Sergio Agüero scored against Liverpool just seconds after coming on as a substitute in Manchester City's 3-1 win on Monday.
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
By Peter Berlin
August 25, 2014

Liverpool and Manchester City last met at Anfield in April, where Liverpool won 3-2 to build a seven-point lead over City with four matches left in the season. Liverpool blew that lead, missing out on its first top-flight title in a generation by two points to City.

Those around Liverpool become prickly when it is suggested the club missed its big chance last season. Yet the evidence of Monday night’s 3-1 loss at the Etihad is that Liverpool has not closed the two-point gap on Manchester City. Instead, the gap has widened.

After a bright start, Liverpool was dominated. City scored three times in 28 minutes. Rickie Lambert’s late reply was barely consolation.

Liverpool has spent a lot of money in the transfer market. The addition of Mario Balotelli on Monday takes its spending to an estimated £117 million ($293 million) on eight players. City on the other hand has had, by its standards, a relatively quiet summer spending just £51 million on only five players, most of it an eye-popping £32 million on center back Elaiquim Mangala.

That apparent disparity is deceptive, because it doesn’t take into account incoming transfer fees received. City’s net spend is £41 million, Liverpool’s is only £22 million because the Reds had no choice but to accept the £75 million Barcelona offered for Luis Suárez.

City, unlike Liverpool, doesn’t lose players it wants to keep. There are some soccer statisticians who argue that salary spend is at least as good a predictor of success as transfer fees. That is an area where Liverpool will not close the gap on City until one of them changes owners.

While Brendan Rodgers has been insisting “the group” will be stronger at Liverpool, City has been busy signing its best players to new, long contracts. In recent weeks it has locked up Sergio Agüero, David Silva, Ivan Kolarov Samir Nasri and Edin Dzeko.

The difference was visible on the field on Monday. City was without Mangala, Bacary Sagna, Fernandinho and Alvaro Negredo. Agüero started on the bench. It did not matter.

Stevan Jovetic, who scored the first two goals, is City’s fourth choice central striker. Liverpool plays a slightly different system, but the fact that it currently has four strikers is probably only an accident of timing. The arrival of Balotelli may mean Fabio Borini is finally going to move to Sunderland.

The problem with buying a stretch-limo full of players all in one go is that they take time to bed down. Just ask Tottenham. Unlike Spurs last summer, Rodgers has bought quite a few players with Premier League experience. But they will still take time to learn the demanding and intricate Rodgers system.

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On Monday only Dejan Lovren and Alberto Moreno, both defenders, started. Lovren’s weak clearing header and Moreno’s slow reactions presented Jovetic with his crucial first goal after 41 minutes.

Lovren is emblematic of Liverpool’s problems in matching City, Manchester United, Chelsea and even Arsenal in the transfer market. Liverpool paid Southampton a reported £20 million for the Croatian. That’s substantially less than Mangala. It’s still a lot for Lovren.

Lovren adds tremendous passing range to the Liverpool back four. Potentially he can take some of the quarterbacking responsibilities off Steven Gerrard, although, on he evidence of Monday, Gerrard doesn’t want to surrender those responsibilities.

Defensively, the best that can be said for Lovren is that even though he lacks pace and is prone to errors of concentration, that doesn’t make him any different from the men he has been bought to replace. 

Rodgers, of course, tried to be positive after the loss.

“There’s a hell of a long way to go in the season and we’ll get better as we go along,” he told Sky, the British satellite broadcaster.

Adam Lallana will get fit. Balotelli might make a positive impact – then again, he might not. Monday night’s game suggests Liverpool will have to get an awful lot better very fast, or it will be a hell of a long season.

Short Corners

Angel Di Maria is good, he has speed, which Manchester United lacks, but attack is the one area of the field (other than goalkeeper) where the team does not desperately need an upgrade. But after it’s worst opening two results in more than two decades, the club needed to do something, anything. In any language £64 million spells desperation

Chelsea’s Diego Costa, already with two goals in two games, is hitting the target in a way that Fernando Torres no longer can. Cesc Fàbregas, with three assists, is seeing passes that Oscar and Eden Hazard never will. They look like the exact pieces Chelsea was missing last season. The one worry is that Costa does not have the pace to become the new Didier Drogba. Pity Chelsea only has the very old Drogba…

Playing badly and gaining results is usually seen as a good sign. Playing badly and gaining a result with a goal in added time, as Arsenal has done in both its matches, should do wonders for morale. Or it could encourage the Gunners to believe they can keep playing like toilets in the first half…

Tottenham’s early-season schedule has come together quite nicely for the club. After a couple of testing games at energetic, dogged but toothless opponents West Ham and AEL Limassol, Spurs came home to and boosted morale with a 4-0 victory over a QPR squad packed with Premier League names but in no way resembling a Premier League team. Spurs are perfectly set up for its first competitive game against Liverpool next Sunday…

Newcastle has just one point and has yet to score, but the way it dominated its goalless draw at Aston Villa suggests it is a team to keep an eye on. The way Rémy Cabella sparkled, as he did in the first week against Manchester City, suggests he is a player to watch…

Bantz is the in word this season. It’s slang for banter, the smart and witty zingers soccer folk fire at each other, such as… well, actually, no examples spring readily to mind. Maybe Suárez, Roy Keane, Richard Scudamore, Joey Barton or John Terry could provide some side-splitting examples….

Texted bantz means we won’t be seeing either Malky Mackay or Iain Moody in the Premier League any time soon. Their humiliation provides a lesson. Funny-looking foreign millionaires who buy clubs may not fully understand the traditions of British soccer culture and its sophisticated humor. What they do understand is how to crush those who cause them problems, ruthlessly, relentlessly and vindictively. That’s often how they became billionaires….