Commentary

Liverpool and Man City give us a game to remember

I’ll start this by going back three years, almost to the day. It’s October 7, 2018. We’re at Anfield. The game is Liverpool-Manchester City. Two of the best teams in England, maybe in the world. TV pundit Graeme Souness  was beside himself: “You can guarantee that you will see goals and a great game of football.”

How wrong can you get? We got what, at the time, I called “a world-class stinker of a game.” It finished 0-0. That was bad enough. But after the game both coaches managed to make matters worse by announcing that they were pleased with the game: “I’m really happy,” said Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp. “I’m satisfied -- it’s a good result,” said Man City’s Pep Guardiola.

But of course they weren’t talking about the game. They were talking about the result. That two top teams had just churned out what I termed “an ugly insult to the sport” apparently meant nothing to Pep and Klopp. The 0-0 tie brought joy to them because neither team had lost, and that was all that mattered.

The utter banality of that game left a bad taste that has lingered -- right up to last Sunday -- October 3. And here we were again: Same venue, Anfield. Same teams, Liverpool vs. Man City. And those same two coaches, Klopp and Pep, the pair who had been so proud of presenting a truly dreadful game in 2018.

We again ended up with a tied game -- but, my, what a difference! This time we got a superlative game, we got four goals, we got two teams possessed with a non-stop determination to win. We got end-to-end action, we got a wonderful world-class goal from Mo Salah, we got Man City twice coming back to tie the game.

In a game like that, the defenses are simply not able to function with the military organization that has cast such a blight upon the sport. When there descends upon the field a universal desire among the players -- not just some of them but all of them -- to run their legs off, to play their hearts out, in pursuit of a victory ... well, what does that mean?

For this game, replete with world-class players, it meant pretty well non-stop, high-level soccer. We don’t get that too often, so it borders on the disrespectful to point out that there were flaws to be seen. Well, so what? They were, if there is any such thing, constructive flaws. Mistakes by defenders that open up attacking options are always welcome to me.

Anyway, most of the errors were the natural concomitant of a competitive game played with such intensity at such high speed. One of them, the only one that annoyed me, was a coaching error -- Pep’s insistence on a formation that does not include a center forward. Man City’s dazzling passing game, their approach play, adds up to a big fat zero if there is no player ever-ready to pounce on the suddenly created, and just as suddenly vanishing, opening. Sergio Aguero, so wantonly cast aside by Guardiola, was sorely missed here.

Liverpool, clearly, could not match Man City’s superb passing game. But after a shaky first half, they settled down and always looked the more dangerous team, the more likely to score  ... not least because, with Dioga Jota, Salah and Sadio Mane, they have a formidable penalty-area threat. Mane’s goal was a beauty, Salah’s brought up memories of Pele at his unstoppable best.

Man City had to fight back twice. Phil Foden, as good a youngster as England has produced for decades, got their first equalizer with a goal similar to, and every bit as good as, Mane’s.

Then came Salah’s sublime contribution. After that, this remarkable game got what the script surely called for as Kevin De Bruyne made his mark. His contribution to the game up until this point had been solid, reliable -- but somewhere below outstanding. I’m an admirer of De Bruyne, a player who always wants to play an attacking role, who likes taking risks.

Even so, he never seems to me to do quite enough. I’m an expert in that role. The words “should do better” popped up regularly in my high school reports. That’s how I feel about De Bruyne. A frustrating player to watch.

But it was De Bruyne who made the final move, who scored the final goal. This shouldn’t have happened of course. De Bruyne should never have found himself unmarked at the edge of the Liverpool penalty area, He did and he reacted immediately. A first-time left-footed shot. Goalkeeper Allison would surely have saved this one. But De Bruyne got lucky. Liverpool defender Joel Matip got in the way and deflected the ball away from Allison. Lucky? If so, then De Bruyne is the sort of player who deserves such luck, who creates his own luck.

You’ll be wanting to know, no doubt, what Klopp and Guardiola thought about the game. The hell with that. I remember their fatuous comments from three years ago, so who cares?

So you’ll get my opinion: it was a wonderful game. Forget about formations and tactics and coaching cleverness. We saw players making things happen, for their team, for themselves. We saw the sport at its exciting, vibrant best.

