Liverpool started well, but ultimately fell to disappointing defeat against Man City, with Alisson and Virgil van Dijk summing up the issues. This is what we spotted.
ETIHAD, MANCHESTER // Liverpool looked somewhat more like its old self at times on its return from the international break, but it had the misfortune to come up against a title-chasing Manchester City at somewhere near its best, and was ultimately blown away.
Ederson was forced to rush a clearance straight from kick-off, and that set the early tone as the visitors managed to unsettle the opposition. A fast break led to the opener.
But as it tends to do, Pep Guardiola’s side came inexorably back, punishing anything less than perfection. That’s not a level Liverpool can reach right now — and the complete second-half collapse was majorly disheartening, with 4-1 ending up as something of a let-off.
Still, there were some positives in the performance for certain periods, despite Liverpool ultimately coming away empty-handed. At the very least, this was not a standard repetition of the 12:30 kick-off curse, even if there are some valid questions about why this sort of occasion seems to be needed to summon any semblance of fight.
Of course, it’s not all about mentality. Manchester City leaves plenty of space in behind, challenging opponents to exploit it, and that’s something Liverpool is rarely afforded. Playing Guardiola is a unique tactical challenge, and it’s one Jürgen Klopp has faced up to pretty well over the years — but he needs to be equipped with the proper resources for the task.
Here are the four things Liverpool.com spotted as the game unfolded.
Van Dijk sums up role reversal
Virgil van Dijk does not lose his composure. That’s a reputation that has gone so far it is now even used as a criticism, with the Dutchman accused of being too lax.
One thing certainly not associated with him is ‘Row Z’. You’d sooner imagine a cultured switch of play than a hacked clearance into the stands. Yet that’s exactly what Van Dijk resorted to within minutes — a sight that would be seen again later on in the game.
The reason was very simple. The prevailing narrative is Guardiola’s possession versus Klopp’s press, but the reality is that the Catalan has taken huge amounts from his adversary, and vice versa. Cut to the present day, and Manchester City’s high pressing is a scary weapon.
Indeed, with Liverpool’s own press having dropped off this season, Manchester City is arguably an example of what Klopp needs to restore. Van Dijk and his defensive colleagues faced a huge struggle to ever get out.
When they did, they usually fashioned a good situation, which sums up the high-risk nature of the approach, and indeed the main reason for the collapse in Klopp’s structure this season. But it was a rare occurrence, with Liverpool forced to work extremely hard for any spell of possession.
In the chaotic cut and thrust of Premier League football, it’s not often you can make out exactly what a player says. But there was no doubt about Alisson’s infuriated instruction to his Liverpool defenders after Manchester City’s third goal: “push up!”
It’s hard to imagine anyone could have got to İlkay Gündoğan, after Trent Alexander-Arnold’s block on the line left him on the back foot, but the criticism certainly applies to the build-up. All game, Liverpool’s solution to the quick feet of Jack Grealish and particularly Riyad Mahrez seemed to be to drop back, with the lessons from Vinícius Júnior not learned.
Of course, it’s not an easy formula; these are the kinds of players that have always been notoriously difficult to defend against. But however tempting it may be, dropping back has never been the solution, especially against a Manchester City side drilled to perfection in finding the square ball to leave a tap-in.
Alisson has been the best in the league yet again this season, and this shout was just the latest reminder that he has been woefully let down by those in front of him far too often.
Salah finally loses his cool
It’s not often you see Salah lose his head. More often than not, a decision he disagrees with is greeted with a trademark wry smile.
It spoke to the amount on the line, therefore, when the Egyptian picked up a rare yellow card for dissent. And in truth, nobody could blame him for finally snapping.
Up against Nathan Aké, Salah suffered a double injustice. Shielding the ball out of play, he had the Manchester City defender all over the back of him, treatment he has to put up with every single game. Standing right on the scene, the assistant referee remained infuriatingly unmoved.
To make matters worse, he then flagged for a Manchester City throw, another clearly incorrect call. This proved too much for Salah, who booted the ball away in frustration.
It’s a wonder he doesn’t do something like this every game, given the apparent impunity with which defenders can hold him — a situation which really needs to change, but at this point clearly will not. And so Liverpool will certainly forgive him a rare loss of cool, especially after he had already put the Reds in front.
Salah may have snapped, but Kostas Tsimikas was impressively level-headed. Not selected to start, his composure was nonetheless called into question after Manchester City’s equalizer.
Guardiola indulged in a celebration which was enthusiastic, to put it mildly. Seemingly unaware of his immediate surroundings, his wild thrusting motions ended up being right in front of Tsimikas, who was just walking down the touchline and minding his own business. In a classless touch, nor did the Manchester City boss stop when he clocked the presence of the Liverpool substitute.
The Greek did something of a double-take at the sight of Guardiola, but had the self-control to leave it at that. Rio Ferdinand expressed his admiration at half-time.
If nothing else, there can be no doubt about the esteem Guardiola still holds Liverpool in. He knew this was going to be a game with challenging moments, and his celebration was one of sheer relief. Even so, he should have toned it down, and Tsimikas deserves credit for his understated reaction.