What started as a day full of joy and optimism turned south around half an hour after kickoff, and unfortunately for Liverpool, things only got worse as they slipped to a 3-1 defeat at Manchester City. Defensive errors were again costly, and a string of late injuries left Brendan Rodgers shorthanded, with damage limitation rather than late fightback the name of the game. Early days, but disappointing nonetheless, and a result that reminded us of the areas in which Liverpool will need to improve.
Manchester City 3: Jovetic 41' 55', Aguero 69'
Liverpool 1: Zabaleta (og) 83'
The official announcement of Mario Balotelli's signing brought with it a sense of joy and optimism, and reactions to the lineup were largely similar. Alberto Moreno came straight into the eleven, pushing Glen Johnson to the right and Javier Manquillo to the bench, and Joe Allen was included in place of Lucas, who missed out completely amid rumors that his exit from the club is imminent. The rest was the same, and while the pieces didn't click completely against Southampton in the opener, the stage looked to be set for a solid Liverpool performance.
For most of the opening half-hour, that's what we saw, with the guests the better side going forward and in defense. There weren't many chances for either side, but those that came went the way of Liverpool, and a goal looked only a matter of time. And it was, but it came at the wrong end, with Stefan Jovetic pouncing to put City ahead. Moreno waited for a bouncing Dejan Lovren header, and his stalling freed an onrushing Jovetic to blast through Simon Mignolet for the opener.
City were on the front foot from there, and Liverpool had little response either side of the break. The hosts added to their lead ten minutes after the restart, again through Jovetic, who punched home with his left foot after a low cross found its way through a calamitous Liverpool defense. The third was embarrassingly straightforward after a brief spell of Liverpool pressing through Lazar Markovic, with Sergio Aguero--who'd been on for all of 20 seconds--running onto a long pass past Lovren and sliding past Mignolet for the third.
Liverpool scraped one back in the 83rd minute on a Pablo Zabaleta own goal; Rickie Lambert's headed effort was well-saved by Joe Hart, and in the resulting scramble Zabaleta knocked it across the line to put the scoreline at 3-1. Another half-chance came shortly after but was wasted by Lambert, who tried to play in Sturridge rather than take it himself after a deflected clearance left him alone on goal. Three late injuries, including one that forced Glen Johnson off, marred the final minutes for Liverpool, who were, at that point, happy to see out the match as it was.
New faces, but the same culprit is to blame for Liverpool's loss, with defensive lapses to blame for each of the City goals. Damning that the man Brendan Rodgers has appointed to lead the defense was particularly culpable--Dejan Lovren had a terrible night at the back, finding himself out of place on all three of the home side's goals. He wasn't alone, as Alberto Moreno and Steven Gerrard fell asleep on the first and a number of defenders failed on the second, but a rough night for the man around whom Rodgers plans to build his defense.
It didn't help that little came off at the other end; after a bright start to the first half, City finally settled just after the 30-minute mark, and Liverpool weren't able to cause any real concern in attack until Lazar Markovic's introduction and again when Rickie Lambert came on. Daniel Sturridge struggled as a lone striker, Philippe Coutinho lacked influence from the wide areas, and Raheem Sterling sparkled but couldn't quite find a final touch. The midfield was anonymous other than Joe Allen, who was arguably Liverpool's man of the match. Neither of Steven Gerrard or Jordan Henderson stood out, and Emre Can failed to make an impact after coming on as well.
Markovic joined Sterling, Moreno, and Allen as the standout performers of the day, while it was especially bad for Lovren and Glen Johnson at the back. With Johnson coming off injured late it's likely that Javier Manquillo or Jon Flanagan comes in, and if they perform competently, it's hard to see Johnson getting back into the side.
In the end, a disappointing loss, and one that exposes many of the same glaring weaknesses Liverpool struggled with last season. The trip to Spurs will come quickly, and they'll need to get back up and running quickly if they want to earn a result at White Hart Lane next weekend.