Manchester City fans will feel that their opportunity to make this a title race was taken from them, and not by Liverpool. The notion that it was taken from them by a refereeing conspiracy hatched by the FA to award Liverpool the title is hardly why they lost this game. In the end, Manchester City was outdone by the type of clinical full-back play that has plagued Pep Guardiola for years.
Liverpool 3-1 Manchester City: Pep Guardiola Left Frustrated
The VAR Incident
Let’s get the section about the officiating out of the way in the beginning. Specifically the non-handball-call on Trent Alexander-Arnold. Just a year ago this conversation would not have been needed, given there is clearly no intent to handle a ball moving at that speed in the box.
The new handball rule takes the player’s intent out. The ball hits Alexander-Arnold on the arm, allowing him to control it with his leg. Which should have been a penalty. At the very least it should have chopped off Fabinho‘s goal.
These are the reasons why VAR was introduced. The English FA has failed everyone with their introduction of VAR. Beyond that, why aren’t Premier League referees going to the VAR monitor to look at these decisions? What’s the point of having the monitor if it will never be used?
It has haunted Pep Guardiola and his sides for years now. When he comes up against opposition with full-backs playing at an elite level, his sides struggle. Remember the famous UCL game when Lionel Messi dropped Jerome Boateng like a house of cards?
The story of that game and that tie was that Dani Alves and Jordi Alba tore Bayern Munich to shreds over both legs. The famous ‘MSN’ had tons of scoring chances because of clinical passing from the Barcelona fullbacks. Now in Manchester, Pep’s team has been clinically sliced up by the games two best at the position.
Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold are so good they can break even the greatest gameplans. Pep’s press has always given up the long full-back switch, his system uses the expected time of the pass to get back in position. Robertson and Alexander-Arnold play those passes so well that it’s impossible for City to get back into position, and that’s what happened on the second goal.
It’s tough to build a system that accounts for overwhelming quality. What’s even harder is building a system that doesn’t have the ability to be broken. Everything has its flaws and there will be games in the future where Pep and Manchester City will win no matter how good the full-backs play.
Manchester City Mistakes
Where Manchester City should question themselves is on their finishing. It’s fair to wonder if Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling are cursed after so many poor performances at Anfield. They had multiple chances in the first half, while it was still 0-0 that they should have buried.
Limitations exist in us all and to ask these men that have brought Manchester City so many great moments for more is a bit excessive. It would be nice for them both to improve their clinical finishing in front of the net, but that comes with the territory. While Sterling and Aguero are great attackers, both struggle to score given only one opportunity.
Aguero is not going to change and it’s ok to appreciate that. But whether or not Raheem Sterling can take the next step in his game will be determined by him becoming more clinical. Manchester City’s ability to stay at the top of the English game will require him to ascend to the highest possible level.
Manchester City Title Chances
The worst part of this loss is now the title is solely in Liverpool’s hands. They will need to drop six points even if Manchester City are able to get them back at the Etihad. Finding six points for Liverpool to drop in this top-heavy Premier League will not be easy. They are the class of the field and have made this their title to lose.
However losing this game or eventually, the Premier League does not make this a lost season for City. They are still alive for all of their trophies and have shown themselves quite well in the other two competitions this season. The Blue Moon will rise again.