In recent months, signs of promise have emerged as a rollercoaster first half of the season has sent Manchester City to incredible highs and lows (and quite a few middling performances in between). The upbeat composure of Pep Guardiola has helped Sky Blues fans keep their resolve when unfortunate results taint the remainder of a match day.
Liverpool presented major challenges but City’s talent and methodical preparation would lead any supporter to believe a win was possible. Tough encounters in the center of the pitch and one major defensive lapse proved to be too much for the boys from Manchester. Here are three things we learned:
1. (After early mistakes) The defense can provide stability
City responded well to Liverpool’s early strike. They immediately sought to regain control through possession and were relatively successful in doing so. The most dangerous moments came when Liverpool took advantage of City’s sloppy passing in the middle third of the field.
Pablo Zabaleta, Nicolas Otamendi, John Stones, and Aleksandar Kolarov performed well enough after the goal to merit praise. They stifled Liverpool’s advances as the Reds sought to open up a tightly wound midfield contest.
Otamendi has shown better discipline in the last few games and John Stones flexed his developing insight and strength after not playing for three games. Kolarov and Zabaleta have often been major offensive instruments but had to give stout defensive efforts to minimize Liverpool’s venomous wingers.
2. The team has to develop a new mode of attack
The matches that took place prior to City’s game at Anfield proved yet again that no game will be easy this season. Teams who can move with enough energy in the final third of the pitch will win the tactical, passionate matches that are signature to the Premier League.
At times, City was forced into the most dire mistakes in the earliest stages of build-up. Occasionally, they were able to advance towards Simon Mignolet’s net but, for the most part, they had a hard time setting up valid chances.
The squad needs to turn a key through preparation and personality to overcome the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea, and Leicester City. Of course, there were good looks from David Silva, Raheem Sterling, and Kevin De Bruyne. Sergio Agüero had one particularly good opening but was mostly contained by Liverpool’s defense.
The win on Boxing Day even had a sour feel. Many felt that City should have capitalized earlier but they couldn’t break through a determined, yet relegation threatened Hull City. One would hope that they could have overcome their goal-scoring difficulties against Liverpool’s often hobbled defense.
3. Individuals need to coalesce
The arrival of a new player or two will not be enough for City. The squad, with all its skill and depth, needs to unify its approach. Intelligence, experience, and technical proficiency abound in the Blues' locker room but it needs to be streamlined into an organized, potent force.
Liverpool posed a major threat when City midfielders allowed Nathaniel Clyne to rush toward Claudio Bravo’s net and overwhelm the City's back line. In addition to these team-defense mishaps, the ability to puncture Liverpool’s press eluded Yaya Touré, Fernandinho, and others.
Whether it is a matter of leadership or tactics, passion or preparation, City is capable of realizing greatness this season. It is true that they have looked impotent for stretches of recent play but, within that, the chance to turn a game in their favor has been only slightly out of their grasp.
It will be a quick turn around to meet Burnley on January 2nd. Pep and his players should expect a tough game. Teams have been taking the field against City with something to prove. There have been traces of blood all along the first half of the campaign but City retains the ability to overcome.