This was supposed to be the most exciting game of the season. Manchester City’s possession-based, studious team up against Liverpool’s free-flowing attacking side. Pep Guardiola has struggled with how to cope with Jürgen Klopp’s geggenpressing football in previous matches, so how would they cope this time around? The Cityzens’s inability to sign a central defender all summer was seen by some as a justification for Liverpool’s choice to doggedly pursue Virgil van Dijk despite Southampton’s insistence that he wasn’t for sale. After all, if one of the richest teams in world football can’t bring in a centre-back, isn’t that a sign that that aren’t many out there?
— Manchester City (@ManCity) September 9, 2017
The absence of Vincent Kompany due to injury and the decision of Jürgen Klopp to rest Dejan Lovren led many to predict an absolute goalfest, played out at an exhilarating pace. This was destined to be one of those matches that is referred to as being an ‘excellent advert for the Premier League’, with two potential title challengers slugging it out for ninety minutes. The stage was set for a thriller, so what could possibly happen to change that? Step forward Sunderland-born Jonathan Moss, whose decision to send Sadio Mané off after 37 minutes completely ruined the game as a spectacle. Yet how did the game pan out after that? What were the major talking points?
The Sending Off Ruined The Game
Sometimes you hear commentators or pundits say that referees have ‘ruined the game’ because of a decision to send a player off and it seems like a bit of a nonsense, mainly because the men in the middle are there to enforce the laws of the game. Nevertheless, it’s difficult to argue with that assessment when it comes to looking back at Liverpool’s trip to the Etihad. The debate will rage on over social media and in the newspapers about whether or not it was a sending off, yet something that isn’t being covered by anyone is why, exactly, goalkeepers get such ludicrous protection outside their box.
Mark Clattenburg about the red card. pic.twitter.com/WfjEUBNsal
— Krissss (@FirminoLad) September 9, 2017
Ederson came charging out of his box and stooped for the ball in a way that an outfield player wouldn’t have done, meaning that his head was lower and Mané’s foot wasn’t as high as it would otherwise have needed to be in order to connect with the goalkeeper’s face. Obviously people who think it was a red will see this as ‘making excuses’, but the reality is that it was a 50/50 ball that Mané had every right to go for. He wasn’t looking at the goalkeeper, nor was he attempting to injure him. If it was a defender, would the referee have sent the Senegalese winger off? Not in my opinion. I’m also interested to know how else things might have panned out. If Mané had gone with his head and head-butted Ederson, would Moss have sent him off then?
What if they had just ran into each other? Would the goalkeeper have been sent off considering he was out of his area and had no right to be there? There is an odd obsession with protecting ‘keepers, yet the second they leave the box they have become outfield players and deserve to be treated as such. Kevin de Bruyne said after the match that it would have been a yellow card if Ederson hadn’t been so badly injured, but since when does the result of a tackle or foul dictate the punishment associated with it? Jon Moss got this one wrong and even Gary Neville said so. If Gary Neville, who has never hidden his hatred of Liverpool Football Club, believes that the decision against you is a harsh one then it’s reasonably fair to assume that it is.
Foot high but keeper is forced to act as an outfielder and therefore stooping for the ball, approaching it as a defender wouldn’t.
— Simon Hughes (@Simon_Hughes__) September 9, 2017
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about it is that it won’t be overturned and nothing will happen to Moss. He’ll be refereeing another high-profile match next weekend and the Football Association will happily bury its head in the sand, using the fact that some people think it was a good decision to justify the continuing mediocrity of the officiating in this country. We may be lucky when it comes to Mané, with the matches he’s likely to miss ones that he might well have been rested for anyway. Yet it could so easily have been the case that we could have been up against Manchester United, Chelsea or Everton and missing our best player because refereeing ineptitude.
Salah Needs To Be More Clinical
Another frustrating aspect of the sending off was that we were very much in the game up until that point. City’s goal was brilliantly taken, with de Bruyne once again showing why he’s such a phenomenal talent. Yet there’s an argument that the goal came against the run of play and that Liverpool had actually settled quicker than the home side, carving open chances and causing their makeshift back four all sorts of problems. Indeed, had Mohamed Salah taken the opportunity that he was presented with when Mané put him through one-on-one with the goalkeeper, the former Southampton man might not have felt such a burning need to win the ball later in the half.
