Johnson Carragher Skrtel Agger
Kuyt Gerrard Lucas Jovanovic
Tevez 68' (pen)
Dominated, embarrassed, humiliated. Tactically out-classed, overrun in midfield, passed to death, and toothless in attack. City's going to win a lot more home games this season than last, but that doesn't make this any easier to swallow.
Liverpool ostensibly set out to attack in starting both Torres and Ngog, and Torres had a couple of nanosecond openings in the first few minutes, only to be closed down at the last opportunity, but it was a matter of time before City opened the scoring. Manchester City had possession for more than a minute before scoring the first, patiently passing, poking, and prodding their way up the field until Johnson's through-ball split Jovanovic and Agger, Gerrard failed to track Milner's run to the byline, and the cutback found a wide-open Barry lurking at the spot, with Carragher unable to close down before Benitez's former target passed it into the net.
Liverpool struggled to get the ball off City, hindered by the tactics with de Jong, Barry, and Yaya outnumbering Lucas and Gerrard, and did little with it when able to maintain possession. Adam Johnson was a perpetual threat running at Agger and Jovanovic. Crosses only found City heads. Liverpool's best chance was a wild Gerrard shot after the away side actually strung some passes in attack.
But unlike against Arsenal, Trabzonspor, or Rabotnicki, Liverpool failed to improve after the restart, and Richards doubled the lead when out-jumping Agger to head in a corner; Tevez, directly in front of Reina, was credited with the goal, but didn't appear to get a touch on replay. I eagerly await the imminent condemnation of man-to-man marking, especially when it's a recent concussion victim against the opposition's best leaper. It's also another one that won't make Reina's highlight reel.
Liverpool finally showed some fight after the second goal, with multiple Gerrard shots blocked by diving defenders before the captain hit the post and both Torres and Ngog's rebounds were saved by a flailing Hart. 2-1 could have seesawed the match, but I can't say I'm surprised or that today wasn't deserved. Tevez put the requisite gloss on the scoreline after Skrtel hastily chopped down a stumbling Johnson (and was lucky not to see a second yellow). Babel and Pacheco made somewhat promising cameo appearances, for Torres and Jovanovic; Babel nearly grabbed a consolation minutes after entering, from Gerrard's through with his deflected shot saved by Hart, while Pacheco showed the tantalizing vision and passing in his five or so minutes despite the game being long gone.
We come here today to bury, not praise, the 4-4-2. Almost everything you've read from those who analyze tactics is right – it is an outdated formation that works against few others. It may triumph against the typically English cloggers like Wolves and Stoke, but it will not against the big sides, and like it or not, City's now amongst the United, Chelsea, and Arsenals of the world. Mancini, a continental manager forged in Milan, knows what's he's doing.
We'll be longing for the days where Liverpool bossed possession, even if they did nothing with it, soon enough. Because it is very strange seeing the side not winning that battle; they've only done so against Rabotnicki at home so far this season. Saying that Lucas and Gerrard were outnumbered and overrun barely suffices. Barry, De Jong, and Yaya basically played keep-away while the ever-threatening Johnson sparked an attack once the patient prodding found a hole. Gerrard worked hard, and was probably Liverpool's best player (admittedly, there wasn't much competition for the accolade), but couldn't "grab the game by the scruff of the neck" because of his necessary defensive duties. Kuyt and Jovanovic, both ostensibly strikers before coming to Liverpool, may work out wide in a 4-2-3-1/flexible 4-4-1-1, but not with two flat lines of four mainly behind the ball. And, then there's Torres: clearly still finding his form (to put it nicely) and always thought to be at his best when plowing a lone furrow.
But we also come here to neither bury nor praise Roy Hodgson. I think he got the formation and tactics wrong today, but it is still incredibly early and Liverpool's problems run miles deeper than the manager. The sky is still falling; Huang leaving Liverpool hung out to dry (yes, I went there) shines even more light on the off-field problems, let alone taking a glimpse at this summer's transfer spending or the on-going Mascherano fiasco (I'll assume you've all read the rumors about him refusing to play today).
This is Liverpool's worst defeat for more than two years, since losing to United by the same scoreline in March 2008. But there are built-in excuses for that result: that was the "Steve Bennett game."
There are no excuses today. Only questions, fears, and anger.