With such an excellent record against them and on the back of two good home wins and a solid international break for many of our players, Liverpool travelled to the Etihad Stadium in form and full of confidence. Manchester City themselves started the game with 7 points, so it was a mouth-watering tie to help determine each sides chances of success this season.
Liverpool started well, applying good pressure, with Salah forcing Otamendi into an early booking as he looked the most likely to open the scoring. Even after lacking quality in the final third and a spurned chance, the belief was still there. Mohammed looked lively. Unfortunately, Liverpool were punished for their sloppy attacking. Poor work all round put the ball at De Bruyne’s feet on the edge of the final third and with all the time he needed, he slipped a perfect through ball to Aguero, who rounded the stumbling Mignolet and rolled the ball into the net. No challenges, bad clearances, zero marking. From back to front, no one had even attempted to defend the attack. It was disappointing after such a good start, but not the end of the world. That came next.
A long clearance saw Mane bearing down on Ederson and with the ball bouncing, both players went for it. Ederson beat Mane by a fraction of a second and caught the Senegalese’s boot right in the face. It was an honest challenge, with the possibility of an equalising goal up for grabs in a massive game. Sadio Mane had to go for it. If he gets there any earlier at all, the headlines would be about a harsh sending off for Ederson. The replays did it no favours, with it looking like something out of a WWE ring rather than a Premier League match. After a brief hesitation, Jon Moss produced a red card, marring the entire football community with controversy. Was it or wasn’t it? In football, when you’ve got hot-blooded players wanting to win, these types of challenges happen. Players understand this. It’s why they are paid stupid money. Even at amateur level, adults and children accept this risk. Football is a contact sport. Yes, he hits him in the face, but Mane could deliberately try to do it again and not get any where near. An MMA fighter would struggle to hit someone that accurately. It got blown out of proportion. Yet another example of a referee without the relevant experience or knowledge to make an informed decision. There will be worse challenges, with more intent that will receive straight red cards this season. Is it fair that Mane should serve the same ban as someone sent off for violent conduct or a deliberate leg-breaker? Context is everything. Liverpool were dealt a harsh hand. If they appeal or not, remains to be seen. They would probably settle for a reduction on the ban.
From then on, the Reds struggled. City toyed with them for the remainder of the half, carving open the left flank and crossing to a completely unmarked Gabriel Jesus to head in. Even with the sending off, it was woeful defending. There were two at the back post who could have scored. Losing Mane is no excuse to concede a goal this bad. It was quite frankly, pathetic. Half time came as both a relief and a concern. Was this a sign of things to come?
Liverpool returned with Salah replaced by new signing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Firmino was also withdrawn for Solanke early in the second half. It appeared as though Klopp had thrown in the towel. City didn’t see the submission however and ruthlessly kept punching as the Reds cried against the ropes. The Liverpool half was under siege for the remainder of the game. They carved the defence open numerous times, with Jesus grabbing an easy third. Mignolet was forced into several good saves. One to deny Aguero was particularly impressive. The defence looked like a new-born calf trying to stand, while a pack of wolves salivated nearby. Alexander-Arnold had a torrid afternoon. He was frequently isolated and constantly caught in possession. Klavan looked more like an Estonian farmer rather than a regular international. The midfield was non-existent throughout the entire game. in all honesty, not one player comes out with any credibility. Credit goes to City. They outclassed Liverpool and their quality in front of goal was really the difference. Everything we did badly, they exploited. It’s little wonder they are one of the favourites for the league title this season.
Leroy Sane’s introduction deepened the problems, as he helped himself to two goals. The first came from another cross from the left and the second was a curled effort from the edge of the box. Both were preventable. It was an horrific performance that no one, not even the staunchest Manchester City fan, could have predicted, but all of our deepest fears became reality; Liverpool are as vulnerable as ever at the back. 11 goals conceded in 6 games is a dismal record for a team wanting to be title contenders. Even if Mane had stayed on the pitch, there are never any guarantees with that back line. It is stomach-wrenching to think that we couldn’t find a defender good enough to improve us during the transfer window.
Klopp’s decision to give the game up will baffle and irritate a few, but it has to be put into perspective. After 4 games, we’re only 3 points off the pace. Wednesday night also sees us return to Europe’s premier competition, with a tough opponent coming to Anfield. A good start is imperative. Looking at our squad, it could be argued that it is designed more for success in cup competitions than a long league campaign. 38 matches compared to 13 and you can see why our eggs would be in that basket. The manager sacrificed this match, which wasn’t a banker by any stretch, in order to prepare for it. We’ll know if he was right on Wednesday. As for this performance, it should be put down as a bad day at the office, as the curse of the international break struck again. There were worrying signs; mostly the lack of desire and spirit, as well as organisation, but Liverpool being Liverpool, they are consistently inconsistent. Expect a much better performance against Sevilla.