A Warning Shot From City Or The Dying Of The Light?

Last night wasn’t a 4-0 match. Liverpool had plenty of chances to get on the scoresheet and on a different day we’re 2-0 up before Manchester City get given their penalty. Pep Guardiola’s side is brilliant on its day, so opposition teams absolutely cannot afford to drop even a percentage or two in terms of concentration. Yet what we saw from the Reds was a side that has already won the Premier League title behaving as though it had nothing to play for. A slight dip in performance isn’t the most surprising thing we’ve ever seen in the context, but it’s all City need to cause all sort of trouble. Giving the likes of Kevin de Bruyne the freedom of the park isn’t the best of ideas and we were duly punished, but I have to see that I’ve bee surprised at the manner in which some Liverpool supporters have reacted to the defeat. To put it into context, if the season finished right now we’d still have the biggest gap between first and second ever in the Premier League era.

None of us ever like to see the Reds lose, especially not convincingly and definitely not to our closest rivals. How close a rival are Manchester City, though? That’s the key question that we won’t really know the answer to until next season is in full swing. Whilst we’ve all spent this campaign terrified of them coming back and snatching the title from us, the reality is that they haven’t even got close to us. The gap between us and them as things stand is the same as the gap between them and Arsenal in eighth. We’ve absolutely dominated the Premier League and will rightly be remembered as one of the best teams ever. Last night’s result was disappointing and infuriating as a solo match, but put into the wider context and it doesn’t really tell us anything. I don’t think anyone can read into what happened at the Etihad and decide that it means much; though of course plenty of people will do just that. The only question is which is the real City?

City Are A Phenomenal Side

Make no mistake, on their day Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side is as good as any team in the world. They have players that can terrify and destroy teams in equal measure. Kevin de Bruyne is one of the best midfielders in the world, whilst Raheem Sterling has grown into a phenomenal player. Guardiola himself, of course, is one of the best managers in the game. You can’t win what he’s won with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and now Manchester City without being brilliant. Yes, there’s a conversation to be had around whether or not he could have won what he’s won without spending the vast sums of money that he’s spent, but every manager buys players. Some people call his style of football boring and it’s something that I understand. Yet if it’s your team that you’re watching play like that week-in, week-out I don’t think you find it boring. Manchester City are a machine of a football team, fully deserving our respect.

Prior to this season, Manchester City went at a rate of 198 points over two campaigns. That is an unbelievable points average and I’m not sure that we’d be as good as we’ve been without them there to push us on. Their team is filled with unbelievable footballers and the likes of Phil Foden appears to be proving that they don’t just need to buy them in. The result last night can easily be seen as a warning shot by the Cityzens, posting notice that we won’t have it all our own way during the next campaign. I well understand the people seeing it as exactly that and being disappointed that we capitulated so readily, even with all of the extenuating circumstances taken into account. We won’t know until next season which Manchester City team we’re going to see, but if they can harness that belief and strident play then there’s no doubt that they’ll challenge once more. The Court of Arbitration for Sport decision could be huge for the future.

They Still Have A Soft Underbelly

On their day, Manchester City can blow teams away. The issue this season has been that their day hasn’t come often enough. It was an excellent result for them last night and will certainly have Pep and his coaching staff asking whether they can do it more regularly next season. The unanswered question right now is about which City team we’re going to be locking horns with next time out. Is it the City that blows sides away if they’re not at 100%, as they did with is last night? Or is it the one that loses to the likes of Norwich City, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur? As things currently stand, City have lost as many games during this campaign as we have over our last three. They are as capable of throwing in a mad result as they are of being utterly dominant, so it will be interesting to see whether last night was them getting back on track or was a side raging against the dying of the light.

Whilst City’s players can be brilliant on their day, we’ve also got to remember that it is an ageing squad. There is a lot of work to be done for Pep Guardiola to bring down the average age of the side and that will require some big spending. A brilliant coach he may well be, but he’s quicker to head to his chequebook than he is to get on the training ground. The CAS decision, when it eventually arrives, will be massive as far as determining how strong City will be next season is concerned. If they’re out of the Champions League, even for just one campaign, it’s not hard to imagine some of their better players deciding that it’s time to move on. Equally it will be tricky for them to convince players to join apart from the mercenaries that are hoping for a big pay day. We won’t know until next season is in full-swing exactly which Manchester City Liverpool are going to be going up against, but we need that context to understand last night’s result.

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  1. July 3, 2020

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