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Stephen Hunt: 'Rival Brazilians making last line of defence a key attacking weapon'


Liverpool's Brazilian goalie Alisson Becker. Photo: Action Images via Reuters

Liverpool's Brazilian goalie Alisson Becker. Photo: Action Images via Reuters

Action Images via Reuters

Liverpool's Brazilian goalie Alisson Becker. Photo: Action Images via Reuters

Every UEFA A and B licence holder and all of their tutors will have been delighted watching every minute of the Manchester City-Liverpool game on Thursday night.

This was a game that was played out on the tactics board before a ball was kicked and for 90 minutes-plus it had everything modern-day coaches are striving for and everything they study. All the jargon, all the tactics, all the angles were covered: good defending from both teams out of possession and in possession, really high-quality closing down, excellent, crisp passing, and passing with ease, no individual mistakes or people out of position.


Manchester City’s Ederson (Mike Egerton/PA)

Manchester City’s Ederson (Mike Egerton/PA)

Both managers went into the game wanting to play quality football at a high tempo, and the sides delivered a game which everyone enjoyed. It was far from a defensive stalemate. It was two excellent teams trying to press on the front foot - it was exceptional from start to finish.

It was also a good night for John Stones, referee Anthony Taylor and supporters of goal-line technology. When Stones cleared Ederson's 'header' off the line it looked in and I was just waiting for Taylor's whistle. I reckon he would have given a goal without the technology. It reminded me of William Gallas' effort against Liverpool at Anfield in the Champions League which wasn't given.

Manchester City's win was the right result for the neutral. A 10-point gap would have been too much, even for Pep Guardiola. Liverpool are a side who will beat most teams on an average day.

Last season an average day for Liverpool would have been full of individual mistakes and probably ended in defeat or a draw. This season I cannot see the Liverpool back four making many mistakes and they are too good going forward for most teams.

If Liverpool have conceded a goal it has generally been a good goal or a decent move or from a set play. They are not giving away sloppy goals anymore and that clearly comes from the arrival of Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker.

It was interesting seeing the two Brazilians - Ederson and Alisson - in the opposing goals. There was a time when Brazil had some of the best midfielders and strikers in the world and pretty lousy keepers but that has changed. Both are world class and aside from being brilliant keepers in the traditional sense, they are very comfortable on the ball - these two know what they are doing when they have the ball at their feet.

When they are closed down there is no panic among the crowd and they know their team-mates and manager trust them. And when you see Alisson pinging a ball across the turf against Arsenal to set up another goal, no wonder. Normally you would hear the crowd shouting "man on, man on" as a striker closes in but because we are used to seeing them so calm and effective in possession, everyone lets them get on with it.

Their ability to set up attacks and pick out passes which can tear through the opposition has put the position, effectiveness and priorities of the goalkeeper in a whole new world and it will be interesting to see how it develops. If they can't get both what will managers and coaches prefer? The shot-stopper or the ball-player?

I was surprised to see Bernardo Silva clocked the furthest of any Premier League players so far this season when he topped 13km. Although I was one of the highest runners in the Premier League, I would not get too excited about that. I did those distances in most games, although having tried to play in the Soccer Star Sixes tournament in Glasgow during the week, my distances are definitely down to about 3km now!

Silva is a terrific player, though, and along with Fernandinho was really on his game on the night. The nucleus of the City midfield was excellent.

Now Liverpool are the team being hunted. There has been a 12-point turnover in their favour since the beginning of December, which is a lot, but I don't think anybody ever wrote City off. They have had a blip but they are very much in this title race.

Liverpool cannot afford to lose many games. I expect them both to go on a run and this will go down to the last four or five games. It may even come down to a 'Steven Gerrard slip' moment.

This is a different kind of pressure for Liverpool and they have to deal with it. But this time they have Jurgen Klopp in their corner and, no disrespect to Brendan Rodgers, but he has been here before.

Sunday Indo Sport