Liverpool suffered an early-season setback as they fell to a disappointing but deserved 3-1 defeat at Manchester City last night.
The Reds failed their first major test of the season on Monday evening, losing comprehensively in the end to a classy City side that just seemed a cut above Liverpool. Despite arguably being the better team for 40 minutes, the Merseysiders never looked like coming back into the contest once a defensive error from debutant Alberto Moreno allowed Stevan Jovetic to give the hosts the lead moments before the break.
The on-form Jovetic’s second and a goal from substitute Sergio Aguero only 23 seconds after entering the action killed off any lingering hopes Liverpool had of getting back into the game, with Zabaleta’s own goal under pressure from Lambert seven minutes from time proving scant consolation for Brendan Rodgers’ disconsolate troops.
The game came too soon for Liverpool’s new signing Mario Balotelli, who watched on from the stands as his new employers faced his former team. Alberto Moreno was handed his debut by Brendan Rodgers at left back and performed promisingly until his fatal error on the stroke of half time, while Joe Allen was preferred to Lucas in the middle of the park.
For the first 40 minutes, Liverpool looked the better team and City seemed not to be at the races. Defensively disciplined, the Reds had the stamina to quickly get men behind the ball to regain their defensive shape after committing numbers forward.
In attack, Philippe Coutinho was particularly impressive, while Sterling’s pace caused City’s backline problems on numerous occasions and, although he was arguably quite quiet, Sturridge had the away side’s best chance of the half just after the half hour mark, testing Hart with a decent effort from a narrow angle after bamboozling Vincent Kompany with some clever footwork.
Apart from that, though, goalscoring chances were disappointingly few and far between for Liverpool, who couldn’t convert their control of the game into goals. In contrast, City, despite rarely getting out of second gear during the first period, were clinical in front of goal and ruthless in punishing Liverpool’s mistakes. As a result, the Citizens entered the interval with the all-important lead.
A ball into the box was weakly nodded away by the poorly positioned Lovren and Jovetic exploited Moreno’s hesitancy to pounce, stealing possession from the dumbfounded Spaniard and smashing home from close range to open the scoring. It was lazy defending from the former Sevilla left back, who stood still and swung a leg in hope instead of reacting quickly and clearing the danger.
|Jovetic fires home his first goal|
He must do better to justify his £12 million price tag. However, to be fair to him, his superb tackle to deny Dzeko as he ran through on goal four minutes after the restart went some way to compensating for his earlier error.
Now in full stride, the confident City couldn’t be denied for long, though, as their attacking brilliance exposed the flaws that remain in Liverpool’s defence despite heavy investment over the summer.
Man City’s Montenegrin striker Jovetic was like a new signing for the home side throughout the match, and he started and finished the move that culminated in his second goal of the evening on 55 minutes. After the number 35’s flick sent Nasri clear down the right, he fired home the Frenchman’s return pass to double both his personal goal haul and City’s scoring tally.
|Jovetic was like a new signing for City|
Jovetic could have secured a hat-trick minutes later, but his shot went wide of the post after Liverpool failed to clear the danger inside the area.
Noticeably superior to Liverpool, City seemed a far more cohesive unit, which is understandable considering the number of new arrivals at Anfield this summer. Despite going neck-to-neck with City in the title race last season, Liverpool struggled to live with the Manchester side in the second half, and Pellegrini’s men set about embarrassing their visitors.
With twenty minutes remaining, Sergio Aguero entered the fray and made an immediate impact, timing his run perfectly to evade the attention of Lovren and latch onto Navas’ fantastic through ball, slotting home past the helpless Mignolet to make it 3-0.
|Aguero had an instant impact|
City could have quite easily gone on to score a couple more goals, but thankfully they were restricted to three, and Liverpool managed to grab a late consolation as well. Lambert headed Sturridge’s cross goalwards from close range and saw Hart make a good save. Unfortunately for the England keeper, he only succeeded in pushing the ball against his teammate Zabaleta’s knee, and the ball rolled into the net as a result.
|Zabaleta's own goal proved scant consolation|
Despite that slight positive, the night ended badly for Liverpool. First, Lambert squandered a gilt edged opportunity to score a second soon after Zabaleta’s own goal, confusingly deciding to cross when he really should have had the confidence to fire goalwards when presented with a wonderful goalscoring opportunity.
Then, our defenders seemed to drop like flies. Johnson limped off with an injury, leaving Liverpool with ten men as they’d already utilised all three substitutions. Skrtel and Moreno also had to endure a painful few final minutes, as they played on despite picking up knocks, the latter suffering a particularly nasty looking turned ankle.
It was a disappointingly apt way to end a frustrating evening, which evidenced the gulf in class between the two teams. On the basis of this match, City will certainly be title contenders, while Liverpool will probably have to settle for fighting for a top four finish. City are just a cut above Liverpool currently.
Next up for Liverpool is a trip to White Hart Lane on Sunday to face Spurs, a team who the Reds are in danger of emulating in terms of their response to the sale of a world class player to one of the Spanish giants. With Tottenham on the up under Mauricio Pochettino, it should be a tough test at one of Liverpool’s historic bogey grounds. Hopefully Super Mario will make a difference and help the Reds to bounce back quickly from this disappointing and potentially damaging defeat.