Liverpool have shown Manchester City that they are ready to face off again this season. And City will only have to contend with two natural first-team full-backs for now.
Jurgen Klopp’s side clinched the Community Shield title with three goals, scored from their devastating right cross – with Mohamed Salah as the main protagonist.
It was three minutes into the game before Egypt’s Joao Cancelo announced he was ready. Salah dribbled past Cancelo with the ease of a simple touch of his right foot but then fired a shot into the side netting.
The Portuguese defender struggled, particularly in the first 20 minutes of the game, which resulted in Salah assisting Alexander-Arnold’s opener. The Egyptian was involved in 32 passes throughout the game. He passed with an accuracy of 94 percent, with only two of them failing.
Salah also scored Liverpool’s second from the penalty spot and crossed the ball which resulted in Nunez scoring a third for Klopp’s side.
Deep down, it has exposed arguably the biggest mistake Pep Guardiola needs to fix before the transfer window closes: Having Cancelo and Kyle Walker as the only experienced full-backs in the team could be too risky to take.
It’s not common to see a team with an inverted right-back as their best asset on the left side of defense. This is Joao Cancelo and he’s a special case – possibly the most technically gifted full-back in Europe. But even with Cancelo at the peak of his powers over the past two seasons, Pep Guardiola has had moments when he “needed a Zinchenko”.
Salah was a constant threat on Cancelo’s flank (Picture: Getty Images)
The last Premier League game last season, when he came on at half-time to help Rodri’s equaliser, is an example. The run-in to the 2021 Champions League, when City reached the final with Zinchenko as a starter, another.
Now the Ukrainian is still a long way from finding a successor at Arsenal and City. A deal for Brighton left-back Marc Cucurella has stalled despite the Spaniard making a transfer request on Friday morning.
Brighton have set a valuation of over £50m ($61m) for the defender, who is valued even higher than Ben White in the negotiations, sources say. Manchester City have been able to up their proposal to £40m and The Athletic understand they made an improved offer on Thursday. The response from Brighton did not change.
Cucurella was not involved in Brighton’s 5-1 win over La Liga club Espanyol on Saturday. As The Athletic also revealed earlier this week, talks between the clubs have come to an end and a major change in negotiations is needed for a potential deal to materialize.
In addition to his creativity, Cucurella was admired in senior positions at City Football Academy for his defensive skills. The aggressiveness in his man marking and the discipline in the back line were seen as a perfect complement to Joao Cancelo.
Asked last Friday about signing a new left-back, Pep Guardiola tried to be cautious: “If it’s possible, yes. If not, we’ll stick with what we have. We have enough players who can play there. Joao can play there, Josh (Wilson-Esbrand), Nathan (Ake) can play there.”
The Spanish manager mentioned Wilson-Esbrand and there was a reason for that. The 19-year-old has been included in the Community Shield squad and is held in high esteem by the senior squad. Wilson-Esbrand’s biggest concern is his injury record.
After landing at City from West Ham in 2019, he has picked up two long-term injuries, including a cruciate ligament tear a couple of seasons ago. Calmness and patience would be the best recipe for his promotion to the first team.
Expect the city to explore new options. Borussia Dortmund full-back Raphael Guerreiro has been scouted and pursued in the past but the 28-year-old is unlikely to leave at a feasible rate.
It won’t be the easiest task for football director Txiki Begiristain as the Premier League starts next week.
Despite defensive struggles – and Erling Haaland’s missed chances – there were also positives for City.
Julian Alvarez was certainly the greatest. Following the departures of Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling, the Argentine appeared ready to play a key role in Guardiola’s plans.
Alvarez made his debut on the right flank, taking the place of Riyad Mahrez and showing what he has to offer. His pace, connection play and pressing efforts were promising insights. Alvarez leveled the game 12 minutes after coming on, hinting at how he could benefit from Haaland’s presence.
Guardiola even decided to change his formation in a few moments of the second half to form a 4-4-2 with the Argentinean alongside Haaland at the top.
Phil Foden was on the same path. It was hard to tell he hadn’t taken part in the pre-season tour as he hit the ground running, coming off the bench to replace an hapless Jack Grealish.
Foden was silky, smart, and a constant threat. Alvarez’s goal came from his shot. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Foden starts at West Ham in next week’s Premier League opener.
However, one lesson Pep’s City should have learned from the past is not to draw too many conclusions from the Community Shield.
The last time they played Liverpool there was three years ago. City won on penalties after a 1-1 draw at Wembley.
At the end of the year, Pep’s side lifted the Carabao Cup as their only title, while Liverpool won the Premier League for the first time in 30 years.
(Photo: Marc Atkins/Getty Images)