Just for a change, we’ll let the TV expert have the last say. This is NBC’s Robbie Mustoe: “Some of the moments of quality we saw in this game take the breath away. It was that good. Just a brilliant game of football. Brilliant managers, brilliant players, brilliant goals.”

5 comments about "Liverpool and Man City give us a game to remember".
  1. Kenneth Osgood, October 7, 2021 at 10:42 a.m.

    Mr. Gardner might well be the last member of cult of amateurism that gave us the Olympics but for decades barred anyone who was humble enough to need to earn a living. They believed that caring too much about winning or losing was, at best, bad form and at worst morally suspect. I had thought such people long gone, here is Gardner repeately offering his high minded neutrality as the only acceptible way to view the game. 

  2. Denny Werner, October 7, 2021 at 11:46 a.m.

    Please retire, your opinion on the beautiful game is still boring and irrelevant.

  3. frank schoon, October 7, 2021 at 2:33 p.m.

    I saw the game too, although, it's been a few days to recall a lot of aspects of the game. I was hoping City would win for they try to play soccer with possession. Liverpool can play crappy but they have Salah and Mane to somehow wiggle in a goal nice or not and that's fine, too. But if you take away Mane and Salah, what has Liverpool got to offer in way of soccer, turbo!

    PG made some decent points but as far as I'm concerned I saw something new introduced by Liverpool ,something I've waiting quite a few years. I don't know if it will continue or it was just for one game.  One of the centerbacks of Liverpool,not van Dyk, took the ball and went straight upfield. This maneuver is so lacking in soccer and rarely seen. It reminded me of Liberos like Beckenbauer taking the ball up to midfield causing a problem by outnumbering the opponents. The opponents then have to make a choice, should I leave my and pick up Beckenbauer....This is where the attack all begins by outnumbering the opponent at midfield.

     What we have been doing all these years is playing with two square centerbacks ,who are stiffs, defender types.  The backline always outnumbers the opponents and therefore should employ their numerical advantage by moving up to midfield to create the similar advantage further up.
    Liverpool in the years Kevin Keagan played employed this manuever and was unbeatable in England, because the rest of the English teams remained playing with two dummy centerbacks....

    Why do you think AC Milan in the years of the 90's were so good, besides 3dutch players, Rykaard, van Basten , and Gullit....Very simple, the coach, Sacci, went to Holland to study how Cruyff coached Ajax. He came back to Italy and began having his outside back move up on attack. This maneuver was un-Italian ,for Italian believed in defensive play. Maldini and the other back came up on attack. It wasn't that AC Milan had such a great team, but they played un-Italian in an Italian league. The Italian teams weren't use to this type of play........
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  4. cony konstin, October 7, 2021 at 2:40 p.m.

    The game was fun to watch. But in the end Players win championships not coaches. 

  5. frank schoon, October 7, 2021 at 2:50 p.m.

    The effect of having two centerback has reduced the quality of play of the defenders in the middle to being just stiff who pass the either square, up to #6 who then his back facing downfield or long.
    The centerbacks lack of creativeness  decrease the tempo the tempo of the attack in two ways. First #6 comes back to get the back for the ball and  Second, he receives the ball with his back facing downfield. Basically there teammates involved in this play with only one doing the work #6. This is very INEFFICIENT!!!

    Where else on the field can you create a 3v1 all set up for you. You have a triangle, 2centerbacks and a #6. In other words , if a centerback has the ball and is facing an #9 lets say then he quickly passes it to the #6 ,who one-touches to the third man ,the other centerback, facing downfield. By passing in this manner the #6 does not have to turn with the ball but leaves it for the other attacking centerback. This is quick and efficient attack.

    But what do you see instead, the centerback passes it square to the right back,  and if he's stopped, he'll pass it back , the centerback swithches field by passing to the other centerback...BLAH, BLAH, or it goes long....This is how we stopped creativity in the game by use of employing these stiffs, I mean centerbacks...

    I hope ,sooner or later we begin to institute again the creative sweeper, a former attacker who sees the game better than the centerbacks. What I don't understand is why are the centerbacks square? You don't ever have two players standing square defending an attacker, you don't do it from the sides and you certainly shouldn't do it in the most vulnerable part of the field ,the centerlane near the goal...

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