Liver­pool col­lapse against City yields a strangely vague Klopp

Man­ager not his usual sharp self af­ter heavy de­feat to Guardi­ola’s side

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Front Page - Bar­ney Ronay at the Eti­had Sta­dium

If you can meet a 5-0 thrash­ing and a messy 1-1 draw and treat those two im­pos­tors ex­actly the same; well, there is a fair chance you will be a testy, process-ob­sessed Cata­lan su­per-man­ager, my son.

Six months ago Pep Guardi­ola de­scribed Manchester City’s draw with Liver­pool at the Eti­had Sta­dium as “one of the best mo­ments of my ca­reer”. Fast for­ward to Satur­day lunchtime and City’s 5-0 shel­lack­ing of the same op­po­nents on the same ground left Guardi­ola a lit­tle rest­less, a lit­tle cagey in his judg­ments.

City’s man­ager was pleased and talk­a­tive but still rue­ful over the open­ing half-hour when Liver­pool per­haps shaded it and when, if you had had to bet on a player be­ing sent off, it would surely have been Ni­colás Ota­mendi, whose per­for­mance com­bined pon­der­ous­ness with a blind scyth­ing vi­o­lence when­ever he got near the ball.

City led 1-0 in the pe­riod be­fore Sa­dio Mané’s red card. The goal came via Kevin De Bruyne’s per­fect fizzed through-pass, some baggy de­fend­ing and a fine fin­ish from Ser­gio Agüero.

But Liver­pool had already gouged City open three times down their left side as Mo­hamed Salah sprinted into space be­tween Ben­jamin Mendy and Ota­mendi, both play­ers strug­gling with de­fen­sive po­si­tion­ing in the 3-5-2 sys­tem.

And so the wider nar­ra­tive of this game had been set­tled long be­fore the fi­nal whis­tle was blown. Re­ceived wis­dom will say Mané’s red card killed the game, plac­ing an as­ter­isk against all that fol­lowed. Liver­pool’s best player was sent off for catch­ing Eder­son with a reck­lessly raised boot as he ran through on goal. Ex­cep­tion­ally brave There are two things worth say­ing about the game’s cen­tral in­ci­dent. Firstly, this was not some en­tirely ran­dom oc­cur­rence di­vorced from the skills and match-win­ning qual­i­ties of both teams. Eder­son was ex­cep­tion­ally brave in com­ing for the ball. His fine goal­keep­ing was re­warded with a goalscor­ing chance snuffed out, a kick in the face and ul­ti­mately Mané’s send­ing off.

In that mo­ment City’s player was more de­ci­sive and bet­ter at play­ing within the rules. In that mo­ment the de­ci­sion to re­place Clau­dio Bravo with the more sprightly Eder­son also found a re­ward – good man­age­rial judg­ment from Guardi­ola, good play by Eder­son, poor judg­ment from Mané.

The red card did not kill Liver­pool’s game. Mané los­ing that duel to Eder­son killed Liver­pool’s game.

The sec­ond point worth mak­ing is that it was only a red card, not a mass con­trac­tion of the bubonic plague. Liver­pool’s re­sponse was to col­lapse com­pletely, con­ced­ing ter­ri­tory, pos­ses­sion and four more goals, two to Leroy Sané, who had only 22 touches but pro­vided a bravura end note with a beau­ti­ful left-foot shot into the top cor­ner as an ex­hausted midfield stood off him.

Red card or not, Jür­gen Klopp did not have his best day. Liver­pool are miss­ing Nathaniel Clyne but ex­pos­ing Trent Alexan­der-Arnold to an op­po­nent and an oc­ca­sion like this looked a vote of con­fi­dence too far.

In the event Liver­pool’s right-back had a bru­tal, ex­haust­ing af­ter­noon. No shame there: his op­po­site num­ber Mendy comes in just be­hind Marcelo on the list of best at­tack­ing left-backs in the world. Bet­ter op­tion Ei­ther one of James Mil­ner, for his ex­pe­ri­ence, or Joe Gomez, for his more spe­cial­ist de­fen­sive skills, would surely have been a bet­ter op­tion.

At the end Klopp was also strangely vague. In his press con­fer­ence he seemed to think Liver­pool’s next game, against Sevilla, was to­mor­row, not Wed­nes­day, and had to be cor­rected. He was un­sure whether his team were be­hind or not when Mané went off.

Call them mi­nor mo­ments of for­get­ful­ness but foot­ball man­agers, and in­deed Klopp him­self, tend to be ra­zor sharp on these de­tails – out of ne­ces­sity, too.

There are times you have to bris­tle and fib and “win” the after­math of a 5-0 de­feat. Alex Fer­gu­son may have been a far less rea­son­able pres­ence but he would have walked out bristling and full of mo­ti­vat­ing ex­cuses. Klopp just looked drained by the day. Sim­i­larly the best parts of City’s game may also go a lit­tle un­der the radar thanks to that red card. The de­fence did look vul­ner­a­ble with Mané on the pitch.

But play­ing against 10 men was per­haps a valu­able ex­er­cise in it­self, if only be­cause for the first time this City team looked not just like a fine at­tack­ing unit but like a Pep-is­sue en­tity Guardian ser­vice

PHO­TO­GRAPH: LEE SMITH/AC­TION IM­AGES VIA REUTERS

Manchester City’s Eder­son Mo­raes is kicked in the face by Liver­pool’s Sa­dio Mane re­sult­ing in a red card for Mane.

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