Following City's Premier League draw at Anfield, we look at five things we have learnt from the match.
1. Pep Guardiola shows tactical versatility
Manchester City under Pep Guardiola are not known for playing defensive football or letting the opposition determine the team’s play. The City boss produced a tactical masterclass to stop Jurgen Klopp’s rampaging men in their tracks. City and Guardiola’s losing streak against the Merseysiders was becoming alarming as it put a stain on City’s achievements last season. Not only did the Reds hand the Sky Blues the first league defeat of the campaign, they also denied us Champions League progression.
Understandably, the first aim heading into the match must have been to avoid making history by losing five consecutive matches against a single opponent in a calendar year. Guardiola therefore, set up his team to contain the home side’s attack first and foremost before seeking any opportunities there were to do damage upfront.
Unfortunately though, City could not do any damage, even from the penalty spot as the club’s record signing blasted the ball over the bar in the 87th minute to ensure the game finished goalless.
Other than Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal are Man City’s serious title rivals this season and to some extent Manchester United and Tottenham. All the contenders won their games with United making a dramatic comeback from 2-0 down at half time to win 3-2 at Old Trafford.
But it is the heavy wins by both Chelsea and Arsenal that show real intent. The duo now follow City closely behind as part of the top four. Maurizio Sarri’s men are on fire and their latest victim, Southampton, were put to the sword 3-0. Like City, Chelsea are unbeaten in the league this season, and Eden Hazard is in top form and leads the Premier League scoring charts with seven goals in eight appearances. Sarri-ball is bearing fruits as Chelsea are looking more and more like a serious title contender.
As for the Gunners, after thrashing Fulham 5-1 away from home they completed six wins in six in the league and nine in 11 games in all competitions so far. That shows Unai Emery’s men have put behind them the losses to City and Chelsea at the beginning of the season. Occupying fourth place in the league table, they are now in the mix as far as the title race is concerned.
3. Benjamin Mendy vastly improves City’s defence
The Frenchman was sorely missed by City last term. It would be recalled that in one of the losses at Anfield Fabian Delph, who was drafted to the position from midfield, got injured in the first half. That made things even worse for City’s defence.
As such, City did not have a repeat on Sunday as Mendy gave a good account of himself, and even plucked the ball from the air at one point when Mohamed Salah was ready to simply tap in from a cross. Overall, the Sky Blues put up a commanding defensive display, and yet still dominated going forward to a point that players like Roberto Firmino were relegated to the periphery of the game.
4. Kevin De Bruyne can’t come back soon enough
Kevin De Bruyne is back in training. The Belgian has returned earlier than expected from injury and will be in line to feature in the near future. Matches like the one against Liverpool are where the club’s best player last term is needed most. But there are a lot more to come. City face Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League after the international break, and will also face Tottenham before the month runs out.
By next month Man United will visit the Etihad Stadium and the 27-year-old should be back playing regularly by then. He will add some pep to the team’s play and attack.
5. The Stones/Laporte combination is the bomb at center-back
The center-back pairing of John Stones and Aymeric Laporte proved to be the real deal. With both youthful and energetic, the Liverpool front three couldn’t lay a finger on them. They made Sadio Mané look ordinary and Firmino was not his usual self. Even Mo Salah was unusually quite for most of the game. They made their pressing from the front look like hard work, whereas on previous occasions it looked natural and was quite effective.
With both Kompany and Otamendi on the wrong side of 30, this is definitely our best center-back pairing at the moment and for the future. The duo demonstrated a good understanding of each other and worked seamlessly to help the team keep an unlikely clean sheet at Anfield.
In the final analysis, a draw may seem like dropped points especially when Riyad Mahrez had the opportunity to hand the Cityzens the win late in the game, but considering City’s and Guardiola’s wretched record on this ground, this is an improvement.
Despite going most of last season unbeaten, it was on this ground that the team tasted defeat for the first time. Since then, we have not lost any of our last 25 Premier League away matches (W20 D5). Keeping a clean sheet at Anfield is a good foundation for the Sky Blues to build on in the quest to defend the league title.