It’s the Community Shield. It’s essentially a preseason friendly. A losing side can happily write off the defeat. The winning side can find itself under pressure within a couple of weeks of the league season. It doesn’t matter. And yet no game between Manchester City and Liverpool is entirely without meaning. The battle between Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp, the Premier League’s two leading coaches, can never be entirely trivial.
Liverpool’s 3–1 win on Saturday meant Klopp has now won 11 of his 25 meetings with Guardiola, with five draws, making him by far the most successful coach against the Catalan. City failed to beat Liverpool in three meetings last season; it’s not conclusive evidence by any means, but for those looking for it, there is perhaps just the beginning of a sense of a pendulum swinging the way of Liverpool.
Perhaps the main function of the Community Shield these days is as a display case for the major signings. With Darwin Núñez starting on the bench, all eyes, as they perhaps would have been anyway, were on Erling Haaland, brought in from Borussia Dortmund at a cost of $63 million. It was Núñez, though, and Julián Álvarez, City’s $18 million signing from River Plate, who made by far the greater impact.
Haaland’s quality is not really in dispute, but he is not necessarily an obvious fit for City. That may be why he has been signed, to offer a different option and add a rough edge to the intricate patterns of Guardiola’s football. But this was, at best, a mixed debut. Haaland is not a forward to drop deep and link as, say, Gabriel Jesus or Sergio Agüero did at the end. Rather, he remains high up the pitch and that means that against a press like Liverpool’s he can become isolated. In the whole game he managed only 15 touches, the last of them an effort that pinged the crossbar from six yards out with the goal at his mercy.
Again and again Haaland made runs behind the City defense only for the ball not to be played. In time that connection may come, and it may make City even better, may give it the success in European competition it so craves, but it is not there yet. Although City has been impressive in preseason, more impressive than Liverpool, whose form has been very mixed, the evidence of this game is that it will take time for that relationship to develop.
His first touch in English football took nine minutes and 40 seconds and was, frankly, a little underwhelming, a turn inside the Liverpool half and a forward surge that led to nothing. His first meaningful involvement came after 34 minutes as he took down Riyad Mahrez’s ball in from the left, outmuscled Andrew Robertson and stabbed a shot at goal. There was evidence of exactly what he is capable of—a physicality that City has lacked—but a minute later he should have done rather better than badly misjudging a cross from the left, stabbing at a volley with his left foot when he probably should have gone with his right.
Scroll to Continue
By then, anyway, City was 1–0 down, with Trent Alexander-Arnold having swept in a Mohamed Salah cutback via a flick off the head of Nathan Aké and the inside of the post. It was a lead Liverpool probably deserved given how its press, as in the FA Cup semifinal last season, caused City so much discomfort.
Liverpool’s major summer signing, Núñez, was restricted to the bench, coming on just before the hour mark. His first involvement was almost immediate, but, like Haaland, the impression was of clumsiness as he drifted unnecessarily offside and then took a heavy touch that would have squandered the opportunity anyway. A second chance he lifted into the face of Man City goalkeeper Ederson. The game was more stretched by then, so perhaps the comparison isn’t entirely fair, but Núñez looked far more dangerous than Haaland.
Watch soccer live with fuboTV: Start a free trial today!
His influence was decisive, a back-post header that struck Rúben Dias on the hand earned Liverpool an 81st-minute penalty, from which Salah swept in the eventual winner. It was City’s “other” new signing, Álvarez, who leveled the score 20 minutes from time, forcing the ball over the line after Phil Foden had been denied twice by Adrian, starting in place of the injured Alisson.
But in truth, City was never at its best and Liverpool wrapped up the win in injury time, with Núñez capping a highly impressive debut by nodding in from close range after Robertson had headed down Salah’s precise cross from the right. It figures to be another Premier League season in which these two clubs battle for supremacy, with their new signings under heavy scrutiny every step along the way, and the first statement of the season belongs to Núñez and the Reds.
More Soccer Coverage: