A thrashing but...
> Pep also dodged a bullet
IT WAS a thrashing, but it was not conclusive. And it raised more questions than it answered – for both managers.
Both? If Manchester City’s 5-0 evisceration of Liverpool made Jurgen Klopp’s failure to sign even one centreback in the summer look like criminal neglect, Pep Guardiola should not be thinking he has got away with similar.
He did on Saturday when the Citizens were ultimately irresistible going forward and finally looked like a Pep side. But before the sending off of Sadio Mane and Klopp’s subsequent hoisting of the white flag, their defence looked just as shaky as the Reds’.
Before kickoff, City fans were fearing the worst: Vincent Kompany, the lion-hearted leader, was lame again. And so central defence would be in the Teflon paws of John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi. With Eliaquim Mangala as back up.
Or, if you prefer, a couple of collapsible mannequins with a spare made of cardboard. With Kompany out for an ominously “indefinite” period, the failure to sign even Jonny Evans is looking more perverse by the match.
Klopp may have got his team selection and tactics wrong, but his summing up was surely spoton when he said: “If City take too much confidence from this game they make a mistake, and if we lose confidence we also make a mistake.”
The international break came at the wrong time for Liverpool, the momentum and swagger of their Arsenal performance having been lost in the mists of that monumental two-week distraction.
But it does not disguise the fact that the German has more to worry about than the Catalan. His screw-top defence was opened just as easily as fans had been predicting all summer, with Ragmar Klavan a notable downgrade on Dejan Lovren.
Pitting the Estonian and Joel Matip against the twin strikeforce of Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus was a mismatch that even Don King might have hesitated to stage – and he paid a heavy price.
Indeed, Jamie Carragher’s warning that Virgil van Dijk alone may not have been enough to bolster the back line looked prescient.
Think of Carra, think of Stephane Henchoz and Sami Hyypia, Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson all the way back to Ron Yates. Having a central defence made of tofu is not the Liverpool way.
Nor is it Klopp’s if his Borussia Dortmund sides were anything to go by. Always rugged, tightly pressing and hard to beat, they twice won the Bundesliga during his time in charge. And he knows what it’s like to have someone like Mats Hummels as field marshal.
The manner of Saturday’s abject surrender was a shock to the system of Scousers for whom defiance comes a close second to breathing. They will be hoping the manager can convince his players it was an aberration – and not to be repeated.
How often do we see a team reduced to 10 men become galvanised and even harder to break down? Not on this occasion and Klopp’s substitutions only contributed to the sense that he and his broken men couldn’t wait for the slaughter to end.
Taking off Mo Salah seemed strange as he was Liverpool’s only threat after Mane had departed and left Otamendi, who picked up a yellow early doors, a relieved man. But Salah himself is showing worrying signs that he could be Liverpool’s new Raheem Sterling – lots of pace and promise but no finish.
But with the midfield made to look like journeymen against City’s magisterial Kevin de Bruyne, we understood why Klopp had tried so hard to get Naby Keita. And had held on to Philippe Coutinho. The Brazilian’s craft was sorely missing as de Bruyne bossed the game.
A Champions League home tie with Sevilla, who beat them in the Europa League final of 2016, affords an ideal chance to bounce back – different competition, different style, and revenge as motivation. As Klopp warned, they better not lose confidence.
Equally, City should not get carried away. They go to Feyenoord and will have Claudio Bravo back in goal with all the possibilities that may bring. And their defence was not tested at the Etihad.
But at least, they clicked going forward where Aguero and Jesus joyously demonstrated they can play together. The Argentine’s pass to Jesus when he could have buried the chance himself was surely a pointed reminder to that effect.
With the premature removal of Liverpool’s own much feared twin threats, City’s defence may have dodged a bullet or two. Mane might have fired them but had to go. He may not have expected Ederson to come out so quickly and his eyes were only on the ball, but his foot was high and that is the law.
Now the dust has settled, you have to say that both teams are works in varying degrees of progress. But having to survive until January with these defences after spending big is akin to redecorating the house with the roof still leaking.
Bob will be signing copies of his latest book Living The Dream at Ronnie Q’s, 32, Jalan Telawi 2, Bangsar Baru, Kuala Lumpur from 6.30pm on Sunday, Sept 17 before the Chelsea-Arsenal match.
Leroy Sane celebrates after scoring Manchester City’s fourth goal during Saturday’s EPL match against Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium. – AFPPIX