The Good, Bad and Ugly: Liverpool were knocked out of the Carabao Cup at the last-16 stage, losing 3-2 to Pep Guardiola’s Man City at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday.
THE ETIHAD, MANCHESTER // Liverpool were deservedly knocked out of the Carabao Cup by Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium with Nathan Aké netting the winning goal in an enthralling fixture.
Both sides showed plenty of intensity and quality in moments, but ultimately, Liverpool’s lack of options after the World Cup proved telling and with plenty of injuries to contend with, they just could not quite compete at their usual level.
Here are the three moments Liverpool.com picked out from the Reds’ defeat as Jürgen Klopp’s hopes of retaining the trophy were extinguished against Pep Guardiola’s team.
Few Liverpool players were at their best for a variety of reasons, but Thiago Alcântara looked good and Nat Phillips impressed when thrown in late on in the first half.
Caoimhin Kelleher started shakily but got better, while Joël Matip was brilliant for the first Liverpool goal and helped create chances.
Harvey Elliott was composed but lacked a yard of pace that could have taken him away from his man in the centre of the park, while Salah scored but was otherwise fairly isolated.
It was a mixed performance all around, but one that was expected given the circumstances of the break and the players returning from the World Cup.
Pep Guardiola said around a week ago that he only had ‘four or five’ players available for the game, only to then pick a side that included only one youngster in the impressive Rico Lewis and arguably Cole Palmer, who has been around the first team for a while.
Off the bench came John Stones, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva.
Liverpool, without all of their World Cup players from the start apart from Darwin Núñez, had Stefan Bajčetić playing holding midfield, Kelleher in goal and Joe Gomez and James Milner in defence.
Liverpool were undoubtedly the weaker of the two sides in terms of the players picked (partly because of injuries, but also because of the conscious decision to hold certain stars back) despite Guardiola getting the excuses in early.
Ultimately, his early claims of having no senior stars to choose from proved laughable, even if Klopp would no doubt agree that playing matches just days after the end of the tournament in Qatar is ludicrous.
There is no bigger contrast between the two sides at the moment than in midfield. Thiago was good, but Bajčetić struggled a little and Fabinho, Naby Keïta and Jordan Henderson offered some things off the bench but ultimately not enough.
By contrast, the Manchester City midfield looked determined to make a point. Kevin De Bruyne, Rodri and İlkay Gündoğan all flattered to deceive at the World Cup, but looked back to their very best here.
De Bruyne alone did more than the Liverpool midfielders combined, while Gündoğan turned Bajčetić inside out a few times.
It was already obvious that Liverpool needed an injection of quality in the centre of the pitch but it was clear again here, with De Bruyne, in particular, allowed far too much freedom to create.
He showed first-hand the kind of intensity and quality that Liverpool need to find in the transfer market. Knowing that and doing it in January, though, are two very different things.
Some of Darwin Núñez’s finishing was really poor, while some of it will be overblown. There were half chances and there was a big one-vs-one.
Ultimately, you would have expected that he would have found the back of the net on one of them, if not a couple more. But it was not to be for the Uruguayan. When Erling Haaland had the chance to score, the Norwegian did (even he missed a big opportunity early on, but was not denied at the second attempt).
Núñez could yet ignite and he was getting into the right positions, doing a lot more in general play than Haaland. The thing that both will be judged on, though, is how many goals they score. Right now, there is a clear winner.