MANCHESTER — One moment helped to swing the game in Manchester City’s favor, but in truth they were too good for Liverpool on Saturday.
[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]
A goal from Sergio Aguero set Man City on their way and then two goals from Gabriel Jesus, after Sadio Mane‘s straight-red, either side of half time sealed the win for City with substitute Leroy Sane adding another two late on to rub salt in the wounds.
With the 5-0 win Pep Guardiola‘s men momentarily moved top of the Premier League table with 10 points from their opening four games, while Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool (who suffered their heaviest defeat since he took charge) remain on seven points after their first defeat of the campaign.
Here’s a look at what we learned from a one-sided encounter at the Etihad Stadium.
MANE’S RED CARD CORRECT
There is only one place to start. Yes, it was a red card.
Sadio Mane was sent off in the 37th minute (see video above) with Liverpool already 1-0 down. Sure, they may have already been trailing and Man City were clicking through the gears, but any hope Liverpool had of getting back in the game was dashed by Mane’s ridiculously rash challenge.
A day after he was named the Premier League’s Player of the Month for August after scoring in each of the first three games, Mane was the villain.
The margins were close but he had time to pull out of a high challenge with his foot raised.
As the ball was clipped over the top he raced clear but Ederson too raced off his line and got their first. Mane could have pulled out of the challenge or continued with his head. He wasn’t brave enough and paid the price for having his foot shoulder high. Yes, Ederson did bring his head down but not enough to warrant Mane’s foot being that high.
Mane was in on goal but his exuberance got the better of him. It may not have been deliberate but it was clearly reckless. With Ederson stretchered off the pitch in a neck brace the contact was heavy and Mane, when he looks at it again, can have no real complaints with the decision.
After the red card Liverpool collapsed with their fragile defense (which saw Ragnar Klavan come in for Dejan Lovren) caving in as Jesus, Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne ran riot. Jurgen Klopp’s side will have to lick their wounds after suffering a first defeat of the season (and the heaviest since their 6-1 pummeling by Stoke City at the end of the 2014-15 season) but they can be comforted by the fact that they created good chances in the first half which Mohamed Salah should have done better with.
This was a reality check for Liverpool after they blitzed Arsenal before the international break and perhaps points to the madness of Klopp not strengthening his defense, Virgil Van Dijk aside, in the final days of the transfer window.
MAN CITY FLUID, BALANCED IN 3-5-2 LED BY KDB
Man City look so much better in a 3-5-2 formation. With Pep Guardiola spending big on two attacking full backs over the summer in Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy (particularly superb with his crosses from the left) this system gives them balance and allows the likes of Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva to roam free. And that they did.
De Bruyne was particularly superb, grabbing wonderful assists on City’s opening two goals and then launching the attack for the third.
Just over 12 months into the gig Guardiola has finally found his best team with KDB pulling the strings in a central role.
John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi still have their moments in defense, especially without Vincent Kompany around on Saturday to steady the ship, but Ederson, until his injury appears to give City’s defense confidence.
With Aguero and Gabriel Jesus combining menacingly in attack, it will be difficult to understand why Pep, who has been a master tinkerer in his time so far at City, would deviate far from this system and these players. Last season City’s big problem was beating the teams around them in the top six. They has just two wins versus the top six last season in 10 games, with only Arsenal below them in the top six “mini-league” in 2016-17. Just as everyone thought they would (thanks largely to a record summer spending spree) they are figuring things out.
Guardiola’s side have quietly gone 12 games without defeat in the Premier League, dating back to last season, and have also lost just once (at champions Chelsea) in their past 24 PL games. If that’s the kind of form they’ve had while they figure things out, then we are in for a treat now everything appears to be slotting into place.
AGUERO’S CLASS CONSTANT
Kevin de Bruyne didn’t really need to lift his head up as the ball dropped to him in midfield. He already knew where Aguero was heading to.
With his 124th Premier League the Argentine, 29, became the highest-scoring non-European in Premier League history. The way he nonchalantly rolled around Simon Mignolet and slotted home oozed class. You get the sense that Guardiola finally trusts in Aguero after spells of leaving him on the bench, even at the start of this season.
Starting up front with Gabriel Jesus the duo were distant early on, too stretched and too easy to mark. Pep Guardiola then signaled to Jesus to get closer to Aguero, moving past and underneath him. Within 60 seconds City went 1-0 up with Aguero’s goal.
Jesus scored twice, and had one disallowed for offside, while Aguero had another chalked off for a correct offside call. They ran riot.
The way Aguero then raced free in the second half but instead of rounding Mignolet, as he could have easily done, he squared to Jesus to slot home and make it 3-0.
Aguero has been greedy over the years. Which top striker hasn’t? But he is showing Pep, most importantly, that he is now more of well-rounded team player who can still score the goals City need.