On a day when all the focus at the Community Shield was on the star strikers recruited by Manchester City and Liverpool this summer, it was the Reds’ Darwin Nunez who emphatically outshone his counterpart.
City struggled to get the best from £51m Erling Haaland from the start but Liverpool’s £85m man looked right at home in their frontline from the moment he came on with 30 minutes to play.
It was a superb substitute performance from Nunez, capped by a stooping header to wrap up the 3-1 win in which the 23-year-old showed his brilliant combination of speed, skill and strength to cause real problems for the City backline.
In contrast, Haaland’s glaring miss from six yards out in the final moments summed up a frustrating evening for him and his team-mates who never seemed sure how to combine with him.
Haaland will of course come good – his track record is incredible – but the early indications are City’s adaptation to having a focal point to their attack may take a little time.
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After winning the title last season without a striker Pep Guardiola now has one of the world’s best at his disposal, but the switch didn’t look straightforward at the King Power Stadium.
Haaland may have scored inside 11 minutes on his first City appearance against Bayern Munich last weekend, but here he managed just three touches during an opening half-hour in which his team-mates seemed reluctant to cross from open play. His runs were missed and Virgil van Dijk stepped in to beat him to balls towards his feet.
After 30 minutes there came some more promising signs and Haaland had a couple of chances in quick succession when he shot at Adrian and then miscued a volley when he went with the wrong foot. But an easily-intercepted Joao Cancelo pass in the direction of Haaland after the break was followed by a misunderstanding with Kevin de Bruyne and a lasting feeling that City weren’t playing to his strengths.
At the other end, Nunez was immediately involved when he came on, twice played in by team-mates to dash through one-on-one and repeatedly picked out with crosses, winning a penalty with a header from one and scoring Liverpool’s third from another. It looked like he’d been there for a long time.
The other players who have scored on their debut for Liverpool under Klopp are Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk. Nunez will have to put together many successful seasons to match the contributions those players have made to the team but the early signs are very promising. Especially when contrasted with the disjointed attacking display of Haaland and his City team-mates at the other end.
Salah still Liverpool’s star man
Amid all the excitement about the new arrival Nunez, there was plenty of evidence on Saturday that Mohamed Salah is primed for another big season for Liverpool. The Egyptian was electric in the opening stages, fizzing past a below-par Cancelo to shoot into the side-netting, passing to Trent Alexander-Arnold to score, and, after his cross for Nunez led to the penalty, he was spot-on to put Liverpool in front.
After the blow of losing Mane to Bayern Munich, Salah’s contract extension was a big boost for Liverpool supporters this summer and last season’s golden-boot winner looks highly motivated to hit more heights in this next chapter of his Liverpool career.
The game’s top dribbler, Liverpool’s leading chance maker, Salah is set for a fast start to this campaign. But it could be how he finishes it which proves truly decisive. While Egypt’s failure to qualify for the World Cup was a painful blow at the time, Salah will have a welcome rest for the run-in during November and December when Nunez is in Qatar with Uruguay. Once again, he will be key to Liverpool’s hopes.
Alvarez makes his mark
For a moment it looked like the winner of the big striker shootout would be Julian Alvarez. With all eyes on the combined £136m worth of striking talent possessed by Haaland and Nunez, the relatively unknown 22-year-old, signed from River Plate for £14m back in January, made his mark, prodding in City’s equaliser.
An initial offside call and protracted VAR correction took the edge off the initial reaction to the close-range finish – and when the correct verdict was finally reached Guardiola was intensely delivering instructions to the young forward, who looked like he was itching to celebrate. But Alvarez seems set to draw plenty of attention of his own as this season goes on.
After Gabriel Jesus scored a hat-trick for Arsenal earlier in the day, Argentina international Alvarez appears to pose a similar threat, with forceful running and instinctive finishing a hallmark of his game.
He may not be the superstar at City right now but the club’s other striker signing this year may prove to be an important one, too.
Liverpool ready to go toe-to-toe with City again
The intensity of Klopp’s side looked to have caught City cold in the early stages and while the Premier League holders grew into the contest there was no doubt they had been shaken up by a familiar foe.
The last time these sides met Liverpool won a memorable FA Cup semi-final 3-2 in April, and each contest between the country’s top two right now makes for an intriguing watch. That’s because of how closely they’re matched – but also because of the appetite Klopp’s men have for taking the game to their title rivals.
After the near-misses at the end of last season, when Liverpool lost the Premier League by a single point and the Champions League final by a single goal, they look to have put those disappointments behind them to come again this term. There may have been alarm bells after the 4-0 defeat to Manchester United at the start of their pre-season but Liverpool now look primed for the campaign ahead, with a morale-boosting victory over their biggest competitors now under their belts.
There should never be too much read into Community Shield results – Man City and Leicester went on divergent paths after Brendan Rodgers’ side won at Wembley last year – but all the signs from Saturday’s contest point towards another brilliant battle between these sides for top honours.
Liverpool take on Strasbourg for a final pre-season friendly on Sunday at Anfield, before playing their first Premier League game of the season away to Fulham on Saturday August 6.
Manchester City now turn their attention to the defence of their Premier League title when they face West Ham on Sunday, August 7, live on Sky Sports Premier League – kick-off 4.30pm.