Liverpool faced their first big challenge of the season when they came up against Manchester City. Despite being the clearly superior team for large parts of the game they could not capitalise, and the clinical Manchester City ended up winning 3-1.
Much like our game against Southampton last week, Liverpool failed to make their trademark fast start. It’s disappointing to see this element of our game disappearing, as it was this that allowed us to be practically home and dry in some games after just half an hour last season. That said, we were into our rhythm before too long. After five minutes or so of having the lions share of possession, City were pushed back, and Liverpool started to get on top. Daniel Sturridge created one of the best opportunities, beating Vincent Komapny excellently with some skill then forcing a smart save out of Joe Hart at his near post. Despite all the pressure, Liverpool failed to make a breakthrough. This was, in part, down to some good defending from the reigning champions. However, the system of using a lone striker may also have played a part. Sturridge looked isolated for large parts of the game, and Coutinho’s poor performance meant the play from midfield into attack was, at times, disjointed.
It was inevitable really that, having dominated the game so much for so long, Liverpool would concede a soft goal. Such a goal came just before the break. New signing Alberto Moreno, who up to this point had looked good, was caught on the back foot when Dejan Lovren’s headed clearance fell towards him, and Stefan Jovetic nipped in to steal the ball and lash it home. It was a harsh welcome to the Premier League for Moreno- the pace of the games is quicker than perhaps in any other league in the world, and waiting for the ball to come to you will often, as it was on this occasion, be brutally punished. Due to this, Liverpool went into the break undeservedly behind.
Perhaps this shook Liverpool, for it was not the same bright, attacking side that came out for the second half. The defence looked worryingly vulnerable, and this proved to be the case after just 10 minutes of the half. It was Jovetic again who capitalised on some woeful defending, this time from Dejan Lovren. The Croatian wandered forward aimlessly, seemingly totally unaware of where he was in relation to the rest of the back line. This left Nasri with bags of room to slot a pass through to Jovetic, who finished well. Liverpool rallied a little after conceding, and the introduction of Lazar Markovic (in place of Philippe Coutinho) on 59 minutes certainly livened up our attacking play. Indeed, his clever interplay down the left with Moreno very nearly produced a goal just minutes after he came on. We started to produce some sustained pressure, and it looked as if we might just be able to drag ourselves back into the game. Sadly, it didn’t pan out that way. Aguero came on for the injured Dzeko with 21 minutes to play, and scored just seconds later, essentially killing off the game. Once more, question marks were raised over the defence. A nice ball from Jesus Navas carved open the entire back line, and Aguero raced through to smash the ball home past Mignolet.
At this point, Rodgers took off Sterling and brought on Rickie Lambert. The change certainly had a positive impact on the team, but not because of the quality of Rickie Lambert; it was the change in system that caused Liverpool to improve so dramatically at this point. Having two forwards instead of one just seemed natural, and our play became much more fluid and attacking. It was the two strikers, Sturridge and Lambert, who combined to get Liverpool a consolation goal. Sturridge whipped a ball into the box, and Lambert turned it goalwards. After some ricocheting off Hart and Zabaletta, the ball somehow found its way into the goal.
The fact that we improved so notably when playing with two strikers in encouraging. We have just brought in Mario Balotelli from AC Milan, and though some people are questioning whether he will succeed at Liverpool there is no doubt that he is a talented striker. Astute though the purchase of Lambert was (for just £4million, he offers a nice alternative option for desperate situations), he simply isn’t viable as a regular second striker as he cannot function in Liverpool’s high-pressing, fast-paced system. Balotelli, on the other hand, should be able to function well alongside Daniel Sturridge. It’s a shame the Italian wasn’t registered in time for the clash with City; if he had been, things might have panned out differently.
It is naturally extremely frustrating to have lost, especially to a team that come the end of the season are surely going to be right up there with us in the fight for the title, but it is only one game and the season is yet young. Although the game showed that there were still definite defensive deficiencies that need to be addressed, there were also lots of positives to take from the performance. To have outplayed the champions for the majority of the first half is an achievement, and, aside from being glaringly at fault for the first goal, Moreno had a pretty good game. For me, though, Markovic was the most encouraging thing to take from the game. When thrown into the mix, he immediately injected positivity and pace into our side, and made us look altogether more dangerous. It makes a refreshing change from last season to have players waiting on the bench who are good enough to come on and make a genuine impact.
Next up in Liverpool’s fixture list is another potentially challenging game. We play Tottenham at White Hart Lane; though I’m sure we all remember how well that went for us last year, Tottenham are already looking an improved side under Mauricio Pochettino. Indeed, though it means next to nothing so early on, Tottenham currently top the table. However, I think that, should Balotelli be able to make a smooth transition into the team right from the off (admittedly a big ask), then we have a very good chance of taking all three points.
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