A thrash­ing but...

> Pep also dodged a bul­let

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

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

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