How can a loss be any good for a team that has well..lost? Let alone the fact that this is title-favorites Manchester City who are quite ominous when it comes to playing at home. On Saturday, Manuel Pellegrini resigned to his chair watching his side get torn apart by a new look, revived, scarily intense Liverpool, a result and more so the performance, arguably the most surprising element of the weekend. To start with, Manchester City did have a few injury concerns ahead of the weekend to cope with, which by the looks of it, they clearly haven’t, at least on Saturday. With Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi not fit and unavailable, Pellegrini had to opt for a less-favored Mangala-Demichelis pairing and the duo looked utterly clueless at times bordering what we might have called comical defending.
And the damage was done very early into the game. The Blues were beaten by their own nerves and Liverpool’s high-pressing style of the front two in Coutinho and Firmino culminated in an own goal off Elaquim Mangala which set the tone for what would happen for most of the rest of the game. But the game itself was lost in midfield as a returning James Milner, an imposing Emre Can and the rejuvenated Lucas Leiva ran rings around Yaya Toure who always looked tired and Fernando who is quite simply not as good on the ball as his Brazilian colleague is. Man City, as you’d have guessed, had more of the ball, 59% to Liverpool’s 41%, made more passes in the final third, but were just not quick and incisive enough in the key moments as the visitors were, which cost them an important 3 points in the league.
The second goal went in, in the 22nd minute when the boys from Brazil capitalized on a mix-up between Demichelis and Mangala, which would not be the first time, coupled with a wonderful through ball from Firmino that Liverpool’s number 10 had latched onto. A third followed quickly, nine minutes after Coutinho’s calm finish but this time it was the other one, Roberto Firmino but then there was more to this goal than Liverpool’s brilliant movement all-round in and around City’s box.
It was more of the fact that how the chaotic movement put Man City out of their comfort zone that led to Fernando failing to mark Firmino’s well timed run into the space between Joe Hart and the back four, Emre Can’s back-heel facing with his back towards goal taking Sagna out of the equation and Coutinho finding Firmino who is now well placed to caress it into the net past a helpless Joe Hart. It was brilliant on Liverpool’s part but less so from Manchester City’s in that they should have either covered the space around Coutinho or anticipated that run from Firmino and clearly Mangala could have done better than just watch the ball move around in front of him.
The home side did get one back, thanks to a moment of sheer class from Sergio Aguero feeding on scraps who just showed what he could do even when he is not really fully fit. But that did little to change the day’s result as the visitors scored a fourth, hammering a final nail in the coffin rounding off a memorable win at the Etihad inflicting City their heaviest home defeat since they moved from Maine Road. Perplexed by the performance, Pellegrini’s post-match presser was unsurprisingly downbeat and despondent but some of his team selection in this season in general has been questionable at the best of times. Yes, there were injuries and some big players missing but he could still have got more out of what was available to him.
“I am more than angry. It is unbelievable the performance we had. It is difficult to understand why we should play so badly—not just one name but a complete team in defending or attacking possession.”
Fabian Delph, for instance was one of the few bright spots for City, who provided the sort of urgency one would want to see when you are two or three goals down at home. His dynamism and potential should be tapped in games like these when they come up against sides that move better and create problems with nothing but the intensity of the way they play. The biggest worry for Manuel Pellegrini must be how the home side were simply outnumbered in every area, be it City’s half, midfield or Liverpool’s half for that matter. Was it the average age of City’s starting 11 playing a role, especially across the back four and midfield where they looked clearly ragged?
With qualification to the knockout stages secured nice and early, Manchester City must be looking forward to this game in Italy as the chance to bounce back. They can take heart from the previous performance although not the result against last year’s finalists at home and now a good performance away from home in Italy can help wipe the 4-1 defeat out of their minds. Three of the next four games in all competitions now for Man City will be played at the Etihad where they can look to rebuild this season after a timely wake-up call on Saturday and get back on track. For when you get beat by Liverpool 4-1 at home, you usually end up winning the league. Just ask the red half of Manchester.