After a weak showing against Chelsea, in which Manchester City gave up the most goals in a single game since Ruben Dias joined the team, he was back to his world-beating best against Liverpool.
The Portuguese centre back has been amazing since he joined in 2020, coming in for Vincent Kompany when no one thought it would be possible. But even though they are known as tough defenders, they have great football brains that make them perfect for football brains.
From a defending point of view, Dias did everything you could want him to do against Liverpool. There were challenges, blocks, interceptions, and requests for everything. When someone in the back line kept the ball away from Ederson’s goal, he and his teammates let out loud roars and celebrations.
Dias did a lot to help protect City’s end of the pitch, and he also made important efforts to the other end. He did a great job setting up plays, and he was also a big reason why his team caught Liverpool off guard on a cold November afternoon.
In the beginning, both teams were taking a close look at each other and being careful not to give up too much. Every time a pressure point got close, the other team made a mistake or played well, ending the threat.
Then there was the first big fight in the game. Mo Salah and Liverpool turned their backs on Alisson as he caught the ball, and he ran to meet the incoming kick. But it didn’t show up.
Mo Salah was running into the space where he thought he would receive the ball, but Nathan Ake was 30 yards further up the field when the second-best Brazilian goalkeeper’s terrible slice went high and short and into his path. Liverpool didn’t seem to notice the mistake, but Dias did. As the ball dropped, the defender was right in front of Ake and told him to take his time because he had time to think about what to do next.
But that doesn’t take away from the next great thing. In one move, Ake snuck past two shocked Liverpool players and went right through Erling Haaland. Haaland then made things worse for Alisson by sending a shot past him and into the far corner.
In big games, big players need to step up, and City had a lot more of them than Liverpool. Nathan Ake, Bernardo Silva, Ederson, and Dias were also very good.
Ake gets extra praise because it seems like his work in the Treble has been forgotten, just like Jack Grealish’s has. Many people don’t mind that Ake was moved because Josko Gvardiol is the new and interesting defender and looks good at left back.
Gvardiol hasn’t seen Ake play as well for Blues as he did today. His assist for Haaland added to a great defensive showing against Mo Salah, who is one of the best players in the world. In the same way that Alisson got Liverpool into trouble more than once, Ederson got City out of trouble with his skills.
But when the margins are so small—Jurgen Klopp was right before the game when he said that his team was closer to being winners than they were when they came here last season and lost 4–1—big teams need everyone on the starting eleven and the substitutes to work together. It was in the second area where City really fell short.
Along with John Stones and Sergio Gomez, Ake was one of three players who got better from injury during the international break. However, Mateo Kovacic and Matheus Nunes had already joined Kevin De Bruyne in the injury room, and Grealish was brought in late because he was sick.
For the second game in a row, City couldn’t name a full bench, even though they had two goalkeepers on it. This made a lot of Guardiola’s choices for him. Grealish wasn’t there, so there wasn’t a choice between Jeremy Doku and Grealish. Even though Doku was bad with the ball during the game, he was kept on the field because the only other player available was the green (for other reasons!) Oscar Bobb on the bench.
Julian Alvarez did well to start a Saturday lunchtime game after playing well for Argentina against Brazil last week, but he played like he was still in a different time zone and had trouble keeping up with his teammates. Again, it’s hard to imagine that Guardiola would not have used the substitutes if they were available to give City something new.
They didn’t do anything during the second half. Still, there were chances, and Dias was lucky that his goal was called off because Akanji was wrongly accused of fouling Alisson from a corner kick. But when Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold led Liverpool to victory, there were not many complaints.
City pushed for a winner with the team they had on hand and almost got one, but when it didn’t come, even though Haaland came close at the end, it didn’t feel like the home team had done enough to match Sunderland’s 24-game home winning streak that goes back to 1892. After almost having a perfect year at the Etihad, the run ends at 23. It’s too bad that it stops so close to the end.
Champions have now gone two games without a win in the Premier League. However, Liverpool didn’t do anything today that made them more of a threat than they did yesterday. The only thing the home team had going for them was a deeper bench. Klopp was able to switch on five players, including Cody Gakpo and Luis Diaz.
However, City will need to work on that going forward because Guardiola will know he can’t depend on such a small group of players. He likes small groups, but not this small.
City will still need some great play from each player if they want to beat Liverpool over 38 games, but they can’t depend on so few players.