Man City 3 (Jovetic , Aguero) – Liverpool 1 (Lambert)
Phew… Man City made it through the fixture that last season never saw them at their title-winning best – Liverpool. I’ll admit that City were extremely fortunate to get the three points in this fixture last season (thanks to an extremely speculative disallowed Raheem Sterling goal), while they were outplayed for the majority of the match at Anfield come the end of the season.
Although Liverpool were far from convincing at Southampton last Sunday, and their strikeforce still seems to lack a certain ‘Suarez factor’, I couldn’t help but meet kick off with a distinct nervousness. Particularly with Demichelis at the back, I was dreading the pace of Sturridge and Sterling up top for Liverpool; Demichelis was of course one of City’s best towards the end of last season, but his performance against Newcastle brought back shadows of the old Demichelis – he was slow and if it wasn’t for Kompany, would’ve been caught dozing far too many times. I appreciate Demichelis’ rise to the top last year, but for me, my image of a successful City sees Mangala pairing with Kompany at the back, not Demichelis.
Joe Hart was something close to his best last night, seemingly breaking past his bad spell of spills, evidenced by his willingness to get off his line and punch the ball out of danger. He made a number great saves, including a batted-away Sturridge attempt and most notably a brilliant block to deny Rickie Lambert towards the end of the match (yet he was unfortunate to see the ball bounce off Pablo Zabaleta and into the goal).
Fernando’s inclusion in the starting XI following his valiant defensive midfield performance against Newcastle was fully justified, while Stevan Jovetic’s place on the side came at the expense of an albeit not fit Sergio Aguero, a decision I stood behind from the second I heard it. Jovetic had limited time on the Premier League stage last season, but proved his worth with a deadly pre-season run out, with 5 goals in 3 games. Against Newcastle he was ever-present up front and even in midfield, but couldn’t quite hit the back of the net, although not for trying (5 shots put him top of the list for the match).
For the first half hour, it would be fair to say that Liverpool were on top of the champions, with City creating few to no chances. But come the fortieth minute, City’s long string of ‘keep-ball’ eventually brought them a cross from Nasri, which was feebly cleared by Lovren, letting Jovetic slip in from behind a slow moving Alberto Moreno, and with all the enthusiasm he has shown thus far for City, Jovetic jumped at the chance and blasted the ball low under Simon Mignolet’s legs.
Jovetic got his second at the beginning of a second half in which Liverpool pretty much disappeared. In the build up to his – and City’s – second, the Montenegran exhibited the skill that could put him among the best this season. With a deft flick he put Nasri in the perfect position for a cross, which came back to him to put away with his weak foot. It’s easy to hone the spotlight on his goals last night, but what most impressed me was his vision and eye for a space.
As for City’s other attacking options, Pellegrini and Co. shan’t worry. While Dzeko wasn’t quite at his best, he made way for frequent sideline-man Sergio Aguero in the seventieth minute, and boy did he make an impact: within 20 seconds and two touches, Aguero had added to City’s goal tally, making it 3-0 before Lovren could even see Aguero sprinting past him. Should he stay fit, Aguero will get top scorer this season, no doubt about it.
3. Daniel Sturridge
Although not quite able to get on the scoresheet on the night, and not quite at his clinical best, Daniel Sturridge turned out to be one of the best of a bad bunch for Liverpool. He and Sterling – as ever – interchanged quite effectively, exploiting Demichelis’ lack of pace at the back. His piece of trickery to beat Kompany in the box was admittedly a brilliant exhibition of skill, and he deserved the assist he got at the end of the match.
His lack of a goal was more a result of limited help from midfield and Joe Hart’s good showing in between the sticks than anything.
2. Gael Clichy
This match was one of Clichy’s best in a while…prompting further heated discussion within the Man City camp over who is City’s best left-sided full back: this flying Frenchman or the eagle-eyed Aleksandar Kolarov. There is no doubt, however, that Gael Clichy is well suited to games in which Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling feature. Their pace is of little worry to this left back, who himself can fire past players with relative ease. Bar a few unfortunate occasions, Clichy was equal to Sterling’s trickery, while Sturridge wasn’t keen on drifting out to Clichy’s left side as he usually would.
When Sterling drifted inside to avoid a one-on-one with the left back, he went completely missing in the game, prompting Liverpool and Man City fans alike to wonder whether the young English prospect had left the field. By this time, Clichy’s only job was watching the runs of Liverpool right back Glen Johnson, which, let’s face it, didn’t take much effort at all.
1. Stevan Jovetic
Who else could it be? Stevan Jovetic has finally come good in a City shirt after a season of injuries, illnesses and second-fiddle playing, adding another welcome dilemma to Manuel Pellegrini’s team selection. Although Pellegrini is left to choose between three on-fire strikers for each game, it’s a problem any manager would happily bear the burden of.
Man City fans can’t be blamed for expecting big things of Jovetic come this season: his pre-season was up there with the best in the league, but, after all, is pre-season a good indicator of talent on the big stage (Iago Aspas and Ashley Young anyone)? In this case though, it most definitely is. His hard work against Newcastle was unfortunately not rewarded, but last night Stevan Jovetic was paid back in spades.
His work ethic was above all else; not content to simply watch his genius flicks past the Liverpool defence, Jovetic ran into space to meet the pass again. His first goal was a case of simply sniffing for a chance and ruthlessly taking it, while his second was a piece of class, simple as. After backheeling the ball between Lovren and Moreno, he sprinted into the box to finish off Nasri’s return pass, smartly (or unintentionally) hitting the ball into the turf to take it over Glen Johnson’s flying head. Jovetic deserved the man of the match award, and should he continue in this vein, will deserve a player of the year award come next August.