, but an extra inch or two helps with far-post balls to strikers who pull into that space. Walker looks taller to me, but Wikipedia says both are 5’10”, while Mendy is an ideal 6’1″.

And Virgil van Dijk would walk into that side, as seen by City’s interest in him last summer and this January. It’s one of Jürgen Klopp’s great coups, to convince the player to the point where Liverpool was his only desired destination, and City, apparently interested at £60m, balked at the price – not least because they’d already spent over £100m on full-backs this season, and have spent an absolute fortune on centre-backs in the last half-decade. In today’s money their centre-backs alone cost in excess of £250m – Mangala, Stones, Otamendi and Laporte all costing a fortune – although ironically, Kompany was by far the cheapest, at roughly the cost of a bag of peanuts.

One slack pass against Palace aside, van Dijk has been a hugely calming presence at the back for the Reds of late, after a promising but slightly blighted first few games. Crystal Palace was the first shaky game the team has had defensively in ages, and my fear for this game was always that the Reds wouldn’t be at 100% energy and focus because of the three season-defining matches coming up.

So, goalkeeper to City, but a full-back and a centre-back from each club. Now onto midfield.

My first instinct was that the entire City midfield trio of Fernandinho, Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva would take all three slots; it’s the one area where you can say that they have the greater talent.

The pair of de Bruyne and Silva are shoe-ins; Liverpool simply don’t have that kind of creative player, although did have Philippe Coutinho, who was perhaps the closest thing to them. It remains slightly weird that the Reds have improved so much since he left, but there will be games where his quality is missed.

But I imagine Emre Can is on a par with Fernandinho. Indeed, a big fear of mine is that Can ends up at City. If he goes abroad I’ll be disappointed, but I’ll also understand and accept it. If he goes to a rival, that’ll be hard to stomach. Can is apparently wanted by Juventus and Bayern Munich as well as City, and unless that’s just his agent hyping things, you can assume that he’s valued at least on a par with Fernandinho; and of course, is eight years younger.

I’m a big Jordan Henderson fan, but alas I can’t make a strong enough case for him here. I think the England captaincy has hindered him, as it makes him even more of a lightning rod for criticism. It’s almost as if Klopp has to rebuild him every time he returns from international duty.

Adam Lallana would probably make the Man City bench, at a push, but he’s had a season ruined by injuries.

I also can’t think of another player like Oxlade-Chamberlain, which makes him hard to categorise and therefore compare with others; but there was talk of City being interested, and Guardiola had talked him up in the past. He’s a winger/striker/wingback/midfielder, who can go on mazy runs but without ever looking smooth or totally in control, as if he’s a bit too top-heavy. He has great pace, and real explosiveness off the mark, but his goal against City in the league did not open the floodgates in a weaker area of his game. I think he’ll play in these two games but wouldn’t make my hybrid team – at least, not yet. But the potential is there (and of course, Naby Keita will arrive in the summer, too).

Up front I was tempted to go for Liverpool’s trio, who I think outstrip even City’s front three. But I think Leroy Sané edges Sadio Mané out on this season’s form. There’s not a lot in it, but Sané is phenomenal for his age.

But I will have the pleasure of omitting Raheem Sterling, who – as I predicted could happen to him later in his career (when I assumed he’d still be with Liverpool) – scores a ton of tap-ins due to the great positions he gets into. He also does a lot of hard work, is deceptively strong and can dribble extremely effectively, but who just cannot match Mo Salah’s all-round brilliance. Salah wins this hands-down, even though Sterling has 22 goals this season. Salah not only has 37, but more assists too.

And controversially, perhaps, I’d take Bobby Firmino over Sergio Aguero. Aguero scores more goals, but a fair chunk are penalties, too. He has six assists in the league, but Bobby has seven. And what Firmino does in all-round play exceeds the little Argentine, with greater skill and far more work. Firmino wins three times as many headers per game, but more vitally, avreages 1.9 tackles per match, compared with Aguero’s measly 0.4. And despite City having the best possession stats in Europe, Firmino makes six more passes per game, which shows his greater involvement. Aguero is an elite predator, but I felt last season, even before Firmino was scoring as frequently as he now is, Guardiola would covet Firmino.

Of course, City also have Gabriel Jesus. Aged just 20, he’s already ahead of Bobby in the Brazil squad, but is a fair way behind him in England for goals and assists. I don’t think he’s had a great season, but is obviously a fine finisher and has a good range of skills.

While I don’t put too much stock in Whoscored’s player ratings, the top ten includes de Bruyne, Aguero, Silva, Sané, Sterling, Firmino and Salah, while Sadio Mané ranks 17th. Currently, even though it’s based on a per-game average and therefore doesn’t count against Jesus for missing a few months of the season, the Brazilian ranks 73rd. (Emre Can, by the way, is 19th.)

So there you have it.

Ederson, Walker, Kompany, van Dijk, Robertson, de Bruyne, Fernandinho, Silva, Sané, Firmino, Salah; but just as easily: Ederson, Walker, van Dijk, Robertson, de Bruyne, Can, Silva, Sané, Firmino, Salah.

