The Reds Draw First Blood

The Reds Draw First Blood

It was supposed to be the last preseason friendly before the games got real. A meaningless match where both teams got to get some of their players some time to stretch their legs and pick up a not so important trophy as an obligatory byproduct, but the 2022 version of the Community Shield was anything but an exhibition match or a friendly. The mutual respect between Liverpool and Manchester City coupled with their respective competitive spirits produced an atmosphere of a contentious cup final that both sides were desperate to win on Saturday at King Power Stadium, the usual home of the Leicester City Foxes that had to serve as the host venue for this event due to the Women’s Euro Final behind held the following day at Wembley Stadium. Both teams fielded strong opening rosters and right from the kickoff you could tell that this was not a match that either side wanted to concede to the other.

Liverpool dominated the early moments of the match with their trademark high energy pressing, dispossessing City time and time again off the ball. The reds looked dangerous as Mohammed Salah, the same old attacking guy with a newly inked contract, was in threatening areas repeatedly. It was clear that Joao Cancelo was still on holiday defensively. Either that or he did not have his morning coffee and Salah clearly had three cups with no cream and extra sugar.

City was not prepared for the level of skill and energy that Liverpool was bringing. There were so many red shirts in the stands you would have thought they were in Merseyside at Anfield. A goal was finally produced by defensive right back Trent Alexander-Arnold in the 21st minute. There was a bit of luck involved with the goal because the shot was from the edge of the box and City goalkeeper Ederson was in prime central position to make the easy save in the air. However, City defender Nathan Ake could not just let a ball in behind him without knowing if his keeper was ready. Therefore, Ake tried to block the ball with a defensive header and ended up sending the shot in the wide upper corner of the goal where Eddy had no chance to make a save and it was one nil. The goal, while unfortunate from a Man City perspective, was deserved and completely within the run of play.

After that moment, City smelled the ammonia of the smelling salts, and the collective players adorned in sky blue were abruptly awakened from their summer holiday siesta. The Cityzens started dominating the possession of the ball from that moment to the end of the first half producing some very nice scoring chances for Kevin De Bruyne and new superstar signing Erling Haaland that just didn’t go in the back of the net. The advanced stats at the end of the first half showed that City actually deserved to have a lead based on the expected goal formula, but simply were not clinical enough in front of goal to take advantage of their opportunities.

The bad news is, Haaland should have had a hat trick. The good news is, Haaland should have had a hat trick. The opportunities were there even against all world defender Virgil van Dijk, and Haaland was constantly in dangerous areas and showed his strength and speed in the box. In the future City’s new number 9 will finish those opportunities and the Sky Blues will be just fine. The other great news is that Jack Grealish looked active and playing with a true center forward like Haaland has definitely activated his senses as a playmaker up front. I can foresee the Grealish and Haaland tandem producing numerous great scoring moments, just like they did a week prior against Bayern Munich at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, U.S.A.

The good news is that the pace that City lost in selling Raheem Sterling to Chelsea (which I am still sad about) seems to have been brought back in the form of Julian Alvarez. The kid is lightning in a bottle pace wise, and he showed that he has an opportunistic poacher’s instinct when he scored his first goal to level the match in the 2nd half of the Community Shield. Julian is a nice change of pace option as a winger from the slow deliberate technical skill style of Riyad Mahrez. Alvarez also hustles and runs all over the field which makes him a better on the ground defender and more adept to our high press defensive philosophy in Manchester. This ability to press and the hunger to hustle with speed to get the ball back for his team allows the sting of selling Gaby Jesus to Arsenal (which I am still sad about as well) to sting a little bit less. Haaland has some work to do on the defensive front. As he is a bigger body, pressing continuously the way Pep likes his teams to do, will require a lot of energy and Haaland does not seem to have the marathon-like cardiovascular conditioning or fitness to run and press all of the time just yet. I will also note that in a few set piece crosses that Liverpool had in the box, Haaland wasn’t a particularly good air defender either. Erling will have to adjust to the aggressive style that almost everyone plays with in the English Premier League on both sides of the ball. However, I am sure that a player of his class and skill will have no problem eventually adjusting.

The other bad news is that Liverpool signed a great attacking player to replace the big loss in Sadio Mane that is perfect for the style of defense that City plays. Darwin Nunez is large in stature, and he dominated the match from the moment that he came on the field as a substitute by creating the unfortunate penalty against Ruben Dias to retake the lead and scoring the match sealing goal in extra time. The way Darwin and his teammates celebrated that game winning goal let you truly know that this was no ordinary preseason friendly exhibition match. This game was played with a cup final ferocity and Liverpool and their fans who made the journey to Leicester, were quite excited to be holders of the Community Shield for the first time in 16 years. Especially since it came at the hands of their contemporary archrivals the Manchester City Cityzens. If this match was a preview of things to come for this upcoming EPL season, buckle up— it is going to be a wild ride!

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