Manchester City 5 Agüero 24’, Jesus 45’+6 53’, Sane 77’ 90’+1
There are times when I go into a game featuring one of my teams terrified that it’s going to be a disaster. I don’t feel that way with Liverpool as much these days. Whether that’s just me having faith in the squad or the overall strengthening of the team— in sometimes imperceptible ways, admittedly— is an open question. But I came in to today’s clash with Citeh reasonably confident we’d get a result. And if we lost, it’d at least be close.
This is, I think, my go-to piece of anecdotal and qualitative evidence that Liverpool have grown over the past five years. I’m not seized with existential dread over this team like I was in 2013, and 2014, and 2015. It’s a nice place to be.
Or at least it was. It turns out I should’ve trusted my initial instincts, because Liverpool went to the Etihad Stadium and got rolled for lunch money, to the tune of five goals to none.
I must admit I got a teensy bit worried in the opening 15 minutes. For all the pressure Liverpool piled on their hosts early on, they couldn’t really capitalize on it, even wit a solid chance on goal. Mohamed Salah was, of course, magic on the right flank, and a promising free kick nearly let them opening things up. But it was all parried and turned away. Meanwhile, City got the best look at goal in the opening minutes, with Simon Mignolet having to act fact to block a low shot from Gabriel Jesus. Some threatening runs from the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Agüero carried a more potent threat than Liverpool seemed to conjure.
Of course, the Reds had plenty going for them. Nicolas Otamendi had clearly been tasked with marking Salah, which was... let’s just say it’s not necessarily the choice I would’ve made. Some early attempts from Otamendi to track Salah seemed to bore out my suspicions. (Indeed, his hit on Salah conceded that aforementioned free kick and won him a yellow card to boot. Having to play 85 minutes on a yellow against a blistering opposition attack. Woof.)
But my other suspicions bore out too. Round about the 25th minute,ome poor organization in the back opened the door wide open for Agüero, who broke away and rounded Simon Mignolet before slotting in to an empty net. 1-0 City.
I couldn’t tell you exactly what this team did in the intervening 10-15 minutes, but it was at once too cautious, too reckless, and wholly inadequate. Promising runs that get booted into touch. Defensive postures that unzip all too easily. Mignolet forced into more point-blank saves. Things were... not going well.
Or at least I thought they weren’t going well. Because at the 37th minute Sadio Mane tried to win a footrace with Ederson for the ball in no man’s land, clattered with him, and moments later saw a red card. Like most of y’all, I was incensed when that happened. Indignant, even.
But Sadio probably deserved it.
The collision was enough to take Ederson out of the game. So, I don’t know. I hope he’s okay. On the upside, City had to call on Ace WWII Fighter Pilot Claudio Bravo to plant himself in goal. So, you know. Take your positives wherever you can find them.
It ended up being small comfort. Halfway through the eight minutes of first half stoppage time, Gabriel Jesus headed in from a cross to make it 2-0 to the hosts. Thankfully, that’s as bad as it got once both teams headed into the tunnel.
Liverpool came back out for Act II with a lineup change; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain making his debut as a Red and replacing Mo Salah. Glad as I was to see Ox take his bow, withdrawing Salah seemed weird. For me he was the best Liverpool player on the pitch in the first half and I just didn’t... you know what, whatever. 2-0 down and playing with 10 men, we’re probably not getting out of here with a result.
It didn’t take long for City to kill whatever fleeting hopes we had of maybe getting a point. A 2-on-1 breakaway allowed Aguero to lay off to Jesus and finish cleanly for the 3-0 lead.
I’ll be honest: at this point I pretty much tuned out. We were beat, there was no getting around it, and that’s fine. That first loss of the season had to come eventually. Better it be City than, like, I don’t know. West Ham or Palace or Huddersfield or something. I can take a loss against Manchester City. This at least makes sense.
Liverpool seemed to tune out too. The back line did, anyway. Ragnar Klavan certainly did. (I liked him. I hoped he was good. Today, he was not good.) And when Leroy Sane scored City’s fourth goal on the day in the 77th minute, no one in a Red shirt seemed particularly surprised or bothered. When he got his brace in stoppage time, everyone looked like they just wanted to go home.
John Moss blew the whistle. City players gave hugs all around. Jurgen Klopp looked pissed. Wonderwall blared over the PA.
So it goes.