Raheem Sterling and Joe Hart, Liverpool-Manchester City Yankee StadiumDon’t tell New York City that it’s only preseason. The Big Apple demands a performance, and the Premier League’s leading lights didn’t disappoint.

Liverpool and Manchester City played to a 2-2 draw on Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium, and the Reds ultimately prevailed by winning the penalty-kick shootout 3-1. Liverpool and Manchester City were the top two finishers in the Premier League last season. The matchup which evolved into a genuine rivalry last spring was cemented as one in Wednesday’s International Champions Cup tilt.

The game breathed with a steady stream of end-to-end action and hyperventilated with four goals in the second half. It was such an open affair because Liverpool and Manchester City are a few weeks away from the start of their respective campaigns, and both fielded starting lineups, which included a mix of regulars and reserves. The technical quality of the game might have been at a preseason level, but the entertainment value was of the mid-season type.

As Liverpool continues the slow build-up toward its Aug. 17 Premier League opener against Southampton, we learn new lessons about the Reds. Manchester City posed the stiffest of preseason tests, and Liverpool earned mixed reviews.

The Reds showed dynamism in the attack, especially in the second half, but were worryingly flimsy when defending. The combination of players and their various fitness levels meant that the performance was always going to be somewhat disjointed. But the Reds didn’t play its defensive line high enough, close down spaces fast enough or cut off the service to Manchester City’s forwards from the wings well enough to emerge without serious bruises.

Had Liverpool’s defensive leaders — Martin Skrtel, Simon Mignolet, and the newly signed Dejan Lovren — all played from the start, this might not have been the case. Steven Gerrard, Philippe Coutinho and Joe Allen also were complicit in the breakdown of Liverpool’s pressing game. The trio must, and most likely will, better manage the physical and mental demands of playing every three or four days.

While Manchester City constantly threatened, Liverpool’s attack was dangerous in its own right against its rival’s makeshift defense. Raheem Sterling’s overall showing was as outstanding as the goal he scored. His speed, poise and decision-making sparked Liverpool’s twin comebacks. If Sterling carries this form into the domestic and European campaigns, the 19-year-old will announce himself as a budding superstar — not merely a star.

Jordan Henderson also scored with a beautiful finish, which suggests he may be poised to dramatically improve his current goal-scoring ratio — around one goal in 10 games — in his fourth season at Anfield.

The attacking hunger Liverpool demonstrated bodes well for the season. The Reds lost the 31 goals Luis Suarez scored, but they should make up at least half of the difference if they bring that hunger and ruthlessness from the Big Apple back to Liverpool.

Three points will be on the line the next time the teams meet — in a Premier League game on Aug. 25 at Manchester City. They rivals will have increased motivation to win that game due to the recent history created on Wednesday. After all, Liverpool landed the first jab in this season’s heavyweight fight by winning the shootout and celebrating on what nominally is Manchester City’s American turf.

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Photo via LiverpoolFC.com