Saturday, August 6, 2022

What Man City need to fix to ensure Haaland score goals and Liverpool don’t gain a title advantage

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Liverpool drew first blood by winning the Community Shield, revealing City still have work to do as they prepare to defend their Premier League crown

Five or six tackles were executed within eight seconds, split roughly equally. It seemed to wake up both Liverpool and Manchester City.

After 18 minutes of half-paces, during which flashes of life were noticed because they were unusual, a game broke out at King Power Stadium.

They were both content with a non-competitive warm-up, but all you can do is keep up with your opponent. If they’re doing their best to win, try your best to win.

The Community Shield is the ideal game for a football manager as it does not contain any pitfalls or hidden traps.

If you win, you can pretend – to the media, your players and yourself – that this is a Supercopa, another trophy for the Cabinet and a milestone to be set ahead of the league season.

Lose and it’s a meaningless friendly game played solely to raise money for good causes that will have little bearing on what is to follow.

If that can create a subdued, goofy atmosphere, then this is the perfect setup to allay those fears.

You may have spent the summer being wooed by Arsenal’s transfer deals, Chelsea’s signings or Tottenham’s promises of improvements and investments.

But make no mistake: Liverpool and Manchester City have proven to be the best. They will continue their titanic struggles in at least two – and maybe four – competitions this season.

More old heads than newcomers for Liverpool. The presence of Adrian, Joel Matip and Roberto Firmino in the team, with youth left on the bench to change the game, was Liverpool’s oldest starting XI since 1953.

If Liverpool go by what they knew Pep Guardiola has good reason to get as many minutes as possible from what could be his first choice. This was an empty summer at Etihad, with four first-team players leaving the team.

Guardiola will need to build an attack around Erling Haaland and get the best out of Jack Grealish if Raheem Sterling is sold to a rival. It will take some time. But rust, unfamiliarity or age aren’t enough to dampen the competitive effervescence.

Not when Mohamed Salah wants to play behind a left-back and Joao Cancelo is determined to play in three different positions at once. Not when Thiago Alcantara shows his passing range like a musician walking through their scales and Kevin De Bruyne recalibrates the radar.

In the battle of the new strikers, Darwin Nunez’s joyful celebration – with the usual yellow card – suggests he knows the importance of becoming a fan favorite at Liverpool. He has a lot in his favour.

This rivalry also causes a stir. Liverpool fans booed “Blue Moon” and mocked Mike Summerbee; Manchester City supporters did the same with You’ll Never Walk Alone and Ian Rush.

One end boasted about being league champions; the other raved about winning European cups. The money may be staggering and the resources vast, but rivalries are fueled by disgust.

These two would love to hit each other at rock, paper and scissors. The goals still give you the rush no matter the occasion.

Liverpool was much more fluid; perhaps not a surprise given the lack of new faces on the team. Manchester City had the ingredients for a cohesive attack but no recipe.

In the second half, De Bruyne begged Haaland to make a smarter run than he had been dispossessed. He’d had two half-chances, one saved and one missed, but the lines to him kept failing, too.

There’s also an ongoing issue where Grealish’s teammates don’t seem to know what he’s going to do with the ball next.

That can work if it also surprises an opponent, but Guardiola is a coach obsessed with control. He had that with Sterling, whose role was clearly defined. We’ll see with Grealish. But problems are ironed out. Relationships will blossom.

At the end of the season, if you don’t support either of these two clubs, you will hardly be able to remember the result of a game that should whet your appetite, not make your mouth foam with anger or fear.

But one conclusion can certainly be drawn: No matter how much every other team improved or spent over the summer, these are your two most serious title contenders.

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