De Bruyne leads City romp as cham­pi­ons’ defence cut to shreds

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Ja­son Burt chief foot­ball cor­re­spon­dent at the Eti­had

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.

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