Billed as the game of the weekend, Manchester City competed the Saturday lunchtime fixture against Liverpool; Pep Guardiola met with a familiar opponent in Jurgen Klopp.
The two ex-Bundesliga managers have battled numerous times in the past and much of the buildup to this game was spent discussing how City’s back five would contain Liverpool’s dangerous front three — Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino, and Mo Salah have started the season in devastating form and took Arsenal to pieces a fortnight ago.
With City favouring a high, possession based style, the danger of a quick Liverpool counterattack was always there. There were warning signs before Mané’s sending off in the 37th minute. Liverpool targeted Nicolás Otamendi, who was playing on the left side of the back three, and looked to get at him. Constant pressure was put on him to try and force him into mistakes and it bear fruit within the first six minutes as the Argentine defender picked up a caution.
The first 20 minutes was an even contest as neither side was able to fully get into their rhythm. However, in the 25th minute, City got the breakthrough. Kevin De Bruyne collected the ball inside Liverpool’s half and with quick feet, released a pass into the path of Sergio Agüero who had beaten Liverpool’s offside trap. The striker took the ball round the keeper and finished calmly to give the hosts the lead.
The moment that changed the game came as the half time whistle drew closer. Otamendi, who had been struggling, was lagging behind and allowed Mané to run in behind him, nullifying City’s offside line. The Senegalese was met by a lobbed pass and City keeper Ederson was quick off his line to come meet him. The ball bounced just as the two neared meaning Ederson went with his head while Mané lifted his leg to try and connect. The Liverpool player made contact with the City keeper and referee Jon Moss showed Mané a straight red card.
The decision seemed baffling on first viewing as it looked to be just two players coming together but replays showed it was a correct decision. Mané’s foot was very high and could be deemed dangerous play despite the player having no malicious intent.
With Liverpool down to ten, the game became stretched and City capitalised on this during the eight minutes of added time. De Bruyne was again the architect with an inch perfect cross that he placed on to Gabriel Jesus’ head. Jesus, who moments earlier had a goal struck off for offside, made no mistake this time as he powered the header past Simon Mignolet.
A half time switch from Klopp saw Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain make his Liverpool debut as the visitors matched the home side’s back three. The tactical switch was a case of damage limitation as City were beginning to outnumber Liverpool in all areas of the attacking third.
With the added space afforded when playing against a team of ten men, Kevin De Bruyne excelled. As the most advanced of City’s midfielders, the Belgian drifted across the pitch, picking out passes and generally making his club tick. In his post-match press conference, Guardiola was full of praise for De Bruyne, complimenting his ability to learn and calling him a complete player. It was this complete performance that allowed City to maximise their numerical advantage.
As the game wore on, Liverpool’s depleted team began to tire and allowed City more chances. Benjamin Mendy gave glimpses of what he can do while substitute Leroy Sane found the net twice, the second of which was a beautiful finish into the top left corner.
Guardiola’s men passed what could have been a difficult test and such a heavy scoreline will give them confidence as they begin their Champions League campaign this week.