Kevin De Bruyne and Ederson left watching on as Manchester City lose what helps define them

The sight of Kevin De Bruyne yanking his Manchester City tracksuit bottoms off and over his boots midway through the first half may be the defining image of this FA Cup semi-final. His face hurt like that of a man who has been called in at 11am on his day off to deal with a problem only he can deal with. That problem was a team without purpose being embarrassed by one far more composed and efficient. The clock has not even ticked past 23 minutes at Wembley and Liverpool are already 2-0 up.

The atmosphere in the ground at the time was of red elation set against sky blue shock. It would be 3-0 at half-time and a far closer albeit less reflective 3-2 at full time. City’s fightback more down to Liverpool’s comfort than their own defiance. De Bruyne, meanwhile, remained unused.

Perhaps that was down to necessity above anything else. The foot injury picked up in the second-leg scrap on Champions League duty at Atletico Madrid on Wednesday ruled him out of starting here at Wembley, a week after he’d been the best on show in the 2-2 draw between these two teams at the Etihad. The cost of his absence from him was all to stark in the first half and all the more worrying considering how shambolic City were in what proved to be the defining period of the match. A midfield trio of Fernandinho, Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden were out of sync, each responsible for the array of over- and under-hit passes that are usually so rudimentary to this team.

The second was the real sucker punch. Just seven days after Ederson became a viral sensation for inconceivable calm when passing out from his goal line, so too did Zack Steffen for precisely what Ederson had avoided. Caught with the ball at his feet from him, tackled into the goal by Sadio Mane. Mane went on to beat Steffen at his near post, an effort that perhaps could have been saved. But the knock-on effect from the clearer of the blunders was a sense of anxiety at the back that robbed City of their usual composition when building from the back. Like De Bruyne, Ederson remained on the bench, his only act from him to pick up and console Steffen as the thousands of Liverpool supporters cheered behind his goal from him.

We did not need this match to establish De Bruyne and Ederson are key cogs in the City machine. But rarely will a match be such an instructive control experiment of how wayward a well-drilled Pep Guardiola side can be without those focal points.

Pep Guardiola defended his team selection following the 3-2 defeat

(Getty Images)

Of course, of the three fronts these two were fighting on, this is the one they would have given up in pursuit of the Premier League and Champions League. Yet while the meekness of City’s display for most of this game will be a cause for concern for Guardiola, the manner and context of Liverpool’s victory speaks of something greater.

Amid the embarrassingly heated discourse on rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester City that peaked ahead of their Premier League meeting last weekend was talk of ethos. One of immaculate build-up, the other of relentless waves of transition. Not quite a contrast, but enough of a difference in style to pitch these two as counter points. Two teams operating at football’s sharpest end with different but equally watchable and laudable ways of earning success.

The meeting at the Etihad, a 2-2 stalemate, went largely in City’s favour. The better of the two in the game while maintaining a one-point lead. But here at Wembley, Liverpool’s victory was as deserved for them as it was instructive of Jurgen Klopp’s side aren’t just winning on their terms, but on City’s, too.

Jurgen Klopp has become the first manager to win 10 matches against Pep Guardiola

(Liverpool F.C. via Getty Images)

They were out of the traps quickly, rocking City early and never relinquishing the sense they could turn things up a notch too really embarrass them. The time between Jack Grealish’s strike on 47 minutes and Silva’s in the 90th was punctuated by chances for Liverpool to re-establish that original three-goal lead. All this at the end of a week in which they truly flexed their squad depth – a string that for the longest time has been a key strand of City’s bow.

There were seven changes made from the side that rounded off qualification for the Champions League semi-final with a 3-3 draw against Benfica in midweek. Indeed two of the four who played here after starting at Anfield – Naby Keita and Ibrahima Konate – were not in the first XI at the Etihad last Sunday. Keita snapped at every labored City touch, while Konate, assured alongside Virgil van Dijk, netted his third goal in three to get the show on the road after nine minutes with a towering header from Andy Robertson’s corner.

Most importantly of all is they seemingly have no De Bruyne: a player so integral to the whole that doing without them can be terminal. Even to have been without Sadio Mane, who netted twice and was a threat throughout, the likes of Diogo Jota or Roberto Firmino would have come in to take his place from him in a devastatingly malleable front three.

That being said, it seems a tad foolhardy to extrapolate this result into something greater between these two. Both return to league action in midweek no longer able to influence each other and reliant on favors from others to make their respective pursuits more achievable. Similarly, a potential meeting in the final of the Champions League will outstrip these 90 minutes for prestige and bragging rights.

However, in the most meaningful meeting between the two so far, Liverpool came out on top in a manner that suggests the next meeting could following a similar template. Liverpool aren’t just doing what they do best, they are doing so by assuming all the strengths previously associated with City.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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