It was not supposed to happen. Losing at home in the Premier League is not in Pep Guardiola’s script. It happened just once last season and it was a huge surprise; an upset. In fact, the team was cruising at the time. A 2-0 lead at halftime against Manchester United is as good as it gets.
But things went downhill in the second half, spoiling the celebration mood for the Cityzens as the Red Devils scored three goals to run away with a 3-2 win. That was in April. And it was one of only two defeats in the whole of last season's record-breaking campaign, the other being the 4-3 loss to Jurgen Klopp’s men at Anfield.
Fast forward to December and the Sky Blues have already lost twice with a second loss in three league games coming against Crystal Palace. The Eagles played a perfect game matching the champions man for man and even excelling them in some aspects to emerge with a deserved victory on the day.
It comes at a time when Liverpool is in inspired form. The Reds are yet to lose a single Premier League match this season and sit comfortably at the top of the table with a four-point lead. City will need to double up and hope that the Merseysiders drop points along the way to provide an opportunity for overtaking.
Here are three lessons from the loss that heeded, will prevent such a collapse moving forward.
1. The Sky Blues must be on their toes and no opponents should be taken for granted
Questions were put to Guardiola last season about complacency setting into his team and he dismissed such concerns. But the team’s performance against Roy Hodgson’s men suggests he may need to take a second look at his players’ work rate. The former England boss masterminded a tactical approach that stopped City players in their tracks when with the ball and easily mopped up balls that were thrown into the penalty box.
City still found a way to score from two long crosses, but it proved not to be enough on the day. The team’s ability to work the ball into the box and create goal-scoring chances was restricted by a group of players that came in determined to work hard to stop that. Palace players outworked the home side who appeared to take it for granted that victory will be secured. Afterall this is a side that has been beaten with a huge goal margin in recent meetings.
But the end result acted as a reminder not to take the feet off the pedal and to approach every game knowing that hard work will always be required to stay at the top.
Did you observe that Andros Townsend who was detailed to mark Leroy Sane was always there to stop the German, but when he was in City’s half contributing to attacks no one was tracking him? No surprise then that he had all the space to fire in a shot that could easily be a contender for Goal of the Year.
2. Every point counts this season
The competition has gotten tougher this term. Liverpool is a different beast this time around. Jurgen Klopp has built a monster side that is single-handedly charging toward a predetermined goal: to win the first league title of the Premier League era. After falling short on several occasions, there is a determination to bury the ghosts this time around.
Dropping any point at all has become costly. While the Reds are pulling away at the top of the table, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal are in hot pursuit from behind. In fact, Spurs have closed the gap to just two points behind City. Dropping points is no more a good idea, even if it’s just one.
It could be recalled that earlier in the campaign City collected one point away at Wolves and Guardiola called it a good point. Well, in hindsight he should have seen by now that it wasn’t. Both Liverpool and Tottenham have been to the same ground and taken all three on offer. Those dropped points as well as the ones against Palace could have put City ahead of the pack now.
3. Key players must be utilised at the right time
Keeping a fit Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero on the bench against Palace may have looked like a good idea. But looking back now it’s crystal clear it wasn’t. Not when our only defensive midfielder, Fernandinho, is sidelined and David Silva is sitting in the stands.
Two of City’s starmen had no business sitting on the bench in a match where the three points at stake were vital to keep up with Liverpool. The manager will need to use the best players available at the right time. The duo could have started the game and then be given a rest toward the end of the match when the points were safely in the bag.