Venue: Etihad, City of Manchester Stadium
Date: 25/08/2014 19:45 BST
Photos: Richard Tucker
Manchester City, Champions, opened up the home campaign by outclassing Liverpool in a thrilling game at the Etihad stadium. Stevan Jovetic underlined his quality with two superbly taken goals, and Sergio Aguero burst onto the scene with an exhilarating goal. This was a very satisfying victory in several levels. City showed what a very good squad we have, with strength in depth and many great qualities – indeed, the qualities of champions – with this thoroughly deserved win.
There was one change from the team that defeated Newcastle: Pablo Zabaleta making his first appearance of the season at right back with Gael Clichy switching to left back at the expense of Aleks Kolarov. For the visitors, Daniel Sturridge led the attack and their new signing, one Mario Balotelli, who was not signed in time to play (thankfully!), was afforded a warm welcome.
City made a decent start. Clichy played the ball which Jovetic cleverly flicked and Dzeko dragged his low shot wide of the right hand post in the 7th minute. Clichy crossed from the left but Zabaleta’s shot was well over the bar in the 13th minute. Yaya forced a save a couple of minutes later. By this time Sterling had fired well wide to derisive home cheers from Gerrard’s lobbed pass.
It was good to be back, and there were changes off the pitch as well as on it. The South Stand had an almost surreal look to it in the fading light, as the rain slanted down, with two giant cranes behind it and some sections of the roof were missing as building work continues in its expansion.
“Campeones, Campeones..” and “Stand up for the Champions” were belted out with gusto. How wonderful it must be for a player to hear that. In contrast, it would have been galling for the Liverpool fans who made the trip, and got a bit of a soaking from the elements. The conditions were wet and slippery, and the visiting captain was reminded of a certain slippage incident. Not that the conditions influenced how much stick he got. It could have been as dry as the Sahara desert and he still would have been ‘serenaded’ and cheered when he took corners. Gerrard is well used to getting stick, but mocking cheers are uncharted territory, and whilst he might pretend that he can’t hear, but it is a painful reminder of his failing to keep his eye on the ball at the crucial moment…and his inability to stay on his feet.
City had to work hard as the visitors grew into the game. Liverpool passed the ball with confidence and probed for openings, dominating the middle portion of the first half, forcing City onto the back foot and playing on the break. With the rain falling steadily up to kick off and throughout the first half, the conditions did not make defending easy. The pitch was greasy and City struggled to clear our lines at times, with a few sliced clearances of the slippery ball going straight back to Liverpool midfielders. We didn’t make it easy for ourselves at times: even David Silva uncharacteristically headed a clearance across the danger area but thankfully it did not come to anything. Our passing wasn’t quite at its best in the first half and we weren’t moving the ball as quickly as we can. City really had to concentrate to keep Liverpool out in the first half, and Fernando provided an excellent shield for the back four. He was often there to snuff out the danger with as some excellent interceptions.
Sturridge jinked wide of Kompany and forced Hart to save his angled shot at his near post in the 32nd minute, but it was the only time that the City keeper was truly tested. That he was largely unemployed was down to City’s superb organisation, and some good old fashioned robust defending, and Fernando’s sixth sense in snuffing out danger. These qualities, as well general resilience, and typically great leadership from Kompany in particular, saw us through this difficult period and proved to be the platform for victory.
City took the lead in the 38th minute with a goal that owed much to the positivity and sharp finishing of Stevan Jovetic. Nasri chipped a pass towards Silva’s run into the box, a failed Liverpool clearance broke for Jovetic, who took advantage of hesitation in the Liverpool defence and powered the ball in through Mignolet’s legs. The Etihad erupted with joy to more strains of “Campeones, Campeones”. The Liverpool section fell silent, and would have been relieved that it was only 1-0 at the break as City went for more goals.
Liverpool tried in vain to fight back after the break and Sturridge had the ball in the net but was correctly ruled offside. It was City who carried by far the greater threat. Dzeko was put clean through with an option to square to Jovetic but hesitated, and the chance was gone. Jovetic headed over a Nasri corner in the 50th minute.
City then blew Liverpool away with a period devastating football that proved totally decisive and illustrated the gulf in class between the two sides.
City’s second goal was superbly taken. Jovetic showed superb skill and intelligence to use his instep to back flick the ball into Nasri’s path, then turn and find space in the area to receive the return ball and power home his finish from twelve yards. It was a wonderful moment in the game and the City players mobbed a clearly ecstatic Jovetic by the Colin Bell Stand. They were clearly pleased for him as well as for the goal itself.
It was no less than City deserved. Our football was slick, incisive and thrilling to watch. City were cutting Liverpool to ribbons with intelligent passing and quick movement. Indeed, City owned the ball with delightful interplay. Silva and Nasri worked their magic. Silva with his hyper intelligence, classic incisive passing and looping runs away from defenders, Nasri with his own pleasing retention of the ball and insightful brand of playmaking, graced the game again. Yaya had class and poise in abundance too and Fernandinho was the fulcrum of the City midfield.
Jovetic had a chance to complete his hat trick but fired wide. With the great David Silva orchestrating attacks with great insight, City were rampant. In contrast, Liverpool were a blunt instrument, only able to create half chances. Sturridge’s angle shot from the right was pushed out to safety by Joe Hart in the 64th minute.
With a busy September programme in mind, Manuel Pellegrini brought on Navas for Silva in the 65th, and whilst we lost Merlin’s brilliant play making, the diminutive winger played a great part in City’s third goal. With Dzeko injured after an awkward fall in a challenge for a header with Skrtel, on came Sergio Aguero. His impact was thrilling and instant. But just a bit more instant than the last time!
Jesus Navas advanced at pace down the right and played a perfect pass for Sergio Aguero who outpaced a Liverpool defender, took a touch with his left, and stroked home a crisp right footed shot inside Mignolet’s left hand post. It took the breath away: an exhilarating goal created and finished at great pace. It took just 23 seconds from him entering the pitch! There was much to savour: the sumptuous inch perfect pass on the run from Navas, and the excellent pace, touch and clinical finish from Sergio Aguero.
Liverpool scored a late consolation which they didn’t really deserve. Demichelis tackled Sturridge on the left of the box, but got knocked off the ball by the ex-City youngster. Lambert’s header from Sturridge’s pinpoint cross was saved by Hart but the rebound went in off Pablo Zabaleta. It was rather frustrating to concede a goal to a team that didn’t deserve anything from the game.
Liverpool took fresh heart from this and went in search of more goals, and there was momentary panic in the City defence as we failed to clear our lines with miscued or sliced clearances. Thankfully, order was quickly restored and City finished the game with more poise, seeking to add to the lead.
This was a very satisfying victory. City played some great football but it was a good all round performance. There is a lot to be said for strength of character, resilience team work, organisation and training drills: qualities that City are rarely given credit for. When we were forced onto the back foot we were well set up to deal with what Liverpool had.
Liverpool did have a good spell of about 15 minutes of the first half, and are a good side who will challenge for third or fourth place, but not for the title. They will miss Suarez’s creativity as well as his 31 League goals, and Gerrard is well past his best. He cannot run and cannot cover the ground now and it will be interesting to see whether Brendan Rodgers has the guts to drop him and move on. The visitors, though, still cannot be taken lightly. City worked hard in adversity to nullify their threat, and earned the right to play some terrific football, particularly in the second half. Ultimately, City outclassed Liverpool here without being at our best. City are trying to find last season’s rhythm and fitness, and can play better than this. The best is yet to come.
Next page: Match pictures, stats and player ratings.