Strange to say it of a player who’s already scored three times, but if Mo Salah could finish he’d get forty a season.
— Chris Hewitt (@ChrisHewittLFC) September 9, 2017
Salah’s poor finishing has already reared its head a number of times this season, which is a slight concern when you think that we’ve only played six games. The Egyptian is an odd player, always getting himself into the right position but needing several chances to put the ball into the back of the net. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that he’s not a good player or that we shouldn’t be excited by his signing. It’s just that he’ll want to start racking up the goals if he wants to be considered to be in a similar bracket to his teammate. The Premier League is unforgiving and teams don’t give you more than one bite at the cherry very often. If we’re going to compete at the top of the table then Salah is going to have to become a more reliable goalscorer.
Is that something that he’ll be able to do? It’s worth noting that he’d probably be playing for the likes of Real Madrid, Paris St-Germian or Barcelona if he was deadly in the final third. Certainly we wouldn’t have been able to buy him for less than forty million pounds! Can Jürgen Klopp teach him to be calmer and more effective when he’s in one-on-one situations, or is that something that you can’t teach? It’s absolutely the case that we were still in the game before Moss lost his head, but Manchester City aren’t a side that will keep allowing you to have opportunities so you need to make sure you’re as clinical as possible when you do get them.
Better decision making/execution in the final third today and we’re 3/4-1 up here.
— Sam McGuire (@SamMcGuire90) September 9, 2017
There was an interesting graphic shown by Sky Sports midway through the first-half. It showed how much possession Liverpool had been enjoying in each section of the final third, with 56% falling to Salah and only 20% coming down Mané’s lefthand side. Was that an indication that Manchester City had been allowing us to give it to Salah, feeling confident that the Egyptian wouldn’t be able to do anything with it? Certainly we looked significantly more threatening when Mané had the ball and I’m not surprised that the home side weren’t keen on letting him run at their back four. Just as one swallow doesn’t make a summer, so too are a few misses early on in his Liverpool career not a damning indictment of our new signing. Regardless, I hope he’s learning some lessons.
No Excuse For The Capitulation
As dreadful as I honestly believe Jon Moss’s decision was, there is no excuse for the way that Liverpool collapsed in the second-half. There are mitigating circumstances, of course. For starters, Manchester City have one of the best attacking teams in the country and it can’t be easy to defend against that when you’ve got eleven men, let alone ten. There’s also the fact that Pep Guardiola sides are notoriously difficult to play against when they have a man advantage, with the Spaniard being the master in knowing how to turn the screw in such circumstances. Even so, to concede three goals like that is depressing; not least of all because it will allow the know-it-alls to point to our defensive issues and some business and say ‘I told you so’.
Ref aside, inescapable how poor Klavan has been today though. I don’t think he’s as bad as some, but he’s been a glaring weak link today.
— Grobbelrevell (@markbrucerevell) September 9, 2017
I do not buy into the idea that Ragnar Klavan is this thoroughly abysmal defender who should never play for Liverpool again. For starters, he played in both games against Manchester City last year and we drew one and won the other. He’s a perfectly fine centre-back who can do a job when called upon. Yet, like all but the best players in the world, he has as many poor games as good ones. The problem wasn’t so much that we went down to ten men, but that not one player in Red emerged from today with any credit. Emre Can was poor throughout, looking more like the player that struggled last season than the one who everyone believes deserves a new contract.
He wasn’t the only under-performer, either. Jordan Henderson had maybe his poorest game for us as long as I can remember, whilst Roberto Firmino was all over the show. Trent Alexander-Arnold displayed his youth and inexperience a number of times and Simon Mignolet will once again escape criticism despite conceding five goals. Because he wasn’t directly responsible for any of them it’s like he couldn’t possibly have done anything, even though he was beaten at his near post for what feels like the fifth time this season. Sufficed to say, then, that Jürgen Klopp’s decision to bring in Klavan because Dejan Lovren was carrying a knock was really the least of our problems. Sometimes these games happen. How we respond now will set the marker for the rest of the season.