The top two sides in English football had barnstorming seasons in 2018-19. Manchester City retained the Premier League title in style, garnering an astounding 98 points in the campaign, after scaling the 100-point mark the previous season. Liverpool recorded the third highest points tally ever in finishing second with 97 points and capped an incredible year off by winning their sixth European title.
There will be no letting up in intensity from both sides though. In a season-ending interview with City’s in-house channel, Pep Guardiola has already promised to come back even better once hostilities resume in August and Jurgen Klopp will be equally keen to build on a great campaign. There are areas to improve and the two games between the two sides last season provided insights on where each team’s limitations lie.
City’s defensive structure wasn’t dragged about as much as in the four encounters the previous season, but vulnerabilities were evident on the few occasions Liverpool beat the high press. Pep had learnt from the damage caused by the Reds’ lightning-quick transitions in those games and once obvious outlets were closed, Liverpool’s midfield struggled to link play with their forward players. There were clues to be found in these performances on what the next phase of evolution for both sides, as good as they are, should be.
Pep Guardiola will have known for some time now that his defence line can be got at. There were numerous instances last season, especially in European competition, where they were repeatedly exposed. City will continue to steamroll inferior opposition but if Pep’s after the trophy with the ‘big ears’, he would do well to focus on that area. Lyon provided the greatest evidence of the fragility in the Sky Blues ranks and could have been five up by half-time (no exaggeration) in their home fixture after winning the away tie 2-1.
Vincent Kompany will be a huge loss and will be hard to replace both on and off the pitch. John Stones’ recent troubles with England showed why Pep does not trust him enough in certain games and Nicolas Otamendi saw reduced minutes as well last season. Benjamin Mendy would probably have topped the assists charts the way he started the season, but his injury woes have meant that City’s options at left-back are underwhelming. Kyle Walker had an average season at right-back as well and it will be interesting to see how that back four shapes up by the start of the next campaign, given the amount of money Pep has already spent in the area.
Liverpool, on the other hand, need to add more creativity and end product from midfield. Full backs, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson, provided an incredible 23 assists between them in the Premier League, comfortably more than any other defender. When stopped from bombing forward though, as they were in the two games against the champions, the team struggled to create. The City midfield provided considerably more goals and assists than their Reds counterparts and while it is true that the styles of both teams are different, Liverpool missed a cutting edge with their number eights last season.
Coutinho has not been replaced yet, and while Naby Keita and the returning Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will add more threat next season, the transfer market will need to be dipped into to counter what the two Silvas and Kevin De Bruyne have to offer at the Etihad. It is highly unlikely that the full-backs will hit such outlier numbers season after season. While Liverpool’s high-intensity football coupled with the Anfield factor is suited to continental football, the seven draws and loss to City in the league indicate that they need to add more strings to their bow.
Both sides have the squads to retain the titles that they currently hold but everybody and their uncle know which trophy these teams crave the most. When Manchester City and Liverpool square up in the Community Shield on the fourth of August, we will get to see if the shortcomings from the season gone by have been addressed. And by extension, if they are any closer to achieving their dreams.