Not since José Mourinho returned to English football have so many column inches been given over to a bus as in recent times. Let me be clear from the outset, I think the people that through things at the Manchester City team coach when it crept towards Anfield ahead of our Champions League tie with Pep Guardiola’s team last season are idiots. Yet the hand-wringing and re-writing of history that has taken place since is little short of a joke. If you believe journalists and supporters of the rich kids of the Premier League then it was some sort of co-ordinated attack by our supporters, complete with maps outlining the route and an intention to destroy the vehicle where it stood. I cannot for the life of me understand why the Cityzens haven’t let it go now, instead making clear to the Liverpool crowd that the players are intimidated by a vociferous atmosphere thanks to their talk of having fifteen high-definition cameras surrounding it on its journey this time around.
Liverpool Banner for this Sunday aimed at Manchester City’s team bus being hit last season #LFC #MCFC pic.twitter.com/pJEnoWziPi
— FootballAwaydays (@Awaydays23) October 5, 2018
I think the entire thing is, at least in part, because Guardiola and the City hierarchy feel as though they’re not shown enough respect by the British press. They see themselves as some sort of romantic story, willingly turning a blind-eye to the billions of pounds the club has spent since Sheikh Mansour and his acolytes took over at The Etihad. Manchester press point to the money that Jürgen Klopp has spent on the likes of Alisson Becker and Fabinho and pretend that that makes things even and that we didn’t make more than their combined transfer fees back from the sale of Philippe Coutinho. I also wonder whether, behind closed doors, they see Liverpool Football Club as the antithesis of themselves; a side built around passion and with a crowd that can make a difference in the big moments. City fans have been determined to create a rivalry that simply doesn’t exist, so they desperately wanted to win today. What were the talking points when the fill-time whistle blew?
Klopp Gambled With His Starting XI
I was expecting something of a surprise when the teamsheet was released, but I can’t say I saw the decision that Jürgen Klopp actually made coming. Trent Alexander-Arnold has looked a little bit out of sorts in the last couple of matches and it was rather obvious that Napoli had decided to target him as a way of limiting our options moving out from the back. I wondered whether the manager might opt for Nathaniel Clyne there in order to keep the winning formula of Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk in the centre-back spots. Instead he chose to introduce Dejan Lovren back to the starting line-up for the first league match of the season, slotting Gomez into right-back and putting Trent on the bench. I’ll confess that I was worried when I saw it, even if I understood the manager’s logic. I wasn’t impressed with Gomez in the full-back slot last season and think that he and van Dijk have had a brilliant partnership in the middle so far this term.
#LFC team to face #MCFC pic.twitter.com/ac5rZrGq4k
— Neil Jones (@neiljonesgoal) October 7, 2018
Will the manager feel as though his selection was justified in the end? It’s genuinely difficult to call. On the one hand, Lovren didn’t really do too much wrong, with neither of the penalty shouts against him really holding much stock in my eyes. On the other hand, Gomez was sloppy in possession and we lost the attacking prowess that Alexander-Arnold gives by having the former Charlton man in the team in his stead. It’s ironic that, given the pre-match concern of many that Lovren was starting, it was actually Virgil van Dijk who gave away the penalty that nearly cost us the point. That said, the Croatian is always likely to be used as a scapegoat by many, whereas his Dutch counterpart is rarely criticised by the fanbase because he is far more reliable and dependent. Coming away with a point against City isn’t anything to be sniffed at, so I think that the manager will feel as though his tactic didn’t fail even if it also wasn’t overly successful.
We Looked Tired
In the build-up to the match against Napoli I was adamant that Jürgen Klopp should have been making changes to the starting line-up. I felt as though we’d been put through the wringer in the two Chelsea matches and that the likes of James Milner was being asked to play too many intense games in a short period of time. Everyone has been saying that we’ve got a decent squad to compete this season, yet we haven’t really seen the manager use it very effectively so far. I thought that we saw again this afternoon a team that was running on empty, with Milner’s injury at least mildly predictable given the intensity of the games that came before. The German made something of a mockery of Gary Neville when the former Manchester United defender suggested that he should’ve been resting players for the Champions League, but I actually agree with him.
Worryingly similar to the first half in Naples, that. After a bright start the vertical passing and running through the lines has been non-existent. Too passive, too static, almost lacking in bravery and belief. If you didn’t know better you’d say we’re set up not to lose.
