Sunday 19 January 2020

John Aldridge: 'Scared' Pep has to take blame for City flop at Anfield

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola
Liverpool’s Fabinho scores his side’s first goal against Manchester City at Anfield on Sunday

Pep Guardiola should take much of the blame for his side's damaging defeat at Anfield on Sunday because the Manchester City manager has failed to hide the reality that he is freaked out by everything Liverpool are throwing at him.

I don't know why Guardiola decided to go on the record to state that he fears Anfield and doesn't feel comfortable playing Liverpool. That sent out all the wrong messages to his players and now we are seeing the result.

City played quite well in the biggest game of the season so far and if they had the rub of the green with the unfathomable VAR decisions that are ruining the Premier League week after week, they may have got a different result.

Yet when a manager of Guardiola's stature admits to the watching world that playing at Anfield frightens him, what message does that send to his players?


Here is a squad that won the domestic treble last season and don't know what it feels like to lose games and yet their manager announced earlier this year that he doesn't enjoy playing in front of The Kop as once one goal goes in against you, a second and third are not far behind.

Well, those words were spot on last Sunday because after Fabinho blasted Liverpool into the lead, the second and third duly followed and you could see how much it was getting to Pep and his players in the final 15 minutes, as their petulance boiled over.

City knew they had been well beaten and you could see Guardiola, his assistant Mikel Arteta and his players throwing their toys out of the pram as they argued with match officials and couldn't handle the fact they were about to fall nine points behind their chief rivals.

Guardiola will now have the two weeks of this international break to reflect on a defeat that gives his side a mountain to climb in the title race. He might reflect that the only way he can stop Liverpool is by ripping out a page of the Jose Mourinho copybook and changing his principles entirely.

He has lost every time he has come to Anfield as City manager, aside from one occasion when he changed his tactics entirely last season and deployed defensive tactics that nearly worked as Riyad Mahrez missed a late penalty to nick the victory.

It was a performance of the kind we had never seen from a Guardiola team throughout his decorated career, but it confirmed he didn't fancy his chances in a straight battle of attacking football against Liverpool. Sunday will have backed up that belief.

His team had a go at Liverpool this time and got smashed to pieces, just as they did a couple of seasons back in the epic 4-3 game and in the Champions League quarter-final that followed that.

Liverpool are inflicting scars on City that will be there every time they play Klopp's side now, as they appear to have met their match, which will be hard for Guardiola to accept.

As a unit, Klopp has built a team that is stronger than every other side in England right now and possibly in all of European football.

I'd say City have more midfield creativity than Liverpool, but Sunday's game proved that Klopp's midfield are also a force to be reckoned with in terms of their strength and power.

Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum and Fabinho were magnificent against City. They stopped them playing and gave Liverpool a heartbeat in the centre of their team that allowed the creative players to shine.

Crucially, Liverpool also have a winning mentality that has allowed them to move to the next level, with the confidence they gained from getting over the finishing line and winning the Champions League last season fuelling the self-belief in this team now.

The end result is that Liverpool are in a fantastic position heading into this international break. But ignore the so-called experts who are claiming the title race is over just 12 games into the season.

As we have seen with City in recent weeks, a couple of big injuries can derail any team and if Virgil van Dijk and any of Liverpool's front three were ruled out with a big injury, the balance of this title race could tip very quickly.

When Aymeric Laporte returns from injury for City, I'd expect their defence to improve instantly and as they showed last season, they are a team capable of going on a 15-game winning run that could put them right back in the title race.

City have games against Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Leicester coming up and they are now under big pressure not to drop any more points, so let's see how they handle it.

As for Liverpool, they can't look too far ahead and just have to stay in the moment and continue what they are doing as, quite clearly, they are the best team in the Premier League right now.

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