City succumbed to their third Premier League defeat of the season in embarrassing fashion on Saturday evening to a Liverpool side who, credit where it’s due, executed an intelligent tactical game-plan to perfection.
Like on so many occasions last season, one couldn’t help looking at the City line-up when it was announced and hoping that something like this wouldn’t happen. Manuel Pellegrini’s decision to keep Nicolás Otamendi and Fernandinho in reserve proved to be an extremely bad one and Eliaquim Mangala’s own goal in the 8th minute set the tone for what turned out to be a thoroughly disappointing performance from City, particulary in defence.
Pellegrini had the entirety of the international break to come up with a way of counteracting Liverpool’s energetic, high-pressing style but one can only assume he took the fortnight off instead. It can’t have helped that he didn’t know whether or not he’d have a full squad to pick from until the day before the game, but this defeat was as much down to a systematic failure as it was his choice of personnel. Here’s how I rated the individual performances of the players on a night of few positives.
1 Joe Hart – 6/10
Was let down time and time again by the defenders in front of him and came to their rescue on a number of occasions in the second half, preventing the scoreline from being a seriously humilating one. He did put his team under unnecessary pressure in the early stages of the match with some poor and indecisive kicking, however.
3 Bacary Sagna – 4/10
This was comfortably the worst performance of what has otherwise been a very good season from the Frenchman. He was caught in possession prior to Liverpool’s first goal, offered little defensively, nothing going forward and gave the ball away far too often. He wasn’t the worst performer in the back four by any means, but he wasn’t far off.
26 Martín Demichelis – 2/10
For the second time this season, Demichelis was at the heart of a match that his team lost 4-1. It should really have been clear from the last one that he’s past his best and no longer capable of starting games of this calibre, but his manager didn’t learn his lesson and it’s therefore difficult to be too angry at the player. That said, this was a woefully inept performance from an experienced international defender who struggled with Liverpool’s high press and was notable by his absence as the goals flew in. Please Manuel, don’t pick him again unless it’s absolutely necessary.
20 Eliaquim Mangala – 1/10
When Vincent Kompany’s return from injury saw Mangala lose his place in the team a few weeks ago, many were rightly sympathetic towards a player who’d shown encouraging signs of progress in the early part of the season. Whether his thoroughly abysmal performance against Liverpool was down to a lack of match action or whether his displays at the start of the season were a spike on the graph is unclear, but what is abundantly clear is that this was about as bad as it gets. He looked panicked from the first whistle to the last, his first touch putting him and his team under pressure on countless occasions. His passing was atrocious, his positioning was all over the place and his terrible own goal could easily have been avoided if he’d just cleared the ball with his right foot. Although it’s not a very nice thing to do to a player, I personally would have hauled him off after 25 minutes for the good of the team. I can’t think of a single positive thing to say about him at this moment in time and at the risk of sounding hyperbolic, this was one of the worst defensive performances I’ve ever seen.
11 Aleksandar Kolarov – 4/10
Played his part in a slipshod defensive performance by being nowhere to be seen whenever Liverpool attacked. If he made a single tackle or block in the whole match it must have slipped my mind. What Kolarov always offers is plenty of support in an attacking sense and though he did plenty of running, his crossing was poor more often than not.
6 Fernando – 5/10
The overwhelming feeling of doom I typically experience whenever I see Fernando start in a two-man midfield with Yaya Touré was somewhat quelled by the fact that the Brazilian has come on leaps and bounds from the player he was last season. Fernando didn’t do a great deal wrong against Liverpool, but he didn’t do much right either. His ball retention was good when in possession but he offered little in terms of creativity or complexity and didn’t seem to screen his defence well enough with tackles or interceptions when the situation required them. Fernandinho should have started this one and, in my opinion, should have replaced Fernando at half-time.
42 Yaya Touré – 6/10
It may be a controversial opinion but I actually thought Yaya was one of City’s best players in the first half, if not the best. Of course, he offered little in terms of defensive protection, but I stopped expecting that from him a long time ago. What he did offer was a bit of intelligence in midfield and some excellent passes, particularly the one which would have resulted in a decent opening were it not for a poor first touch from Raheem Sterling. As usual, many supporters appear to be unfairly laying much of the blame for this defeat at Yaya’s feet but I’m not sure what game they or his manager (who took him off at half-time) were watching, to be honest.
15 Jesús Navas – 5/10
Started the game well, finding Kevin De Bruyne with some nice passes into the channels, but seemed to fade as his team capitulated. His performance perhaps didn’t warrant a half-time substitution, but it wasn’t a particularly surprising decision from Pellegrini either.
7 Raheem Sterling – 5/10
Much of the build-up to this match centred around how Sterling would fare against his old team and you could perhaps forgive his detractors for feeling vindicated following a largely underwhelming performance. The 20-year-old never stopped plugging away but came out second best in pretty much all of the one-on-one situations he was involved in and his decision making was again called into question when he squared the ball to Sergio Agüero after James Milner’s underhit back-pass had presented him with a decent chance to score himself. He’ll be as disappointed with his performance and the result as anyone.
17 Kevin De Bruyne – 5/10
After the scintillating start he made to life as a City player, De Bruyne’s performances have tailed off somewhat in recent weeks. This one was a mixture of the moments of quality we know he’s capable of coupled with moments in which he could and should have done better. The team’s attacking game plan seemed to focus too heavily on getting the ball wide and getting it into the box and though De Bruyne drifted into some good positions, his crossing was often aimless and lacklustre. He’s possibly in need of a rest and David Silva’s return from injury can’t come soon enough.
10 Sergio Agüero – 7/10
We should never expect too much from Agüero in his first few appearances after coming back from an injury and it was perhaps necessity more than anything that lead to him starting this match. That said, though he cut an isolated figure up front for much of the evening, when he did get the ball he looked sharper and more dangerous than most others in a blue shirt. Much of City’s attacking play seemed to be based upon belting the ball into the box in the vain hope that Agüero might get on the end of it but on the one occasion in the whole game he received the ball to feet in space he was able to turn and score an excellent goal. He’s clearly not 100% fit yet, but thank God he’s back.
25 Fernandinho – 6/10
Moved the ball well and injected some energy into a static midfield when he came on at half-time but he should have started this match and his introduction came too late for him to really help his team. Fernandinho being benched is undoubtedly one of the main reasons City lost this game.
18 Fabian Delph – 6/10
Also came on at half-time to play on the left of a midfield three and did pretty well. The moment he dragged a shot wide from 40 yards when he had other options was frustrating but aside from that his decision making was good and he ran his socks off. Hopefully his injury troubles are behind him now because he’ll be a useful player to this squad.
72 Kelechi Iheanacho – Came on too late to mark
After Wilfried Bony limped off in the early stages of the last match against Aston Villa, Pellegrini claimed he didn’t bring Kelechi on in his stead because he sees him more as a number 10 than a number 9. It was therefore interesting to see the young Nigerian replace Sergio Agüero as City’s sole striker with 25 minutes to go of this match. Was this an act of desperation or is Pellegrini full of shit? It’s hard to tell. Admittedly, Kelechi seemed to spend much of his time on the pitch against Liverpool on the right of a front three but it seemed like a lot was expected from him and you can forgive him for being unable to make much of an impact in a game that was slipping away from his team. There’s a time and a place for giving a young player some valuable minutes and whether it was a pre-planned substitution or not, this wasn’t it.
Written by Dan Burke