Returning from the international break, Liverpool faced a good test against high calibre opposition in the form of Manchester City. After a bright start, the sending off of Sadio Mané made this match almost meaningless as Liverpool fell to a 5-0 defeat against Manchester City.
The pendulum of fortune swung back with vengeance after the high of beating Arsenal. While Liverpool can take some solace in the fact that they played more than half the match with only 10 men, there is no running away from their defensive deficiencies.
Against top attacking talent, Liverpool will find no shortage of defensive challenges. At times, they will meet them. The side has shown traces of collective tactical improvement but some issues cannot be addressed without changes to personnel. How the Reds manage the situation will be most telling for the campaign.
Against probably the worst side in the league to face with 10 men, Liverpool suffered the heaviest defeat of the Jurgen Klopp era. What can get lost in the red card controversy is how poorly they responded. Still, the Reds need to quickly forget this beating and immediately move on to their midweek Champions League opener against Sevilla.
Here are four findings from the match.
A half-hour in Mohamed Salah burst behind the defence, angling toward goal only failing to find the finish. More than once already this season, Salah has arrived in similar positions and struggled to make opponents pay. There is no question he will score goals but he has lacked a clinical edge in these early fixtures.
In tight matches, Liverpool will require greater edge up front to compensate for their openness and still unsteady defence. Salah and Mane consistently get behind opposition defences with frequency, presenting an enormous threat. Every opportunity cannot be taken. Yet, taking chances with ruthlessness for clear cut chances will be required for the Reds to secure their place amongst the elite.
For all the goals that he has already scored, his total could easily be double with the chances squandered. It would be shocking if he didn’t improve but this failure against City was a lost opportunity to completely alter the match.
Everything went pear shaped with the Mané red card. In the kind of controversial decision that will forever split opinion, Liverpool suffered after the sending off. In truth, the decision was justifiable. The speed and force of the collision was unfortunate, but the height of Mané’s boot was dangerous.
Whether it was the right decision or not will fuel endless debate. The number of fouls that are potentially more dangerous, even vicious in nature, and go unpunished or unrecognised by referees makes the call questionable. What cannot be questioned is that the card ruined what was shaping up to be a tight, tensely fought match.
Despite falling behind, Liverpool began taking command of the contest and generating more chances and of better quality. That no doubt amplified those that felt especially aggrieved by John Moss’s terminal decision. Liverpool did little to minimise the damage after the fact, however.
Fresh frailties found
Another clear tactical decision that Liverpool can look forward to seeing especially when facing top teams is a high press. Manchester City immediately pressed Liverpool defenders when on the ball, in particular, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ragnar Klavan. Only Alberto Moreno seemed capable of handling the level of pressure City applied. Everyone else looked suspect, even in midfield.
Liverpool’s defensive frailties are no secret but on the ball difficulties were exposed. What would be easy to miss in a match with this scoreline was how much the midfield was culpable as well. Too often Alexander-Arnold faced pressure with limited options and that is without commenting on the throw-in fiascos. Meanwhile, Klavan simply had a nightmare performance with and without the ball.
Yet, Jordan Henderson was forced to repeatedly snatch errant diagonal balls, rather than simple passes. Gini Wijnaldum disappeared for most of the match until he was substituted. While Emre Can struggled to adjust mismatch to his new role in the second half role.
It is hard to believe in a 5-0 match that a goalkeeper could perform well, but Simon Mignolet prevented things from getting farcical. In the early moment, he made a couple of stops that saved his defence from blushes. There was little he could have done against either first half goal as Kevin De Bruyne served City’s strike force with superb service.
Despite conceding five goals, the Belgian made six saves and was put through his paces. As often as City streamed forward he had plenty of work to do. Unfortunately, it was not enough to stop the embarrassment.
Going forward, it will be interesting to see how the goalkeeper’s confidence rebounds from this defeat. If, as is believed, Loris Karius is the Champions League keeper, there will be no opportunity for quick recovery. Also, as good as City’s attacking threat is Mignolet did get beat at his near post, something that happens way too often for the level of keeper Liverpool that need.