IN ALL probability, Manchester City and Liverpool will be “there or thereabouts” come the end of the 2020-21 season, but in these early weeks of another strange campaign, it is clear both sides currently lack some dynamism.
In short, Liverpool’s defence and City’s attack seem to be the main problems, but there was something a little tiresome about the 1-1 draw at the Etihad Stadium as we settled down for the latest chapter in the rivalry between the two clubs. Perhaps both sides really were tired.
Of the two, you have to fancy Liverpool to stay the course better. Amid suggestions that Pep Guardiola may or may not be heading home to Catalonia (this is his fifth season at City), the difference between City of 2019-20 and 2020-21 is quite startling. This is a team that is used to rattling in goals from all divisions of the line-up and in 2019-20, they scored 102 in 38 Premier League games, the third time in seven years they have exceeded a ton. Since Guardiola took over, they have averaged 95 per season.
This time, City have scored just 10 goals in seven games, 17 less than they managed in their first seven in 2019-20. Furthermore, they have conceded nine, the highest in the past five years. City have won just three of their seven games, at least two fewer at this stage in each of the last five starts.
When you consider how City ended 2019-20, scoring 34 goals in their last 10 games, something has clearly gone astray. Is it the simply the loss of Sergio Agüero? The Argentinian striker has been laid-up with injury, but surely City are not relying on a 32 year-old to continue scoring at the rate he has achieved over the past nine years? He played 24 games last season and scored 16 times, but can he still produce such a good return at his age?
When Vincent Kompany came to the end of his career, City pondered over how they would replace him, it could be they will have the same problem with the brilliant Agüero. Gabriel Jesus (23) has ability, but he’s certainly no Agüero. Suddenly, City look a little light on firepower, but they have the money to fill the main striker’s role – who would fit the bill, though?
Astonishingly, City’s current malaise in front of goal comes after a campaign in which they won 10 times by four or more goals and only six times by a single goal. Compare that to Liverpool’s record, which included 14 single-goal victories and only three by four or more goals. This season, City have won two games by 1-0 and one by 3-1. It is fairly obvious where the problems lie.
Regardless of their lack of goals, City were beaten 5-2 at home by Leicester City, a game that reminded Guardiola he also has some defensive problems. Would City have been so sloppy two years ago? It seems bizarre to say it, but City may need to rebuild, bolster a department or two of their squad and introduce a bit of steel to their team.
Liverpool also suffered a humiliating defeat when they were trounced 7-2 by Aston Villa. For a reigning champion to ship seven goals is a humbling experience and their defence on that occasion was in disarray. In their next game, they lost Virgil van Dijk but anyone pointing to his likely prolonged absence as the reason for a lack of defensive solidity should be aware Liverpool had conceded 11 of their 16 league goals with van Dijk in the team. The Dutch international had actually looked very casual in the early games. Liverpool conceded 0.86 goals per game in their title-winning year, but so far, that figure has more than doubled to 2 per game. Scoring goals is not an issue, Liverpool have 18 in eight games, which is more or less on par with 2019-20 – Liverpool are not City when it comes to running-up big scorelines.
Since the first lockdown ended and football resumed, Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham and Chelsea have similar records: City have accrued 36 points, Tottenham 35, Liverpool 34 and Chelsea 33. From these figures it can be assumed that Liverpool’s huge advantage that won the title was built-up before lockdown, which means either the other clubs improved or Liverpool lost some momentum. Either way, it does mean the 2020-21 season could be far more competitive. Which is good news, is it not?