Sunday 18 August 2019

Rampant Liverpool run riot to expose City's defensive frailty

Manchester City1-4 Liverpool

Martin Skrtel celebrates with teammates after scoring Liverpool’s fourth goal against Manchester City
Martin Skrtel celebrates with teammates after scoring Liverpool’s fourth goal against Manchester City
Jurgen Klopp applauds Liverpool's travelling support after the game
Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel shoots to score their fourth goal

Daniel Taylor

Perhaps the greatest compliment that can be paid to Liverpool is that they played the kind of thrilling football Manchester City's owners in Abu Dhabi want to see of their own team. Jurgen Klopp's side should have made this an even more comprehensive rout, offering encouragement for his work behind the scenes, and there have certainly not been many times when the modern-day City have been so outplayed on their own ground.

Liverpool were three ahead after 33 minutes and could conceivably have scored just that many again before Sergio Aguero's goal, on his return from injury, offered City a brief flicker of hope before half-time. Coutinho, in particular, was exhilarating, scoring one and playing a significant part in the other two. Roberto Firmino had his best game for the club, and it was almost a surprise Liverpool restricted themselves to only one more goal in the second half, courtesy of Martin Skrtel's 81st-minute volley.

James Milner, one of several outstanding performers, will have cherished his return to his former club whereas Raheem Sterling, in stark contrast, had a difficult game against his old team, culminating in him completely missing the ball with the goal exposed in the final few minutes. Yaya Toure and Fernando were substituted ignominiously at half-time and, though Joe Hart was partly to blame for the second goal, City ought to be grateful for his goalkeeping preventing their ordeal being made even worse. No team can defend this badly and expect to get away with it, and City were desperate from the moment Eliaquim Mangala's own goal set the tone.

Vincent Kompany might be occasionally accident-prone but he is still the best organiser City have defensively and, with their captain absent again because of recurring injury issues, it must have been startling for Pellegrini to see how vulnerable his team were. Eliaquim Mangala is one of the world's costliest defenders, in excess of £40m, but for all his raw potential he still has a tendency to be a danger to his own team. Martin Demichelis added to the uncertainty, and Bacary Sagna's part in the opening goal must have made City's supporters pine for the days when a fit, trustworthy Pablo Zabaleta brought steady assurance to the right-back spot.

Maybe, in hindsight, Pellegrini will regret not starting Nicolas Otamendi in defence. Demichelis had not begun a league fixture since September 26, a 4-1 defeat at Tottenham when he was equally as susceptible, and he simply had no answer for the quick, decisive counter-attacking football that Klopp's team produced in the first half.

Without exaggeration, Liverpool could feel slightly disappointed not to leave the pitch at half-time with at least two more goals to show for their supremacy. They were rampant, breaking at pace and quickly sensing that the team that began the day at the top of the league were there for the taking. Firmino had a clear chance to make it 4-0 after the umpteenth mix-up between Demichelis and Mangala. The same player put another shot just wide, and Liverpool must have been astonished by the frail generosity of their opponents.

City's lethargy was apparent from the eighth minute when Sagna collected the ball from Joe Hart and then promptly lost it to Coutinho. The home side were in danger straight away and, at this level, there was still something remarkably ungainly about the way Mangala could not arrange his legs and turned Firmino's cross into his own net.

Coutinho, aided and abetted by Firmino, was brilliantly sharp and alert, whereas City appeared to be playing in a straitjacket during that opening 40 minutes. The second goal came after 23 minutes, originating from a misplaced Demichelis header, but also featuring another demonstration of Mangala's lack of anticipation. Liverpool were attacking with width and penetration and Firmino latched on to the loose ball, turning the ball in from the right for Coutinho to score.

Aguero's goal was a superb reminder of his finishing skills, turning inside Lucas Leiva and curling a shot around Simon Mignolet. Yet it also flattered Pellegrini's team. It was difficult to remember a worse first half during his time as manager, and for half an hour Liverpool were threatening in virtually every attack.

Emre Can's back-heel to set up their third goal was beautifully delivered, springing open the entire City defence. Coutinho slipped a little pass to his right to bypass Hart and Firmino was left with an open goal. The passing and movement was exquisite, but the move had been preceded by Hart, looking panicky, making a mess of a Coutinho shot. All game, City were undone by individual mistakes. The only downside for Liverpool was Coutinho's departure with a hamstring injury, but this was a collective show of superiority. Adam Lallana looks revitalised. Can was superb and the victory was capped off when Skrtel lashed in the loose ball from a corner.


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