De Bruyne leads City romp as champions’ defence cut to shreds
Jurgen Klopp said that Manchester City had been playing “like the stars in the sky” since the Premier League’s restart, and the former champions certainly produced a stellar performance to inflict Liverpool’s heaviest defeat in the competition for almost three years.
It was City who beat them 5-0 then, in September 2017, but the circumstances were very different. For a start, they did not have to give Liverpool the guard of honour they afforded them last night after surrendering their title by a huge margin. Pep Guardiola looked distinctly uncomfortable at the prematch ceremony, even if he went over to warmly congratulate Klopp.
If anything the result is good news for the competitiveness of the Premier League next season as Liverpool, whatever is said, will be annoyed and smarting, while it is a reminder to City of what they are capable of. Indeed, it is days like these when you wonder how they are so far behind Liverpool, which says as much about their own inconsistency as it does just how awesome Klopp’s team have been this campaign, even if there was a large amount of mitigation for the visitors on this occasion.
Liverpool have clearly enjoyed their title celebrations and, to be honest, there was zero jeopardy at stake, despite the opposition, given they kicked off with a crushing advantage and the swagger of being champions. At the final whistle the lead was down to 20 points, which is still bigger than any between first and second in top-flight history.
“They drank a lot of beers this week but they arrived here with no beers in their blood,” Guardiola said. But, in truth, Liverpool did not play like that.
Klopp had dismissed any suggestion that the result was a marker, a statement of intent if you like, for the next campaign, but clearly that was part of City’s motivation as they contemplate a rejuvenation and rebuild and maybe also provided themselves with a reminder of the incredible potential they already possess – not least in the outstanding performance of 20-year-old Phil Foden, who has been involved in 14 goals in his last 17 appearances.
He was not alone. Kevin De Bruyne was head and shoulders above the rest and Raheem Sterling finally scored against his former side, dominating Joe Gomez to such an extent that the central defender was taken off at half-time. It was a more edifying contribution from Sterling, who was involved in a clash with Gomez the last time the sides met, in November, which continued at an England squad get-together when the City forward was sent home because of his behaviour.
“Next season starts today,” a smiling Sterling said afterwards. It felt like a message direct from the dressing room and from Guardiola, who was typically intense throughout and not least just before halftime when he hurled a water bottle away in frustration after a pointless, mazy crossfield dribble by Benjamin Mendy and had to be spoken to by Mike Dean, the fourth official. City were two goals up at the time and soon scored a third.
In fact, the 3-0 scoreline after the first period was the biggest deficit Klopp had suffered since 2007, when he was manager of Mainz in Germany, but the only statistic that will concern him is the league table, even if it would be no surprise if he reminds his players of this result as a motivation when pre-season starts. It felt like the preview to another epic battle and one that will not be forgotten by Klopp on that bus journey home or the coming weeks.
To think Liverpool had been the better side in the opening 20 minutes, with Mohamed Salah going closest as his low shot came back off the post after a smart pass by Roberto Firmino. De Bruyne had already stood out and he converted the penalty that gave City the lead, just before the drinks break, even if it owed everything to Sterling’s ability as he held off Gomez, who panicked and pulled him back.
De Bruyne was also involved as City struck again, albeit with a selfless run that stretched the Liverpool defence as part of a rapid counter-attack that saw Ilkay Gundogan find Gabriel Jesus, who swept it to his right to Foden. He switched the ball into the area where it was taken down by Sterling, whose first touch wrongfooted Gomez and allowed him to shoot low past Alisson.
It happened again. Just before half-time there was an intricate triangle of passing as Gundogan and Foden combined. De Bruyne’s involvement was the crucial one as he played a superb angled ball into Foden’s path to leave him suddenly clear on goal to steer the ball beyond Alisson.
It looked like Klopp sent his team out early for the second half, with Fabinho dropping into central defence, but it was City who continued to rack up chances. Jesus shot weakly at Alisson, then Fabinho deflected Sterling’s effort just past the post after a strong run from halfway by the England international, before Virgil van Dijk hacked Foden’s shot off the line.
Finally Liverpool gathered some momentum and Sadio Mane was unfortunate when he could not adjust his feet and lost the chance to strike back from Jordan Henderson’s sharp pass. They also demanded a penalty when Kyle Walker nudged Mane in the back, but a free-kick on the edge of the area was awarded. Trent Alexander-Arnold sent his shot wide.
But it was City who struck again and once more it was from a brilliant counter-attack. Rodri swept the ball across to De Bruyne, who waited for the Liverpool defence to cluster towards him before intelligently switching the direction once more. It opened up Liverpool and Sterling was suddenly through on goal to beat Alisson, with substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain running back to inadvertently send it into his own net.
The result was not a great cause for celebration for City, even if there will be quiet satisfaction, but it was confirmation that Liverpool were suffering from a hangover.