The Liverpool forwards exploited space between defence and midfield in the holes left by Gareth Barry and Javi García
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.
Stoke City were particularly defensive at the Emirates on Saturday afternoon, failing to apply sustained pressure despite facing an injury-weakened Arsenal backline.
But Stoke's midfield strategy was broadly effective. Tony Pulis used three central midfielders – Geoff Cameron, Glenn Whelan and Steven N'Zonzi – and told them to stick tight to Arsenal's midfield three, allowing them to be dragged out of position by the rotation of positions. Cameron seemed to start as the deepest midfielder, but frequently became the most advanced.
Arsenal's main chances came from set-pieces and Arsène Wenger was forced to turn to the rested Santi Cazorla in the second half, to provide more creativity in the centre. Usually, opponents focus on denying Arsenal space between the lines, but Pulis' strategy seemed more about dealing with individuals. Future visitors to the Emirates might take note.
Tottenham's 17 corners at West Brom on Sunday afternoon is the most any side has won in this Premier League campaign, and while Goran Popov's dismissal early in the second half contributed to Spurs' dominance, the figure had already been high at half-time.
The cause was West Brom's extremely narrow defensive shape – they occupied the centre of the pitch and showed Tottenham wide, presumably confident that Jermain Defoe (and later Clint Dempsey) offered minimal aerial threat. André Villas-Boas always orders his sides to keep great width, which contributed to Tottenham going down the flanks and winning corners.
But Steve Clarke was confident his side would defend aerial balls effectively, and justifiably so. Spurs took two short corners in the final five minutes, but the first 15 were all launched into the box – and only one found a Tottenham head.