Manchester City 3
(Jovetic x2, Aguero)
Venue: Etihad Stadium
Referee: Michael Oliver
Recent history has seen some truly entertaining clashes between these two attacking-minded sides with this clash in Manchester proving to be no different. The past five league games between last year’s first and second placed teams had produced three 2-2 scores with Liverpool conceding 10 goals in their last four league trips to the Etihad Stadium.
The Reds continued this negative trend conceding three goals due to abysmal defending at times. However, some of the football on show was truly a thing to behold, especially when considering that we’re still in August.
Many pundits have predicted a tough season for this post-Suarez Liverpool side but, paradoxically, some still feel that the Reds’ clash against Manchester City proves that this will not be the case.
Luis Suarez is a world class talent. No doubt about that. But all should not be doom and gloom in Anfield.
It’s no secret that Liverpool were absolutely awful in defense last season and the second half display was reminiscent of that. Playing with both Suarez and Sturridge together meant that two players in the side rarely contributed in defence with covering in wide areas being especially a problem. As the likes of Gerrard, Henderson and Coutinho tried to win the midfield battles last year, the fullbacks were left exposed with Rodgers at times reverting to a 3-5-2 to try and rectify this problem.
Against Manchester City, Sturridge played alone up front with Coutinho and Sterling taking roaming positions behind him. However, the latter two clearly had instructions to cover their fullback colleagues with Sterling being seen helping Glen Johnson on the right and the Brazilian in turn covering Alberto Moreno.
This system worked very well in the first half as Liverpool constantly found pockets of space in attack whilst keeping compact at the back. It’s a shame that they conceded when Jovetic pounced on individual mistakes from new signings Dejan Lovren and Moreno.
Individual mistakes…that’s one thing that hasn’t changed from last season! Such mistakes clearly had cost Liverpool the title with Gerrard’s slip against Chelsea the most prominent.
The second and third goals were again due to lapses of concentration at the back as City took full advantage of the left side of Liverpool’s back-line exploiting Lovren’s and Moreno’s disastrous positioning. For the third goal, Sergio Aguero simply ran past Lovren who was keeping him on side and then wasn’t quick enough to rectify his mistake.
In midfield, Henderson, Allen and Gerrard kept the ball well and passed it round well especially in the first half. However, the lack of creativity was almost shocking with Coutinho, who so often provided moments of brilliance in midfield last season, very quiet. As Sturridge and Sterling came deep to get the ball, it was clear that Liverpool lacked bodies in the opposition’s penalty area.
When they did get chances, they clearly lacked a cutting edge with Henderson slow to react when twice found alone in front of heart. Substitute Lambert missed two gilt edge opportunities with the first one still ending up in the net after the ball ricocheted off Zabaleta’s knee after a wonder save from Joe Hart. A minute later, he decided to pass when it was easier to score in a one-on-one with the England goalkeeper. Daniel Sturridge clearly felt the burden of leading the line on his own as he tried hard to snapped on shots in the second half and started to go too deep to get the ball.
Clearly, Liverpool lacked the Suarez-like genius in attack but Reds fans should be encouraged with the new signings.
Hopefully, Mario Balotelli will lift some of the burden from Sturridge as well as providing moments of genious in the attacking third. Markovic was a threat from the first minute he came on as he showed nice trickery, pace and the eye for a pass.
Some of the impressive play demonstrated by Rodgers’ side in the first half will suit Adam Lallana just fine. With Balotelli and Sturridge as attacking options, and Lallana, Markovic, Coutinho and Sterling all options alongside the, in various possible formations, the future looks bright indeed in an attacking sense.
Nevertheless the defence is still a problem. Last week, Manquillo had an impressive debut and surely Glen Johnson’s time as Liverpool’s number one right-back is over. Once again, his defending against Man City was all over the place. Alberto Moreno unfortunately looks like a left sided version of Johnson being very good in attack but lacking in defence.
Dejan Lovren was rock solid with Southampton last year but his positioning was at fault on too many occasions in the Etihad. Rodgers needs to quickly find a suitable partnership from Sakho, Agger, Skrtel and Lovren that will fix the cracks in defence.
Overall, Rodgers will be encouraged by the first 40 minutes and the impact of his substitutes but he will be anxious to have a full squad as soon as possible so as to find the right balance. Against Manuel Pellegrini’s side, the fluidity and movement in attack in the early stages was truly impressive and will suit Balotelli and Lallana just fine.
However, against the clinical finishing, quality and experience of a side like Man City, Liverpool need to be more incisive in attack and have better judgements at the back. After this transfer window, the personnel to do this is there.