Manchester City fell flat to Liverpool at the Etihad as they went out of the Champions League 5-1 on aggregate. Here’s what I learned from the low point of City’s wonderful season…
Fatigue is Hurting Pep’s Attack
While the performance against Liverpool was one of the most dominant City have put in all season, particularly in the first half, there was a disappointing lack of actual chances. When you consider that we had the vast majority of possession and easily recycled the ball nearly every time Liverpool won it back, players like Kevin De Bruyne and Leroy Sané looked out of ideas at times and failed to have any real influence on the game. Watching City today, a side that’ve scored three or more goals on countless occasions this season, I had to wonder if maybe the lengthy fixture list of the winter period was impacting on the attacking players. Most of our crosses were poor – even more so after we took off two of our best crossers – and pointless mistakes were made. This was especially frustrating because of how many times City players were caught needlessly offside during the match – at a time when there was no margin for error.
City’s Defence Still Needs Work
If City are going to make the final step to becoming a team on the level of Real Madrid or Barcelona, we’ll need to stop conceding from such a high percentage of our chances. Against United at the weekend, the visitors scored every real opportunity they had. Tonight was no different as Mo Salah scored with Liverpool’s first serious attack of the game, leaving City with an impossible task where there had previously been hope. The issue was further highlighted when Firmino bagged from their next chance. It’s a problem that plagued Manchester City for most of last season and it’s started to crop up again in recent weeks. I’m not suggesting that our players aren’t good enough, but there has to be something Pep can do to stop City from making our opponents look so clinical, or we’ll really struggle to challenge for the Champions League.
Brazilian Blues Provide Bright Spark
On a painfully disappointing night in Manchester, there was one player who I can’t fault. Fernandinho gave it absolutely everything, breaking up attacks wherever possible and playing some beautifully delicate passes that looked like the kind of thing you’d expect from Silva or De Bruyne. He can hold his head high after covering almost every square yard of grass. The other positive to take away from the game is another goal for young Gabriel Jesus, who’s now scored three times for club and country since returning from injury last month. His twelfth goal of the season was a timely reminder to City fans of how promising this youngster is.
Controversy at the Etihad… Again
There was huge backlash regarding the decision not to award a penalty and a red card to Ashley Young when he tackled Sergio Aguero in the box on Saturday, and tonight’s game was once again riddled with controversy surrounding the performance of the referee Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz. He inexplicably disallowed Leroy Sané’s seemingly legitimate goal in the first half, after booking Bernardo Silva for reasons that remain unclear, and then sent Pep Guardiola to the stands for… well, not very much at all. On the other side, there are some fans who believe that Gabriel Jesus’ opener should’ve been ruled out for a push on Virgil Van Dijk. While I’m not willing to use the referee as an excuse for the result, I think this game made it clear that VAR must be introduced if possible in order to reduce the influence that refereeing error has on football matches.