Manchester City reminded every team in England who the champions are, sweeping aside Liverpool 3-1 in a dazzling show. In a game in which the Citizens rarely had to get out of second gear, they still managed to contain a dangerous Liverpool side that had plenty of chances – and then wiped them away with a burst.
Stevan Jovetic scored twice, while Sergio Aguero scored one of the fastest goals ever recorded by a sub off the bench. Liverpool? They are awaiting the arrival of new forward Mario Balotelli, who watched his new club get thrashed by his old club from the director’s seats. On the evidence, they can surely use him.
What will trouble City’s rivals this season is how easy the champs made this look. For most of the first half, they didn’t pass the ball particularly well, nor did they really control the flow of the game — and still they were up at the half thanks to their ruthlessness. After the break, City turned on the jets for about 15 minutes, long enough to torch the Reds.
But what will give those same rivals hope is the way City seems to think they can coast through games. Yaya Toure was not a factor, and City’s defense went to sleep late, nearly allowing Liverpool back into the match. That casual sense that can creep into their play doomed them in Europe last season; it is likely to be exploited again this season. For all their depth and talent, you do get the sense they are a group that is also very aware of how good they are — and that can be deadly in this game.
It took almost forty minutes for the deadlock to be broken here at the Etihad Stadium, and when it was, it came off an error. Liverpool failed to clear their lines with new boys Devjan Lovren and Alberto Moreno combining for farce, and Jovetic was able to nip in and smash home a shot from the top of the box.
It was a painful punctuation on what had actually been a fine half from Liverpool, with both Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling finding joy on the flanks, and City’s midfield really unable to assert themselves wholly on the match. Toure was kept oddly quiet, popping up only to earn the game’s first card for a clumsy shove on Philippe Coutinho, and while Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson rarely inspire confidence, they were swiveling the ball about with pace and poise.
David Silva, City’s sleek and vital playmaker was also only seen in glimpses, with Samir Nasri far more involved on the opposite flank. But when City got the ball, too often they gave it up, allowing the Reds to stream forward on the counter. Moreno had actually been one of the game’s bright spots, streaming forward and forcing turnovers. Unfortunately, your defenders also need to be able to, well, defend, and when Lovren lamely headed away a cross, he did not react in time.
Jovetic added his second ten minutes after the break with a brilliant passing move to cleave Liverpool’s back four. Collecting a ball up from Silva, Jovetic flicked it through Moreno and Lovren, then peeled off left to the far side. Nasri drove toward the endline, leaving his two markers for dead, and with Glen Johnson flailing on the line, Jovetic finished well to the top corner.
If there was any remaining doubt about the result of the game, Aguero extinguished it with a lightning strike just 23 seconds after replacing Edin Dezeko. Jesus Navas sent up a fine ball that again found Moreno and Lovren out, and with Martin Skrtel desperately trying to claw him back, Aguero took one touch and then blew the ball into the net, easy as you like.
Say what you like about Liverpool, but under Brendan Rodgers, they do play games out to the end, and they were finally rewarded for their endeavor. Pablo Zabaleta kneed the ball into his own net under pressure from Rickie Lambert with eight minutes to play, then Vincent Kompany had to clear Lambert’s shot off the line a moment later after a similar lapse in concentration.
But Liverpool had to finish the game with ten men after Johnson went off injured late, and Skrtel was also left hobbling. Moreno’s ankle also gave way in a non-contact injury at the death of the match, potentially shredding Liverpool’s back four ahead of a big weekend match against Tottenham.
Balotelli watching on from the stands, got a polite if not particularly warm welcome. His presence was the subplot of the day after he completed a $25 million move from Milan to join the Reds in what is being called a major gamble. His former club continue their title defense at Stoke before heading into the international break. Liverpool, on the other hand, face that red-hot Tottenham side. They are likely to have Balotelli’s services – but after Monday night, Rodgers may also need some new defenders.