Liverpool lost 2-1 against Manchester City in one of the most telling games of the Premier League season.
The game could have swung either way but Jurgen Klopp’s team eventually suffered their first defeat this season.
But while Liverpool didn’t take any points from the Etihad Stadium, there are some positives in the lessons learned.
The title race hangs on a knife edge
The game was a perfect demonstration of how paper thin the margins are at this level. Liverpool have seen a potential 10 point lead over City become just four points with the 2-1 loss – but it could have been so different.
Two moments summed up the difference, one from Sadio Mane and later from Leroy Sane.
Liverpool’s number 10 broke through on goal in the first half only to hit the inside of the post with his finish. The ball bounced out and despite a defensive mishap, was eventually cleared.
In contrast, Sane had one real opportunity in the game and also hit the post – but his shot bounced into the net.
The game could have panned out very differently if each shot had fallen an inch or two to the right.
An unfortunate off day
Dejan Lovren made mistakes against City and he was punished for them. The defender let Sergio Aguero step ahead of him for the first goal and he was found far to deep in the buildup to the second.
He got away with a couple more errors that could have led to more goals but in the end, it was just the two. It doesn’t look good for Lovren but it was just the way it went.
Ederson made two errors in the game but his defenders saved him twice – barely. Vincent Kompany fouled Mo Salah after a poor pass, preventing the Egyptian from getting in on goal.
Errors often decide games like this, however, as last season showed.
Liverpool beat City 4-3 at Anfield last season after two mistakes from their opponents. John Stones’ hesitation at the back allowed Roberto Firmino to score before Salah won the game after Ederson mishit a clearance.
The errors punished Liverpool this time and the need for consistency made itself abundantly clear. City didn’t allow Liverpool to capitalise on their errors.
The 4-3-3 needs some help
Jurgen Klopp returned to the 4-3-3 last night. It’s a formation that brought success to Liverpool last season but has been used infrequently since.
Its most prominent success for Liverpool was against City in the Champions League in both the 3-0 and 2-1 wins. There was a key player missing on Thursday night, however.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was arguably the best player on the pitch in the 3-0 win but he has been out all season through injury. Last night showed how important he can be – Liverpool didn’t have anyone driving with the ball from midfield.
Klopp brought in Naby Keita to fill that role but he simply hasn’t settled yet. Liverpool look stagnant in that shape with their current selection of midfielders and need Keita to find form or a return of Oxlade-Chamberlain to make it work properly.
Liverpool will likely revert to 4-2-3-1 after this – and rightfully so. It fits the players better, brings Xherdan Shaqiri into the side, and it has brought consistency.
The defeat at the Etihad should be a wake-up call to Liverpool whether they needed one or not. The difference makers – be they luck, consistency, or tactical – can be minor and devastating.
Liverpool are still top of the Premier League by four points, though. That can change quickly, like it did for City, but the game at the Etihad should give Klopp and co the lessons they needed to prevent it from doing so.