As Alberto Moreno received a crash course in dealing with Premier League forwards, courtesy of Stevan Jovetic, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers suddenly had a lot more on his plate than how to handle Mario Balotelli.
The 3-1 defeat away to Manchester City split wide open the cracks which surfaced against Southampton at Anfield.
It must be said Liverpool were looking solid all-round for the first 40 minutes, but that’s because their main line of defence was possession and high pressing.
But if the Reds are to challenge for the title, they need to plug their cracks ASAP – the cracks being the defence.
Besides a momentary lack of concentration which allowed Rickie Lambert to test the goal-line technology, City’s backline was the perfect case study that will could well be used in FIFA, UEFA and Premier League technical reports.
Liverpool’s back four however would more like feature alongside the Manchester United defence in the new ‘Rough Guide to Schoolboy Defending’ textbook.
Take the goals. Liverpool looked strong when they had possession and when they had the energy to press high up the pitch to stop City having any space.
But as soon as their backline were tested, they faltered. Spectacularly.
The first goal has to be down to Moreno’s mistake; the Spaniard showed no awareness of where Jovetic was and no anticipation of either what Dejan Lovren was going to do or what threat was behind him.
Had Moreno been as alert as he should have been, at best the ball would’ve been smashed clear and out of danger, and at worst it’d go out for a corner.
But his error doesn’t mean he’s the only guilty party in this crime.
As the ball gets played into David Silva inside the penalty area, Lovren is way too close to his centre-back partner Martin Skrtel and way too far from Silva.
That means as the ball’s played in, Lovren’s only option by the time he reacts and gets across is to head the ball down for Moreno to clear (and we know the young Spaniard fluffed that one up).
Had Lovren been in the position where he should’ve been, he would have been able to either punt the ball out for a throw in or make a challenge on Silva that would most likely result in the ball rolling out to a covering midfielder or earning a free-kick from a Silva dive.
Of course when you play two signings next to each other in defence away to Manchester City, in August, against forwards like Stevan Jovetic, you’re always asking for trouble.
No doubt the understanding between Lovren and Moreno – as well as Lovren’s partnership with Skrtel – will get better with time on the training pitch, but Rodgers really has to speed it along if Liverpool are going to stay in title contention.
One other point to mention – as seen in the top picture, Joe Allen shouts to Moreno to clear the ball as Lovren knocks it down to him.
It could be the case that had Moreno understood English, he might have heeded Allen’s warning and not considered it as background noise.
As touched upon in the article on City’s Barca dream coming to life, despite the home side’s magnificent teamwork for the second goal, it would not have been made possible had Liverpool decided to defend better.
Just like Tyler Blackett was at the heart of all that was wrong for Manchester United in their disappointing opener against Swansea, Moreno was the epicentre for Liverpool’s “shocking” (as Alan Hansen would say) defending.
His decision to go out and close down Yaya Toure on the wing meant Philippe Coutinho had to fill in for him at left-back.
And so as the ball came through from Jovetic for the onrushing Samir Nasri, the City winger had all the time in the world with Coutinho nowhere to be seen.
That was because, as seen in the picture, the not-so-defensively-minded ‘Big Phil’ had jogged away from the action and back up the field.
While Coutinho is clearly at fault, Moreno also has to take his fair share of the slack.
He should’ve told Coutinho to go out and close down Toure, thus keeping the back four intact and the gaps closed.
Instead he went out and left a player whose mind was halfway up the pitch to plug the hole.
Again more teething problems for the new signing, who needs to add communication to his list of things to work on.
But it’s not just Coutinho and Moreno who should be in the firing line.
Lovren again gives a helping hand for City, as he steps out of position for no good reason (perhaps it was to close down Jovetic, but Lovren too far away to do anything), meaning he can’t get across in time to cover where the left-back should be and stop Nasri playing a ball in.
And as the ball comes in and Jovetic gratefully tucks it away, one more guilty party emerges – Jordan Henderson.
As Jovetic is alive to the play and makes his run into the penalty area, the closest player to him – and the one who should be marking him – Henderson, fails to react and leaves the Montenegrin with all space he needs to bag a brace and kickstart his season.
Communication, marking, positioning and defensive drills with the wingers and midfielders are the main things it would appear that Brendan Rodgers needs to work on in training this week.
The 23-second man Sergio Aguero proved why he’s the frontrunner for the Premier League Golden Boot this season. Two goals in two substitute appearances and he’s not even fully fit yet.
But again it was Liverpool’s defending which helped Manchester City score.
Dejan Lovren is arguably the most at fault thanks to his lack of pace compared to Aguero and the fact he had to waste valuable time, and therefore yards, looking over his shoulder to check where the Argentine was.
But he was not helped by Martin Skrtel or Glen Johnson, who were also out of position.
