By Milos Radakovic
It was an ominous night for Balotelli, Liverpoolâ€™s recent 16 million pound signing, as he watched his new club fall at the hands of his previous teammates in the pouring rain. Liverpool will also be hoping that Balotelli can give them sense of spark and fight that seemed sorely missing at the Etihad.
The last time these two teams met competitively, Liverpool had experienced a superb run of form, bringing them within touching distance of City, the favourites for the Premiership title. With everyone expecting them to capitulate, composed performances from Sterling, Gerrard, and Henderson brought them a 3-2 victory, and impassioned cries from Gerard â€˜not to let this slipâ€™ (which they promptly did at Chelsea the following week). A world cup later, and Liverpool are a much transformed club, whilst City look very much the same team (albeit with a few minor additions and changes to their squad).
The match began with typical early-season, crunch-match trepidation. Both teams disciplined, cautious, and patiently waiting for a opposition mistake or flash of brilliance to break the deadlock. Though Sturridge was the first to seem eager, snapping a shot directly at Hart from a tight angle, it was the home team who broke the deadlock after 41 mins of patient football.
It was Liverpoolâ€™s two new boys in defence, Lovren and Moreno, failing to clear a bouncing ball near the six-yard line, that let the aggressively direct Jovetic pounce for possession before firing between Mignoletâ€™s legs at close range.
With the advantage going to City, Liverpoolâ€™s gameplan of slow possession and fast counter-attack went also. Gaps began to open all over the pitch which the intelligent movement of Silva, Nasri, and Toure began to exploit, leaving Liverpoolâ€™s only attacking threats, Sturridge and Sterling, isolated up front. A short way into the second half, the still-hungry Jovetic played a superb backheel lay off to Nasri in a dangerous position, and continued his run to finish off the move with a deftly taken second.
Despite their energetic, anxious pressing, Liverpool seemed well-beaten as City began to loosen up and find space all over the pitch. The introduction of Lazar Markovic, a 20 million pound signing from Benfica, offered some slivers of hope, as his first touch set Moreno free on a bombastic run, and his second found Sturridge in a dangerous, if crowded, position in front of goal.
Jovetic has been enjoying his run in the first team immensely, and seems to be staking a strong claim despite stiff competition from Dzeko, Negredo, and Aguero. It is the latterâ€™s injury that has afforded Jovetic the chance to display his talents, but Aguero was keen to remind everybody what heâ€™s capable of as he latched on to fellow substitute Navasâ€™ quick-witted throughball to make it 3-0.
Comfortably ahead, Rodgers took the opportunity to throw on Can and Lambert for their first competitive appearances in Liverpool shirts.
Lambert managed to latch onto a clever Sturridge cross and get a header on target which Hart parried straight into Zabaleta who couldnâ€™t stop it entering the goal. Lambert popped up again when a clearance bounced back at his feet leaving him with just Hart to beat, but his half-shot half-pass dribbled well wide of the post, and with it, Liverpoolâ€™s chance of a comeback.
Things got worse for Rodgers as he witnessed three of his players walk off injured. Johnson had already left the field due to an injury, before Skrtel fell to the ground after an aerial challenge that left him unable to continue. Moreno twisted his ankle badly within injury time, but despite his obvious pain remained on the pitch for the final whistle.
Though the match will give Rodgers and his team plenty to mull over, and showed signs that the gap Suarez has left may take some time and patience to fill, the clear message came from Man City.
Despite a lack of marquee signings over the summer, and Pellegriniâ€™s relatively subdued nature compared with the sniping Mourinho and pompous Van Gaal, City proved they are still a force to be reckoned with, that their squad is still bursting with talent, and that they are still the standard to beat. With United failing yet again to get a convincing result, you’re in for an entertaining season depending on what side of the city you get your Manchester tickets from.