Last week’s home defeat to Arsenal did not, as our man put it, “feel like a… thrashing”. But boy, did this crash-and-burn first away defeat of the season feel like one.
Since our last visit to Anfield, October before last, Liverpool have redeveloped the East Stand. It looks impressive both inside and out, and seems to have given the whole area a bit of a boost, as well as increasing the capacity to 54,000. For the first time in a League game this season City began with a changed lineup, David Marshall making his League début at the expense of Eldin Jakupović, and David Meyler making way for record signing Ryan Mason. The first shock of the day was seeing …
Marshall; Robertson, Davies, Livermore, Elmohamady; Snodgrass, Mason, Huddlestone, Clucas; Diomandé; Hernández.
… take the field in black shirts and black shorts. I’m going to lay down the law here – only referees (and Lev Yashin) should be allowed on a football pitch wearing black shirts.
We kicked off towards the Kop end, and during the early stages of the game City showed a bit of attacking intent, Robert Snodgrass holding the ball up well and setting up Abel Hernández, who was thwarted by a good tackle just outside the home penalty area. Liverpool, however, were deploying a flexible 4-3-3 formation, which gave them loads of attacking options. James Milner was given licence to maraud, and maraud he did, helped by an almost complete lack of interference from the right flank of City’s defence. He got in several crosses; Tom Huddlestone was booked for a high tackle on One of Theirs as the Reds began to carve out chance after chance. On ten minutes Ahmed Elmohamady rescued City with a goal-line clearance as Marshall was stranded.
On 16 minutes the excellent attacking midfielder Adam Lallana opened the scoring with a shot from the edge of the area which flew just inside the left post following good work by, you’ve guessed it, Milner, as the City defence stood off en masse. 1-0. “The referee has set out his yellow card stall very early”, quoth the bloke next to me shortly afterwards, as the name of Milner followed Huddlestone’s into Mr Marriner’s notebook.
Things quickly went from bad to much worse from City’s point of view on 20 minutes when Elmo, who was unquestionably the last man this time, deliberately handled a goalbound shot. He was on the wrong end of a very harsh decision three seasons ago at White Hart Lane but this time there was no controversy about it – a straight red card and a penalty. Marshall dived the right way but had no chance of stopping Milner’s powerfully hit spot kick. For the second week in succession the blameless Adama Diomande was subbed off to make way for Meyler in an attempt to shore up City’s back line.
By now, City were in panic mode, just hitting the ball and hoping for the best as Liverpool murdered them in midfield. League débutant Mason was a peripheral figure in the Tigers’ midfield, which had a lopsided look to it – overstaffed on the left side, overstretched on the right. Indeed, during a ten minute spell midway through the first half I only noticed him touch the ball once.
On 36 minutes the game was effectively over as a contest, when Sadio Mané lashed in a shot from the edge of the area just inside the right post. Shortly afterwards Snodgrass took a knock, or more accurately stumbled and fell, but was allowed to carry on after treatment.
Harry Maguire replaced Huddlestone at half time, and then, during a brief respite from being battered, City won a corner, in itself worthy of note as it was our first of only two in the entire match. Snodgrass’s flag-kick was helped on its way by Maguire to Meyler, who struck a low volley into the right-hand corner of the Anfield Road End goal, in front of the delirious travelling supporters to make it 3-1. “We only want three more”, chanted the Black & Amber hordes – a tall order made even taller a minute later when Philippe Coutinho lashed in one of his trademark 25-yard net-busters. Assisted by City’s ultra-conservative formation, which alternated between 4-5-0 and 4-4-1-0 for most of the second half, Liverpool could afford to take their foot off the gas, though they did leave us needing five more on 70 minutes when Andy Robertson tripped Daniel Sturridge inside the area. From my (disad)vantage point it looked soft and a little bit harsh, but Milner dispatched it. 5-1. It was almost a replica of his first half effort. Our talented young Scot Robertson appeared to “get in the referee’s face”. Not advisable, young man. Somebody needs to remind him that there has been a crackdown on this sort of thing. Shortly afterwards, Markus Henriksen came on to replace Mason, but had little opportunity to make an impression, favourable or otherwise.
The last incident of note was a free kick, very much in Snodgrass territory, but he overhit it, clearing not only the wall, but also, by a couple of feet, the crossbar. Both sets of fans were excellent, by the way. Even at 5-1 down there was none of the moaning negativity you sometimes get from City fans and we stayed in good spirits till the final whistle and beyond. Even the Kop applauded our ironic rendition of “Mauled by the Tigers”. They know terrace wit when they hear it, these Scousers.
Not a lot of comfort to take from this performance, except to note that in Marshall we seem to have landed a proper goalkeeper. He was not at fault for any of the goals. Jake Livermore and Sam Clucas worked their socks off as all around them fell apart. Mason – see above. Hernández spent almost the entire match chasing a lost cause, receiving little or no service or support.
It was always on the cards that we would get nothing from this fixture. We were thrashed, but thrashed by a very good Liverpool side indeed, whose manager, Jurgen Klopp, was by all accounts generous in victory during his post-match interview. Looking ahead, we have a game against another side which is going through something of a mini-crisis, followed by several winnable games. We already have a few more points than most of us expected to have at this stage of the season, so the quicker we put this counter-performance behind us and rediscover the spirit and the organisation we demonstrated in the first three or four games the better.
(reproduced with permission from the Tiger Chat mailing list)