Brendan Rodgers and his Liverpool team arrived at the Etihad Stadium last night looking to build on a promising start to their Premiership campaign. To do so would mean overturning the title holders Manchester City in their own back yard. A tall order in anyone’s book.
Rodgers opted to start with Joe Allen partnering Jordan Henderson in midfield instead of Lucas Leiva who, following his poor showing against Southampton found himself out of the squad completely. Rumours abound that his stay at Anfield may be coming to an end with reported interest from Napoli. The front three of Philippe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge remained.
The rest of the side was as as suggested in The LFC File preview. Glen Johnson was preferred to young Javi Manquillo at right back and summer signing Alberto Moreno making his debut at left back – and what a debut it turned out to be. Liverpool fell behind in the 41st minute despite starting brightly and having the lion’s share of possession and chances up until that point. The 22 year-old was given a rude awakening as he learned one cannot switch off in the English Premier League. Stevan Jovetic pouncing on his late reaction to fire through the legs of the exposed Simon Mignolet.
The second half began as the first ended, with the hosts in the ascendency and the visitors chasing the game. Within 10 minutes of the restart, the worst was confirmed as City extended their lead. The flat-footed Liverpool defence were caught out by more magic from Jovetic as he collected a Samir Nasri cross to slot high into the net. 2-0, a mountain to climb and confirmation that Rodgers still has not sorted out the team’s left hand side. A fact that was not lost on Manuel Pellegrini who steered his side toward the visitors’ Achilles heel.
The introduction of another debutant Lazar Markovic for Coutinho sparked a short and unconvincing revival. Another quarter of an hour passed, another goal was conceded by Liverpool. A pass reminiscent of Henderson’s assist for Sterling against Southampton was made by Jesus Navas on 69 minutes into the stride of Sergio Aguero, who had only just come on, to put the game beyond doubt shooting low beneath Mignolet. 3-0 Manchester City. It was truly good night and Liverpool it has to be said, played likewise.
Emre Can came on for Allen but didn’t really have much to offer and to be fair to him the game, as a contest was over. Pablo Zabaleta gave Liverpool a consolation with seven minutes left, helping last substitute Rickie Lambert’s header over the line after 79 minutes. From there on, things just went from bad to worse for the visitors as Johnson left the field injured and was almost followed by debutant Moreno after he fell awkwardly on is ankle in the closing minutes. The team limped across the line almost literally as Martin Skrtel also pulled up. Suffice to say they just weren’t at the races after the first half hour.
Liverpool were exposed on the occasion. To be fair to Rodgers and as pointed out in the preview yesterday, this game came about just that bit too soon in the season for his team. The side’s left flank was poor and this was exploited expertly by City. It’s clear in my mind that had Jon Flanagan been fit, he’d have started in the left back position. A debut against the champions is a baptism of fire in anyone’s book. I feel for Moreno in that respect because he didn’t really do much else wrong other than that. Nothing a run of games won’t solve.
It’s also clear that Coutinho is too lightweight for these kind of games and Adam Lallana would have been the perfect alternative – had he been fit. I’m convinced that when Lallana returns from injury, Coutinho will be dropped. It’s a shame but his lack of physical presence is showing now and these last two games have proved that. Opposition players can muscle him out too easily and we saw this again last night as Yaya Touré knocked him flying on a couple of occasions.
So all things considered, it’s hard luck for Liverpool. I feel there were players on the pitch last night who wouldn’t have been, in my opinion had there been alternatives. Has the squad been improved? Yes, it undoubtedly has but time is need for the additions to settle in properly and show what they can do. Fortunately for Man City, as with all of us, timing is everything.
Follow me on Twitter: @Mrbengreen