Liverpool’s biggest fear isn’t its own inadequacy. Liverpool’s deepest fear is that its rivals for the Premier League title have strengthened at a greater rate than it has since the end of the 2013-14 season.
That seemed to be the case on Monday, as Liverpool lost a crunch, early season Premier League game to Manchester City by a score of 3-1. This meeting between last season’s title winner and runner-up showed that the new-look Liverpool remains a work-in-progress, while a tweaked Manchester City looks primed to defend its domestic crown.
Stevan Jovetic scored two goals within 15 minutes on either sides of halftime. Sergio Aguero put the game out of reach when he scored in the 69th minute — 23 seconds after he entered the contest. Pablo Zabaleta’s own goal was a small consolation for the Reds, who carry the disappointment on their shoulders as they make the 35-mile trek from Manchester back to Liverpool.
For Liverpool, the loss doesn’t prove that last season’s title challenge was a one-off or that its best chance to win the league had passed it by. It doesn’t serve as evidence that the Reds are weaker without Suarez or that the nine new signings won’t meet the lofty standards set at Anfield yesteryear and earlier this year.
But it raises questions and concerns about the new-look Reds, particularly, “How much, if at all, has Liverpool improved since May?” and “Have the Reds gained enough ground on Manchester City to make up the two-point difference between first and second place?”
Liverpool has yet to gel and play a complete game (i.e. attacking and defending well for 90 minutes) at this early stage of the season. Reinforcements still are walking through the doors, and many of the new players who are already in the camp have yet to adapt to life at the club (or the country in some cases).
The unforgiving calendar left Liverpool to rely primarily on familiar faces against Manchester City, and the holdovers performed admirably, as Liverpool outplayed Manchester City for large chunks of the contest. The only problem is that Liverpool lacked the sharpness to complete attacking moves and lost focus in defense at pivotal moments.
The inverse was true for Manchester City, who absorbed pressure, defended capably throughout and ruthlessly punished Liverpool’s mistakes en route to an understated, but crucial, victory.
It bears mentioning that all three Manchester City goals were the products of attacks which targeted the left side of Liverpool’s defense, where new signings Dejan Lovren and Alberto Moreno were stationed.
It would be irrational to brand Lovren and Moreno as “flops” after two games. It would be irresponsible to say Brendan Rodgers’ reconstruction of Liverpool’s defense is a failed project or that Liverpool’s decision to replace Suarez with quantity was misguided. We don’t know where these journeys will end, but Monday’s defeat was a signpost which reminded us that there is some distance between where Liverpool currently stands and where it wants to be.
Liverpool dreams of improving upon last season’s final standings where it fell agonizingly short of the championship. The Reds hope to “kick on” and reach a higher level this season. It’s a difficult feat to achieve in a vacuum, and it’s even tougher when rivals are moving forward too.