City outplayed Liverpool to record a comfortable win on a rainy Monday night at the Etihad. The victory was well deserved and should put to bed any lingering doubts about City’s re-season fitness and form. Here are some extended thoughts…
My main worry for City in recent seasons has been that, despite the previously unimaginable success, I’ve never felt that the team has really looked like a truly and consistently intimidating force against the top teams. There has always been a worry that we weren’t up to the same standard and a certain hesitance in the biggest games, for instance the Chelsea, Barcelona and Liverpool games last season.
After last night I feel much better.
It was important to beat Liverpool, yes, but more important was the manner in which the team went out and actually did it. The players were clearly unfazed and operating at a level Liverpool struggled to reach all night. The beautiful thing about it is that was City not looking like they were out of third gear.
Of course, Liverpool had their chances (and scored a good, opportunistic goal) and worried the City defence, but that is not of real concern. Against a team with players such as Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge a few disconcerting moments are an inevitability built into the cost of doing business. What is more informative was the unhurried, calm reaction of a team who continued to play their own way and continued to look dominant.
If we come out of the games against Arsenal and Chelsea still on top of the league then we are golden.
Another worry from last season was a suspicion of naivety in the biggest games on the part of Manuel Pellegrini. More than once he was inflexible in his formations and waited too late to change the game.
Neither criticism applied last night.
The formation was superficially the same as always but City clearly sat back a lot deeper than in the fixture at Anfield last season. In addition, Stevan Jovetic played more towards the midfield than as a pure striker and helped to prevent Liverpool playing out from the back as much as they prefer. This allowed the defence to more effectively combat Liverpool’s trademark lightning fast counter attacks and blunt the impact of their forward players as much as possible. That this worked so well this early in the season when our key defenders are still not fully in their groove is cause for great celebration.
Liverpool had a lot of possession, but this was by design rather than because they were dominating. Possession in and of itself is useless unless you do something with it, as aptly demonstrated by City’s clinical, destructive finishing.
The second positive from Pellegrini was his choice of players, for instance introducing Jesus Navas to bully the new Liverpool full back Alberto Moreno who was given a torrid introduction to the sound and the fury of a top Premier League attack away from home.
Choosing Fernando for his second Premier League game was also an inspired choice. He once again got on with being a thorn in the side of the opposition in a quiet and firm manner, putting in solid tackles and covering what seemed to be everywhere. Before seeing him play the nickname of ‘The Octopus’ seemed ridiculous, but against all the odds it turns out to be a figuratively accurate description of his playing style. Between Fernando, Fernandinho and Yaya Toure (another who had a good game), we look to have found the midfield combination we need to push on to yet another level.
It is tempting to concentrate this section fully on the outstanding Jovetic, scorer of two goals, but that would be unfair to the other attacking players who were uniformly excellent. The collegiate approach to praise seems more in synch with the team ethic anyway.
What should really scare opposition defences is that, beyond the goal threat, Jovetic seems to be yet another player happy to switch into any of five positions at the drop of a hat and make merry across the breadth of the penalty box and beyond. The increasingly intricate pretty passing patterns were a feature of City last seasons and, if anything, seem to have been refined further over pre-season. Samir Nasri and David Silva have become a metronomic, awe inspiring passing unit. Dzeko is taking more and more joy from bullying people, jabbing away at them, and generally conning defenders into concentrating on him at the exchange of the smaller players – an hilarious mistake to be sure.
And finally, Sergio Aguero. Having everyone fit means that he doesn’t have to be rushed back this year and that might end up as the significant factor in retaining the title. The Argentinian is simply deadly to an unparalleled degree; He now has the best goals to minutes ratio in Premier League history. Much like with Dzeko, defenders concentrate on him to a crippling degree, but they can’t be blamed for it. How can they not? Scoring after 23 seconds is a high point even for him, as was the manner of it. Outsmarting and then outmuscling the significantly larger defender (something which will never get old) and slotting past Simon Mignolet in supreme style. Bravo, Sergio!
Written by Alex Timperley who is on Twitter