City lost an FA Cup semi-final for the third successive season on Saturday. In Pep we trust? Hmm, the cries for a rethink on team selection could be heard all the way home. The good news is a solution may be on hand, but more of that later.
We all know the situation with domestic cup competitions, where squad players and the best young players get valuable minutes of first team action. It keeps everyone happy, providing respite for those playing twice a week in the Premier League and Europe, while giving an opportunity to those who have fallen out of the first choice eleven.
Zack Steffen is the main beneficiary and seemingly has Pep’s word that he will play all domestic cup games. This was the key issue on Saturday. While it’s good to give Steffen these games most of the time, this game against this Liverpool felt different and so it turned out.
The consensus is that these games are decided by “small margins”, and leading up to the game, the margins appeared to be in Liverpool’s favour.
Liverpool had been able to rest players for their Champions League game the previous Wednesday, just as City’s finest had a draining night in Madrid with Walker, de Bruyne and Gundogen injured.
Whilst a refreshed Liverpool would fly at us, Pep appeared to rest Laporte and Rodri due to concerns over fatigue. Most fans could understand this and Ake played well, while Fernandinho did his best. The concern I had was the loss of height at set-pieces without Rodri and Laporte, and sure enough Konate out jumped Ake to score the opener from Liverpool’s first corner.
This was the price City had to pay, but the real concern was the selection of Steffen over Ederson. The American might have done better for the first and third goals, but the second was clearly all down to him. Plus, Liverpool are the best pressing team around and with changes to the outfield players, it was more important than ever to have Ederson’s calmness and quality in possession.
As Alan Shearer pointed out afterwards, Pep’s selection of Steffen cost City goals, whereas Klopp’s selection of Alisson saw their first choice keeper make the one-on-one saves in which he specialises. City may have got away with the changes elsewhere had Ederson played.
And let’s not forget, Steffen was caught in no-man’s land for Chelsea’s goal in last season’s FA Cup semi-final.
This doesn’t mean Steffen should never play. He’s a good keeper, who has improved in his time with us and he needs minutes. This game did him no favours though. He came to it cold, having not played since the last round and went home devastated by the second goal.
It’s quite possible we could be in the same position next season, where we get drawn against the very best in the domestic cups. If we want to win them and not throw away the good work in the earlier rounds then shouldn’t we go with our first choice keeper?
As I stated earlier, a solution may be available for giving games to Steffen. Next season sees the restoration of the 5 subs rule. Given Pep’s lack of subs on Saturday and in the Palace game, this may seem less than relevant at the moment but bear with me.
Pep and others don’t just want the subs for making tactical changes to win a match. They want the option to bring players off when a game is won and save them for the next game. In games where City are 3 or 4 goals ahead, expect to see a raft of subs. With 5 subs available, bringing on Steffen to give him some first team minutes makes sense. He could get some action and not be under the extreme pressure of Saturday. And a mistake would be a lot less likely to cost us the chance of a trophy!