For the seven subs I could only narrow it down to eight, so I’d probably go with Karius, Gomez, Stones, Can or Fernandinho (depending on the XI), Sterling, Aguero, Jesus and Mané (and I’ve probably overlooked someone too good to be left out!).

After I wrote this article yesterday I saw that Beez tweeted his team, and it was the exact same selection. Perhaps Man City fans wouldn’t see it the same way, but statistically at least, Liverpool have the better front three this season.


Comments (23)

  1. Author

    Okay, a piece from me ahead of the big matches!

    I was going to read it through one more time before publishing but hopefully it’s all okay – I have to get ready for an Anfield Index podcast before lunch, where I’m joining Daniel to talk about … referees!

    • Bit harsh to mark Robertson down for his height when he’s got the best aerial duel win percentage in the Liverpool team (79% or 15/19). He’s got the lot 😉

      Ederson; Trent, Van Dijk, Otemendi, Robertson; De Bruyne, Silva, Can; Salah, Bobby, Sane.

      I’d pick Trent purely because both he and Walker make positional errors. The latter constantly did it at Spurs. And I honestly believe Trent’s better going forward – which will be crucial in these ties. As Spurs fans commented when Walker was leaving,Trippier had more consistency and contribution in the final third last season. They certainly haven’t lost anything in that position this season, which is usually a tell tale factor.

      I’ve had concerns about Kompany for a while, and think Otemendi has been their rock for the last 18 months – and he does the shit stuff that all teams need. And is better on the ball than any of ours other than Virgil, but would compliment him perfectly by allowing him to dominate in the air.

      • Author
        Paul Tomkins 5 years ago

        Good point about Robbo, had no idea he was that good in the air! How many aerial duels has he contested?

      • Daniel Rhodes 5 years ago

        15 out of 19! So not that many but still, compared to the record of our fullbacks recently, it’s huge.

  2. chuck 5 years ago

    A great piece and an encouraging one.  I agree that Liverpool’s weakest area is creative midfield. Hopefully Keita will have a powerful impact next year, and I assume that another creative midfielder will be brought in as well. I do worry about our depth in the attacking positions and think that Klopp and the committee will try to strengthen this area during the summer.

    There is one small detail in your article that you may want to correct. You only have 10 players in your final team. You seem to have left out a central defender.

    • Joe A 5 years ago

      Yep, Kompany is missing. Either he’s injured or on the bench as he only needs to play half a game because the rest of the team is so good.

      • Daniel Rhodes 5 years ago

        Or he’s been sent off for a high boot? 😉 Likely story…

  3. Chris Rowland 5 years ago

    My joint team is the same as Paul’s/Beez’s, except I just can’t choose between Aguero and Firmino. The midfield is slightly light on defensive cover, but probably wouldn’t need much! 😉

    • And the midfield is slightly light on defensive cover, but probably wouldn’t need much!

      Exactly my sentiments for Trent/Can over Walker and Fernandinho!

  4. Joe A 5 years ago

    Pretty fair selections there I think and probably gives a good idea of where / what we have to improve to close the 20 point gap with City.

    – Having a fully fit and integrated VVD and Robertson for a whole season next season will no doubt close that gap
    – Settled / improved GK in Karius or an upgrade who hits the ground running
    – A more consistent Mane next season
    – Improvement in midfield with Keita, and maybe other upgrades
    – Gomez and TAA to improve as they mature and developed
    – Also still more to come from Ox I think as he matures and settles into the side
    – Salah to continue what he is doing right from the start next season
    – And of course, better decisions from the officials!

    We have massive scope to improve despite being already a very fine side. Its very young and with obvious flaws. Although City can still improve next season, particularly in defence and a striker who fits in more with Pep’s philosophy (not that Aguero is anything to moan about), but the improvement is likely to be more marginal – can they have a perfect season as again and will more teams adopt different tactics against them.

  5. Big Jim Cambo 5 years ago

    An interesting structural observation is that where City really do out-do us is in midfield.

    For us to take another step up next season requires further improvement in that area. Keita will add something, but I am concerned Can is off to City. If he were staying, or heading into Europe, he’d probably have signed already.

    As he hasn’t, it suggests he’s moving within the PL, and signing at the end of the season. It will be a shame if this proves correct.

  6. oliver cruise 5 years ago

    Another interesting sidetone is that 3 of the 4 are 3 of our last 4 signings. Which is a massive success rate and a sign of progress.

    • eddierobUSA 5 years ago

      Yes I was just thinking that this seasons transfer activity may turn out to lay claim to being our best ever – already Robertson, Salah, AOC,  DVD have all been significant early successes, and you could claim Keita as well to come.  JK has dramatically improved  the starting 11, and also added some needed depth. However without the resources of Man City (per the last window) it simply takes more time to build  that depth to the squad. Ultimately that is where the real difference is at present.

      Just one thing, we have for awhile been concerned about the left hand side of our defense whereas now I would suggest it is the best in the EPL.

