Manchester City continued the defense of their Premier League crown with a convincing 3-1 win at home to Liverpool. Last season’s runners up travelled to The Etihad following a 2-1 home win against Southampton on the opening day, whilst City won 2-0 at Newcastle.
Despite dominating the majority of the first half, Liverpool were well beaten by the champions, thanks to two goals from Stevan Jovetic and one from Argentine forward Sergio Agüero. Even a late Pablo Zabaleta own goal couldn’t spark a dramatic comeback from the Reds.
Liverpool’s new £16m man Mario Balotelli was in the stands as he watched his former club beat his new teammates following his move from AC Milan, and that star quality that Balotelli will bring was missing for Liverpool.
Having sold Luis Suarez to Barcelona for £75m - although the Spanish giants claim the fee was £65m - Liverpool lost one of the best players in the world. There will be plenty of hopeful Liverpudlians thinking that Balotelli could be the answer, but they were exposed by a Manchester City side full of that class of footballer.
Jovetic, who had a very good pre-season, is yet to really prove himself in the top flight, but a mix-up from two of Liverpool’s new defensive acquisitions allowed the Montenegran in to score. A Samir Nasri cross was only half dealt with by Dejan Lovren and Alberto Moreno failed to clear the danger, allowing Jovetic to get ahead of the Spaniard to fire home past Simon Mignolet.
City boss Manuel Pellegrini must have spotted a weakness on Liverpool’s left hand side as they targeted it in the second half. A brilliantly worked move was finished off by Jovetic after the break to make it 2-0, and Liverpool were left with a mountain to climb. A fantastic flick from the striker went to Samir Nasri who cut it back across goal, before Jovetic slotted home with a precise left footed finish.
Edin Dzeko, who had been very good all game, was forced off after a collision with Reds defender Martin Skrtel. They both jumped for the ball and Skrtel’s studs caught Dzeko on the side of his leg, forcing Manchester City into a change.
Pellegrini brought on Sergio Agüero, and it took the brilliant striker just 23 seconds to make his mark. A pass from Jesus Navas - another substitute - found Agüero as he ran in behind Lovren, and the World Cup finalist made no mistake to slot past the helpless stretch of Mignolet.
Liverpool hadn’t given up and were giving their all to get back in to the game, and when Daniel Sturridge crossed for Rickie Lambert, Liverpool managed a goal. Lambert’s header was saved by Joe Hart but ricocheted into the net off of Pablo Zabaleta.
The optimism was suddenly back for Liverpool and when Lambert was through on goal with five minutes to go many thought he would make it 3-2 and set up a stunning finale. Instead, the £4m signing from Southampton decided to square it to Sturridge but he got the pass horribly wrong and City skipper Vincent Kompany cleared it off the line. That proved to be Liverpool’s last chance and full-backs Glen Johnson and Moreno both picked up knocks with moments to go.
Liverpool’s attacking philosophy would have worked against a lesser side, but perhaps one of Brendan Rodgers’ weaknesses is that he doesn’t change the tactics depending on the opponent. Last season, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho set his side up defensively against Liverpool and Manchester City home and away and it worked a treat, as they won all four of those games.
For Liverpool to win the title, they need to be able to adapt against their rivals. They came up against a very organised City side in this early season encounter - one with several world class players. And City showed why they are favorites to win the league - along with Chelsea.
Liverpool will miss Luis Suarez this season, and the fans will be hoping that Balotelli is the right replacement. There is no doubting his talent, and if he can behave himself, Liverpool may have a star striker with his signing.
It is vital that they have options up front, and Balotelli brings those options. But at the moment, Liverpool look way off the pace that Manchester City are setting. There is a long way to go though, and Liverpool will be contenders again this year.