— Battle Bus (@markbrucerevell) October 7, 2018
Whilst I can absolutely understand the logic from the manager of going strong in Italy, believing that three points there would as good as have tied up out progression to the knockout rounds of the competition, I also though that we were looking tired towards the end of the Premier League game against Chelsea and you can head to a difficult ground and lose no matter what team you put out. As I have said repeatedly in these columns, I have my eyes set firmly on the prize of the Premier League and I don’t think that Manchester City have really hit their stride yet this campaign. We were in a situation where we could’ve taken all three points from them and put some light between us before hostilities resume after the international break, but instead we lost in Italy and the team were knackered for today’s match. It’s not often that I criticise the manager, but I do think he’s got his team selections wrong over the past couple of weeks and the squad needs to be used more intelligently moving forward.
We’re Still Very Well Placed
Having said all of that, most people were looking at the run of fixtures that we had and believing that we would struggle to make it out of them looking competitive in any of the competitions that we were in. As it happens, it was only in the League Cup that we failed to progress, with three points in the Champions League and twenty points in the Premier League meaning that we’re very handily placed. If you’d offered me twenty points after eight games at the start of the season, with the run of matches that we had to play, I’d have bitten your hand off for it. It’s also noteworthy that Manchester City really haven’t had to play anyone even half decent yet, seemingly being handed all of the promoted teams from the last two seasons in one tasty chunk. Yes they faced Arsenal, but it was at a time when Unai Emery had barely managed to unpack his boxes.
Jürgen Klopp: “Our fixtures have been crazy – it makes no sense to moan about it while we’re in it, but now that it is over – wow! What an unbelievably intense period we have been through.”#LFC #MCFC
— Melissa Reddy (@MelissaReddy_) October 7, 2018
We now head into a period when we have some slightly more favourable fixtures and Manchester City have some that could cause them some problems, so how the table looks in a month or so will be very interesting indeed. The most important thing for us is to remain competitive, especially as we’re now nearly a quarter of the way through the campaign and our front three still isn’t clicking. In another year, with a worse goalkeeper and a much less reliable defence, we’re probably six or eight points worse off than we are right now. Instead, we’re joint-top and unbeaten heading into an international break that will give the manager a chance to regroup and try to figure out why his attackers aren’t yet firing. How well or otherwise he’s able to do that will likely dictate how this season goes for us in terms of silverware, but right now we’re keeping up with two teams that have significantly better resources than us and that’’s something to be impressed about.
It Was More Like A Chess Match Than A Footballing Battle
I think it’s fair to say that most people expected today to be something of a ding-dong battle between the two attacking heavyweights of the Premier League, but in the end it was more like a tactical chess match than the matches we saw in the Champions League and the domestic division last time out. Both managers know how the other likes to play their football and the players were all well-drilled to stop the opposition from being able to find their passing lanes. Chelsea and Napoli both did well to restrict our passing options, but I think we saw that on another level altogether from Manchester City today. Passing lanes for both teams were being shut off at every opportunity and the chances to score were few and far between. It was a different type of football from both Guardiola and Klopp, with each manager taking a slightly more pragmatic approach than we’d have perhaps expected them to.
It’s much more complicated than just saying Liverpool are missing Chamberlain, but his incisive passing and driving runs from midfield- which were integral to beating City 3x last season- are really lacking at the moment. Has a knock on impact on the front three, too.
— Joel Rabinowitz (@joel_archie) October 7, 2018
This was the first time since last term that I genuinely thought we looked as though we missed the incisiveness of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and also the first team that I understood why we went in so hot and heavy for Nabil Fekir in the summer. Despite the insistence of some that he’s the best thing since sliced break, I think that Naby Keita is struggling to adapt to the English game and he hasn’t offered the sought of running and passing that we thought might mean we could do without the Frenchman since his medical through up something of a concern for the Liverpool doctors. Oxlade-Chamberlain knows how to move into space and take advantage of the gaps that appear between defence and attack, which is precisely what we were missing today. The tactical astuteness of both managers and the intelligence of their players to carry out the plan meant that a point apiece was probably about as fair a result as we could’ve hoped for, but now we really need to kick on if we’re genuinely going to challenge them for the title we all crave.