City project starts to live up to its billing as Johnson pulls the strings
Manchester City 3 Liverpool 0
When manchester City's owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan came to town for the first time last night to check on his investment it would not be overstating it to say that the club felt obliged to deliver a result for their benefactor. Judging by the strained expressions around him in the directors' box this was one occasion that could not fall victim to the curse of the City cock-up.
In the end, the chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak, Roberto Mancini, Garry Cook, City's CEO, and all the other suits who surrounded his excellency had nothing to worry about. Like an errant puppy, City have a nasty habit of disgracing themselves at the worst possible time but yesterday they came good when the occasion required.
Mancini's side played like a team of international superstars rather than the fractious individuals they have proved to be at certain times over the two years of the Sheikh's reign in east Manchester. They demolished a Liverpool team that looked totally out of sorts and without Javier Mascherano missed some of the familiar midfield bite.
Without the head-dress and flowing robes that he wears in the few pictures of him that existed before last night, the Sheikh, in a navy suit, looked disarmingly young as he took his place to applause from the crowd. There was more than a touch of amusement about him as he waved to a thankful Mancunian public and he seemed to watch with the good humour required to be a City supporter.
Perhaps this result indicates that things are changing at the club and, at long last, the home support will not have to watch games through their fingers in anticipation of the another calamity. Because if there was one team who looked liable to crumble then it was Liverpool for whom this game was over when City scored their third with 23 minutes left to play.
The presence of the Sheikh was a harsh reminder to Liverpool that the individual who might rescue them from their current decline has not yet surfaced yet. Kenny Huang and his China consortium is already just a memory and the prospect of a new owner coming in now to do a deal for Liverpool in time for Roy Hodgson to get any leverage in the transfer market before the end of the month are remote in the extreme.
Unfortunately, Liverpool are not just failing to buy, they are also becoming a selling club. Mascherano's absence was telling last night but it is the symbolism of his departure that is another blow to the status of the club. Once upon a time in the history of this club the notion that a player would not be "in the right frame of mind" to play for Liverpool – as Hodgson described the Argentine last night – would have been anathema.
Mascherano did not look like the only one at times. Martin Skrtel was badly-exposed by Adam Johnson, first when he drew the Slovakian into a foul that resulted in an early booking and then won a penalty from him in the second half. Fernando Torres was substituted before the end of the match having hardly made a mark on the game.
These are early days yet for Liverpool and, in Arsenal and Manchester City, they have hardly been blessed with the easiest two opening fixtures. Against Arsenal they played a half with 10 men, last night they had the inconvenience of Mascherano's absence to contend with. Even so these are the kind of clubs with title ambitions against whom Liverpool must measure themselves.
For City there are new characters emerging all the time as potential leaders. For Liverpool, with Joe Cole suspended last night it is the same old faces – Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Dirk Kuyt and Torres – upon whom they seem to be relying. City's £90m-worth of players on the bench cost almost as much as Liverpool's entire squad.
Johnson was one of six Englishmen who started in City's side, including James Milner on his debut. For all the money they have spent and all the people they have upset along the way doing so, at least some of the sheikh's millions have been used to assemble a team that is worth Fabio Capello watching. His assistant Franco Baldini was in the crowd last night to watch another great performance from Joe Hart in goal.
City's goal was worked well on the right wing starting with Yaya Touré and Nigel De Jong who played in Johnson. He committed three Liverpool players around him before he released Milner down the inside right channel. Milner's cut back was just out the reach of Carragher's lunge and Gareth Barry tapped the ball into the corner.
The six Englishmen included two full-backs – Micah Richards and Joleon Lescott – who both looked solid. Richards in particular has never been of much interest to Capello but he looked good last night. He was far too strong for Milan Jovanovic on Liverpool's left wing and he headed in City's second goal.
That goal came from a corner struck from the right by Adam Johnson that Richards won decisively over Daniel Agger. At first glance it looked as if Carlos Tevez had got a touch in front of Pepe Reina but the replays showed that the Argentine's attempt at a volley were nothing more than a distraction and the ball went straight in.
In the aftermath of Gerrard striking the post with a shot on 57 minutes there was an extraordinary response from Hart who had been a fingertip away from the original hit. As Kuyt played the ball back across the box, Hart sprung to his feet and kept out shots from first David Ngog and then Torres in a thrilling burst of action. Within 10 minutes it was all over for Liverpool.
Adam Johnson's run down the right side was interrupted as he stumbled past Agger but it was brought to a clumsy end by Skrtel's leg. It was not a nasty challenge and neither was it dangerous but it did invite a fall by Johnson. From the penalty spot Tevez buried the third goal.
Torres was substituted with 12 minutes to go, having barely made an impression on the game. City did not bring on Emmanuel Adebayor, David Silva, Patrick Vieira or David Silva. They did not need to but that was just one demonstration of the gulf between them and Liverpool last night.
Manchester City (4-5-1): Hart; Richards, K Touré, Kompany, Lescott; A Johnson, De Jong, Y Touré (Zabaleta, 84), Barry, Milner; Tevez (Jo, 84). Substitutes not used Given (gk), Wright-Phillips, Adebayor, Silva, Vieira.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; G Johnson, Skrtel, Carragher, Agger; Kuyt, Gerrard, Lucas, Jovanovic (Pacheco, 85); Ngog, Torres (Babel, 78). Substitutes not used Jones (gk), Aurelio, Kyrgiakos, Maxi, Poulsen.
Man of the match A Johnson.
Possession Manchester City 65% Liverpool 35%.
Shots on target Man City 2, Liverpool 5.
Referee P Dowd (Staffs).......... Attendance 47,087.
Match rating 7/10.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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