For all three – Lovren, Skrtel and Johnson – were all out of position as a backline.
They were solid and intact as a defensive line, but as a line they were too many yards to the right.
As the play was shifted across to the left by Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany and then Jesus Navas, the Liverpool defence didn’t move over quickly and far enough.
And it shows how intelligent a striker Aguero is, knowing that because of the defence’s position he could score if he could get the run on Lovren, made even more remarkable by the fact he had only been on the pitch less than 30 seconds.
To be able to read the game so well immediately after coming shows what a top player Aguero is, and also the importance of studying the match when on the bench.
Fair play to Navas as well, being alive to the opportunity and playing a perfect ball into his teammate’s path.
But the structural problem in Liverpool’s defence also played its part. Had the defence been further to the left as it should have been, Navas’ ball would most likely have been intercepted by Lovren or Aguero would have Skrtel in front of him instead of Lovren behind him.
There are plenty of defensive issues for Brendan Rodgers to work on if he is ensure his side remain title contenders this season.
To fill the cracks, he needs to get cracking on his defence ASAP at Melwood, because if Tottenham’s brilliant 4-0 thrashing of QPR is anything to go by, they could be in for a rough ride at White Hart Lane this Sunday.
- Manchester City ruthless in win over Liverpool with less shots but more on target and more goals
- Stevan Jovetic and Sergio Aguero goals example of why City are Premier League title favourites
- City directors Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain seeing Barcelona dream come to life
- Pep Guardiola glory days at Barca the model for Soriano and Begiristain to achieve at City
As Manchester City demolished Liverpool 3-1 at the Etihad on Monday night, many would think Stevan Jovetic, Sergio Aguero or even Manuel Pellegrini would be the main winners from the game.
Sure, Jovetic was phenomenal and Aguero scintillating, while Pellegrini had his team and his tactics absolutely spot on.
But the real winners on the night were City’s CEO Ferran Soriano and Director of Football Txiki Begiristain.
For at last, confirmation that the duo’s vision – of recreating the Pep Guardiola glory days at FC Barcelona – can become a distinctive reality at Manchester City.
Against a Liverpool team tipped for title contention, City were remarkably ruthless – three mistakes, three goals.
Each time the Reds slipped up, City pounced. The movement, the passing, and crucially, the understanding between teammates, was all there.
Jovetic’s first goal came through Alberto Moreno’s mistake more than anything, but his second was pure teamwork – the kind of move usually done over and over by the same group of players in training.
From David Silva’s touch back to Yaya Toure, to his give-and-go with Samir Nasri, to Nasri’s give-and-go with Silva again, to Silva’s ball into Jovetic (who’s probably been left out in training games before but now decides he wants to play as well) and Jovetic’s flick on for Nasri who finally gets the ball he was waiting for, the patient play at last came together and the chance was soon to be created.
Nasri then guided it to the area where Jovetic usually makes his runs, and voila – the goal.
Of course he ball is helped on its way into the net by Liverpool’s defending, especially when left-back Moreno stepped out of the defensive line to close down Yaya Toure out on the wing, leaving the not-so-defensively-minded Philippe Coutinho to fill the hole in defence.
A ball into Nasri later – given space thanks to Dejan Lovren stepping out of position for no reason – and with Jordan Henderson ball-watching instead of picking up Jovetic, City get a well-worked goal helped by clueless, Manchester United-esque defending.
Then there’s the third goal by Aguero, forged by an understanding with Jesus Navas and a knowledge that the winger will read his run and play the ball just ahead of the covering centre-back.
That goal defines how well this Manchester City team has gelled together. Aguero was on the pitch just 22 seconds by the time he found the net.
For Aguero to score from open play like that immediately after coming on takes excellent understanding of how his teammates work.
And now that intrinsic knowledge of how their teammates play could see Manchester City make their directors’ Barcelona dream a reality.
The stellar understanding between the Barca team of Pep Guardiola was the main factor that allowed his tiki-taka to become so dominant and win two Champions League titles.
Soriano and Begiristain came to City determined to recreate the Camp Nou glory days at the Etihad.
In hiring Pellegrini, they have a man who can realise their vision.
A 2013/14 season which yielded a Premier League and League Cup double was a great start, but it was just the beginning of the five-year cycle.
Last season, it was about polishing the squad, and then adapting it to playing more attractive football with a clockwork understanding.
Now is the season Manchester City are meant to dominate. The team has well and truly gelled, and the City juggernaut is finally scheduled to get rolling.
The beating of Liverpool and the teamwork that went into it gave Soriano and Begiristain the confirmation they clearly wanted – that their hard work and many hours put into this project are going to pay off.
Last season was no flash in the pan. Manchester City have proved again they are the top dogs in the Premier League, and that they’re going to keep it that way.