      • Author
        Paul Tomkins 5 years ago

        Yes I was just thinking that this seasons transfer activity may turn out to lay claim to being our best ever – already Robertson, Salah, AOC,  DVD

        That VvD is so good they’ve brought out a DVD! 😉

        (The joys of autocorrect, which even now turns my article drafts of Salah to Sarah…)

    • terryd 5 years ago

      On Klopp’s success rate… From today’s press conference, via @MelissaReddy_:

      Pep Guardiola on Mo Salah: “This season he is enjoying the way Jürgen wants to play, he is perfect for this. I think Jürgen is a master of buying players to play the way he needs.”

      I think Guardiola has nailed it. Klopp knows what type of player the team needs and he goes and buys that player. Klopp then adds his coaching magic.

    • OT 5 years ago

      This circumstance would seem to be quite a shock to quite a few self styled “experts” out there 🙂 … given the reviews by some at the time:

      “… they are the worst owners if ANY top side in world football but some people gave them this window thinking would be different, so far they have signed a garbage championship left back, a kid from Chelsea’s u23’s and Salah. … and have failed to deliver ANY of Klopps top targets yet again.. now with 2 weeks left in the window the noises are that the VVD and Keita deals are dead and its unlikely they will sign alternatives, definitely not in VVD’s case so they are very close to the worst window they have EVER had in what was supposed to be their defining one.. make no mistake Keita, VVD signed and Coutinho kept or there should be no more discussion. the most staunch FSG delude can have ZERO excuses..”
      “At the same time this is not excusable. The club time and time again seems to screw up transfers. … If you think about this transfer window has been disastrous.  The clubs target was one winger, one CB, one MF all of Top 4/title winning quality. Out of 4 main targets they got only one, Salah and even he was a backup choice. It is unfathomable that you go into a crucial season like this and instead of trying to consolidate your position in the top 4, you get one winger, one backup LB, A youth striker and an bench option in Ox. This is worse than last summer where we at least got the players we needed and added 1st 11 quality in Matip, Sane and even Karius. We needed to do so much more with the added demands of the UCL and we ended up doing less.”

      Must have missed all the mea culpas regarding this season’s transfer activity …  or for that matter – any such mea culpa. 🙂


      • Chris Rowland 5 years ago

        Where’s that review from OT, or is it a generic summary of the shite that was being spouted at the time?

        Salah and Robertson eh, what poor buys they turned out to be. And just a pity we didn’t manage to land our top targets VVD and Keita. Shocking owners.

      • OT 5 years ago


        The first bit was in the comments section below an article from I believe, The Anfield Wrap … the article having been linked to by someone here.  The second was a comment from a subscriber here.

        … so while not the product of paid pundits – it is what supporters actually took the time and effort to compose and post in venues other than twitter 🙂  … and I think it does seem to serve as a reasonable summary of what was being spouted by at least the loudest at the time 🙂

      • Chris Rowland 5 years ago

        Cheers OT – So Klopp and the club’s estimation of Robertson and Salah proved more accurate than the fans’ – who knew? 🙂

        These transfer windows certainly do seem to bring out the latent hysteria lurking just below the surface of some people! 😉

  7. Jeff 5 years ago

    Paul I was going to write a comment along the lines of oliver cruise and I want to echo his remarks. Klopp has been unusually successful in the transfer market as anyone who knows anything about your work would conclude. To me the interesting observation that needs to be made is that for all practical purposes none of the Man City players with the exception of its center backs have a realistic chance of getting better but for all practical purposes all the Liverpool players do. Second, father time is the enemy of every footballer and too many of the key Man City players whether we are talking about Kompany or Silva are getting to the point when the end is near and the end could happen at any time and none of the Liverpool players with the possible exception of James Milner can this be said. (I want to add for the record he contributed far more last season than I thought possible and the same can be said about this season.)

    Roberto Firmino has never been highly rated in Brazilian football and for the life of me I cannot figure out why? I know he started out at an unfashionable club and had to go to Germany and now Liverpool to show his talent but anyone who has seen him play can see his talent. To me he is criminally underrated player and the most underrated high end player I can think of since Piet Keizerof Ajax and Holland. Cruyff is his autobiography called him the best player he ever played with and the Dutch players of his era said he was on a par with Cruyff but for some reason he has never gotten the due he deserves. I feel the same is happening with Firmino.

    Paul I always enjoy what you write but recently you have raised your game and I say well done. All the best, Jeff

  8. Gareth19761 5 years ago

    Good article Paul and points in your comment Jeff.I agree I think ,hope,there is more to come from Liverpool the next few years whereas City,though far larger resources will have more rebuilding to do over the coming seasons. I would take Firmino all day long hope he remains under the radar.

  9. Che 5 years ago

    The highlight has to be

    Unlike some managers, both are a credit to this country.

  10. CONOR 5 years ago

    Agreed re Bobby… I cannot for the life of me think why he’s not a regular in the Brazil team. He offers so much and goes about it with such skill and determination.. It might be a reason why Brazil won’t win the WC this year..

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