Match Coverage

Liverpool 1-0 Manchester City: What We Learned

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 31:  James Milner of Liverpool and Pablo Zabaleta of Manchester City clash during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester City at Anfield on December 31, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

In the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx asserts that ‘The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.’ In our case, however; the history of all hitherto existing Premier League football is the history of Manchester City failing to win at Anfield. Our record there is truly dreadful, in truth it’s been 4,991 days (and counting) since City took three points from the red half of Merseyside. 4,991. You get the feeling our annual game at Anfield is futile, and I’m on the point of wondering whether if a full strength City could beat Liverpool under 9s in front of the Kop. But, with every loss comes reflection to improve. Here’s what we learned from today’s game.

The full-back problem goes on and on

It’s blindingly obvious that Manchester City’s weakest position is full-back. We need to buy at least one, if not two, like, yesterday, especially since we loaned out both Maffeo and Angelino to Girona for reasons as yet unclear. If you were in the 0.001% (probably less) of City fans who did not recognise the need, the dire need, for a new pair of full-backs, and if this game didn’t show you the light then I don’t know what will. Zabaleta has been Mr. Manchester City since he signed in from Espanyol 2008, to the point of him having a bizarre Argentine-Manc accent. Yet since his performance against Neymar in November in which he rolled back the years and reduced the Brazilian to a Jesus Navas-on-a-very-bad-day-like performance, Pablo has begun to show his age, and his failure to tackle, or at the very least hold up Lallana had a part to play in Wijnaldum’s opener.

On the other side, we have Aleksandar Kolarov. Did you know, he’s played 233 games for City? Honestly, where does the time go? I’m not sure I can say anything that hasn’t already been said about the scapegoated Serb. Pathetic, lacklustre, mistake-ridden are probably a few words which will spring to mind. Since 2011, City have spent peanuts on full-backs. To put that into perspective, United sold and then bought their own academy player for £89,000,000 in that time. Pep has gone from Alves, Abidal, Kimmich, Alaba, and Lahm (though he turned the latter two into effective midfielders, in true Pep style) to an ageing warrior of times gone by, and KOLAROV.

Agüero’s big match blues

Sergio Kun Agüero is undoubtedly going to go down in history of not only Manchester City but world football as the guy who scored *that* goal. Since then, he has gone from strength to strength, with many considering him as one of the best strikers in the game, his record speaks for itself. Yet, Agüero has failed to perform in any big Premier League game for some time now. This season, he tried to kill David Luiz in the game against Cheslea (not for the first time), he was suspended in both the derby and the Arsenal match, and put in a similarly anonymous performance tonight as he did at White Hart Lane earlier in the season. To summarise: his contribution in recent big games is worrying.

Kun, however, was not the only effective no-show tonight. De Bruyne, a man so revered here after only a season I have a cat called Kevin, often leaves his mark on big games. His goals against PSG and Barcelona, his almost single handed destruction of United at Old Trafford in September, are a few examples, yet tonight he looked lost. Sterling, who has come back from the proverbial dead in the eyes of the media (despite only just turning 22) was booed at every touch, and we must worry he may put Nasri-against-Arsenal level performances in at Anfield. But trust me, if he ever scores a winner there, football may as well end. It would never be beaten.

Can anyone explain why Jesus Navas came on with less than ten minutes to go?

Spine/spineless?

An essential part of any successful football team is its spine. The best Barcelona team of all time had Puyol, Pique, Iniesta, Xavi, and of course Messi. Real Madrid currently have a very impressive spine of Pepe, Ramos, Modric, Kroos and Ronaldo. Successful teams have world class spines, and then supplement them with ‘limbs’ ie. Players who are good, but are not indispensable to the team. Once upon a time, City had Kompany, Fernandinho, Yaya Touré, Silva and Agüero. This spine, along with complimentary players, won City the league. But who is our spine now? Kompany is persona non grata due to the sad fact he’d get injured popping bubble wrap, Gündoğan is out until who knows when and Agüero, as we have seen, goes missing in big games. Despite his performance tonight, De Bruyne has been a revelation since signing and is our best player without question.

For me, tonight’s only positive saw John Stones put in a performance that, if you’d read the newspapers, was a million miles beyond him. So what is the remedy? For one, Gabriel Jesus (we hope) and the return of the electric Leroy Sané who we saw in the second half of the Arsenal match. In the long term, Pep needs to make a decision on Kompany as to signing a new centre half. For me Otamendi-Stones isn’t a bad partnership at all, but I believe that the injury of Gündoğan, though it hasn’t shown in the last few games, has seriously shaken our hopes of a season which can be deemed a success. On a lighter note, make no mistake: there is so much to be positive about in our team. Sané and Sterling could provide the next Robben and Ribery. De Bruyne is one of the top 3 players in the league. Agüero isn’t too old yet. Some of our youth players are impressing out on loan: we just need to develop a squad which can ascertain a level which enables the best out of Pep’s philosophy.

And I’ll leave you with a six word novel, often falsely attributed to Ernest Hemingway, said to be the saddest six words in existence. ‘Baby shoes for sale, never worn’. Feeling emotional? I can beat that. ‘Manchester City playing a game, at Anfield.’, or even ‘Sergio Agüero in a big game’. If anyone needs me, I’ll be sat in a dark room cuddling my City shirt Nicolas Anelka signed when I met him in a Morrisons when I was a young boy, unaware to the fact that Manchester City are horrendous at Anfield.

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