Compiled By Markson Omagor
On Sunday 4th August, the English Premier League kicked off with the traditional Community Shield pitting England’s best two teams; Manchester City and Liverpool. It was Manchester City again that took the day after a nervy penalty shootout. The question lingering in many fans’ minds is; will Manchester City do a double again?
At Wembley, the message which flashed around the pitch perimeter, promoting a new FA mental health campaign, stated: ‘Change the conversation.’
That plainly will not be happening in the fight for football supremacy between the two outstanding teams in the land.
It had been 84 days since Manchester City finally won through in a title fight surpassing all others and the two combatants picked up where they had left off — trading blows, signature moments of class and goals, with an animus which signalled how they are emerging as the bitterest of rivals: the Manchester United versus Arsenal of this age.
Neither looked the finished Premier League article. City, in particular, were blowing by the end.
But it was a compelling reprise of the old story, including a finale in which Liverpool threw everything at the Pep Guardiola machine.
The outcome had a familiarity about it, too. Liverpool, who created most of the chances and played the better football, lost by the last kick of a penalty shoot-out in which Georginio Wijnaldum’s miss was enough to deny them victory.
Gabriel Jesus’s decisive kick made it the maximum five for the victors. A reminder of the pitifully small margin for error in the months ahead.
After a campaign in which 97 Premier League points were still not enough, Klopp needs a falling off in City’s competitive challenge if Liverpool are to clinch the title, 30 years after their last one, yet the champions began in a way which suggested they are improved.
Their new record signing Rodri, operating at the back of midfield, looked a more elegant, more mobile, version of Fernandinho, whom he will replace.
It took just a fractional positional failing — Joe Gomez allowing David Silva to navigate a free-kick into the path of Raheem Sterling — to see City ahead.
Alisson, short of match-readiness after helping Brazil in the Copa America, could have done better than allowing the forward’s shot to creep through his legs and then escape his grasp.
Yet what followed from Liverpool took you back to last season’s titanic struggles.
It was not always perfection. Mohamed Salah’s finishing could have been better from half a dozen chances, many of his making.
But a first-half cameo on the Liverpool right around the half-hour — Salah ghosting around Oleksandr Zinchenko, Nicolas Otamendi and Silva in a tight space to emerge with the ball — told its own story.
The No 11 operated at a level which suggests his start to this season will be incomparably better than last. He was back within those pockets of space which he made his own two seasons ago, working on instinct and shooting on sight.
There was a more fleeting hint of Roberto Firmino’s threat, too — a half-volley on the spin after taking a high ball under control and looping it back over his head, in the game’s opening minutes.
And as striking as Liverpool’s desire was the needle which now belongs to this fixture. There were eye-watering challenges: Gomez on Silva and Bernardo Silva on Divock Origi. It’s visceral.
The grounds for optimism, from a Merseyside perspective, lie in the ordinary City defence on display. Vincent Kompany’s departure removes the calm sense of order.
Otamendi, in his place, has rarely looked convincing and this was no exception. Neither was it a command performance from John Stones, and Guardiola sought Kyle Walker out for a trenchant talking-to during one first-half break in play. Salah terrorised Zinchenko, too.
Suddenly, there is a dependency on Aymeric Laporte, who was injured. Guardiola eulogised last night about Harry Maguire, the player he has lost to Manchester United and said City could ‘not afford’. City pride themselves on knowing a player’s worth, though this loss may hurt them.
Perhaps he had in mind the wisdom of Liverpool’s pursuit of the imperious Virgil van Dijk. The defender almost broke the deadlock just before the half-hour mark when he arrived undetected to meet a corner with a half-volley which hit the underside of the bar and bounced down on to the goal-line.
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