Manchester City ran riot but Sadio Mane's red card means we can't draw too many conclusions about Liverpool

Would Mohamed Salah have been removed had Liverpool had 11 men? Could the Reds have further probed City's questionable backline? Miguel Delaney explains why, despite a clear result, the game itself provides more questions than answers

Miguel Delaney
Etihad Stadium
Saturday 09 September 2017 14:50 BST
Sadio Mane's dismissal completely changed the course of this encounter
Sadio Mane's dismissal completely changed the course of this encounter (Getty)

A conclusive Manchester City win, yet one that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to too many conclusions.

That is because the big question from this game is not whether Sadio Mane should have been sent off, since the laws of the game and nature of the challenge on Ederson made that an understandable decision from referee Jon Moss, but instead how the match would have panned out had that incident not taken place.

That was the frustration for Liverpool after this 5-0 defeat at the Etihad, and the frustration for those anticipating a spectacle that was not a thrashing.

The truth was the game had actually underwhelmed up to that point, and Pep Guardiola’s side had been ahead through Sergio Aguero, but it all seemed so much more uncertain; so set up for something more fulfilling.

Instead, City got such a fulfilling win from a relatively unfulfilling game.

The match in fact seemed so settled after the eight-minute spell just before half-time when Liverpool went down to 10 and City subsequently 2-0 up through the effervescent Gabriel Jesus that it even felt like Jurgen Klopp had decided to declare and look ahead to Sevilla in the Champions League on Wednesday.

A game that had begun with promise was eventually most unfulfilling
A game that had begun with promise was eventually most unfulfilling (Getty)

How else to explain the decision to take off Mohamed Salah at half-time, when Mane had already gone, to deprive Liverpool of all the pace that had been so hurting City?

That was why the Mane red so disproportionately distorted the game, even if it is difficult to complain that he had been dismissed. It had actually been one of those nervous knife-edge either-or games up to then, and one that probably had more lessons for both teams than the education in finishing that followed.

Those lessons almost completely relate to their defences.

It was City that actually looked the shakier up to then, with Guardiola going for a 3-5-2 that is notionally supposed to give his team control - and conspicuously get both Sergio Aguero and Jesus into the team - but actually seemed to leave his backline, and especially Nicolas Otamendi, out of control every time Mane and Salah surged forward. It could have been a very different type of day had the Egyptian actually hit either of his two first-half chances with any kind of conviction.

Instead, those efforts were frustratingly soft - but still not as soft as Liverpool’s defence.

Just at the stage when Liverpool seemed to taking command on the half-hour, and increasingly taking advantage of City’s 3-5-2, they inexplicably gifted Kevin De Bruyne the type of space in the centre that no formation should allow. He of course picked his perfect pass, and Aguero easily picked his spot after rounding Simon Mignolet.

Jurgen Klopp's gameplan was ruined by Mane's dismissal
Jurgen Klopp's gameplan was ruined by Mane's dismissal (Getty 2017)

That was City one up in the scoreline, and was almost instantly enough to win the game, as it was very soon one up in players of men on the pitch. Within five minutes, Mane had gone in recklessly on Ederson, and the contest was effectively ended with the Liverpool’s forward’s game.

There are naturally a lot of caveats to Moss’s decision but, given the height that Mane went in at the fact that his other foot was off the ground, it was entirely understandable. Ederson had to go off but was mercifully sitting back in the stands by the end of the game with a bandage on his face.

The net effect was that there was a lot of caveats to the scale of this defeat, too, as Jesus made it 2-0 just before half-time. De Bruyne again set it up with another sensational delivery, and Liverpool’s defence again looked suspect with Ragnar Klavan floundering and leaving the striker in so much space.

Klopp then made his second questionable selection decision of the game after first playing the Estonian centre-half by withdrawing Salah for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, as the new signing was subjected to his second successive Premier League thrashing - albeit for different clubs.

For their part, City maximised the advantages of this game as ruthlessly as Liverpool did in their 4-0 defeat of Arsenal. It was also hard to think of a situation that was more suitable to a Guardiola team, as they were 2-0 up against 10 men and able to keep the ball as much as they wanted.

They did keep going at least, and kept exposing those holes in the Liverpool defence - something that is much more concerning than this actual defeat.

Gabriel Jesus continued to look like a superstar in the making
Gabriel Jesus continued to look like a superstar in the making (Getty)

It says a lot that it is Fernandinho able to pick through balls rather than De Bruyne, but that was what happened on 53 minutes as he sent Aguero through this time, and the Argentine unselfishly - but so pointedly - squared for Jesus to get his second and City’s third.

Leroy Sane then came on to get two of his own, the second a spectacular finish, to set up a spectacular-sounding scoreline. It also ends what had been a hugely impressive run for Klopp. This was his first defeat to one of the big six since January 2016, his first away from home, and also his biggest loss as Liverpool manager.

He will be forgiven, then, for not drawing too many conclusions from that.

The circumstances allowed City to be so much more decisive on the day than the win could be in the long term.

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