Liverpool won't win the EPL with their defence
MAN CITY 3
(Stevan Jovetic 41, 55, Sergio Aguero 69)
(Pablo Zabaleta 83-og)
Naturally, the focus was on the wild one in the funny hat yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Mario Balotelli is expected to lay the foundation for a new Liverpool era, even though he happens to be a human house of cards.
But, while the Reds' ninth acquisition remains a riddle wrapped inside a ridiculous hat, Brendan Rodgers' other problems are straightforward.
At times, Liverpool's defensive wall looks like it is built on sand.
They can't win the title with the current back four.
There was no shame in losing to the bouncing billionaires at the Etihad Stadium - just about every Premier League side beyond the Kings Road will be summarily executed by the Manchester moneybags this season - but the manner of the defeat will alarm Anfield apologists.
Liverpool mostly matched Manchester City, particularly in midfield and whenever the rapidly maturing Raheem Sterling was in possession.
Luis Suarez left a chasm that could not be bridged by anyone available in the transfer market, but Daniel Sturridge and Balotelli will certainly ease the transition.
The Uruguayan was irreplaceable in a literal sense and yet the emphasis on his replacement has overlooked the holes at the back.
Many of Rodgers' signings ply their trade in the opponents' half, but City profited from a porous Liverpool defence.
At the World Cup, Glen Johnson's struggles were overshadowed by the ineptitude of others (most notably Leighton Baines and club captain Steven Gerrard).
But the fullback's failings were brought into sharp focus by City's marksmen.
Once a dependable defender, Johnson is now targeted by unforgiving scavengers. They smell weakness.
David Silva floated from one side of the pitch to the other, jabbing away at decaying flesh with the detached precision of a CSI detective.
The Spaniard feasted on troubled souls, practically spoiled for choice.
On his left side, he faced Johnson; an ageing, slowing defender who once fizzed along the flank like a motorboat, but now turns with all the speed of a cruise liner.
LEFT'S NOT RIGHT
And on Silva's right side was newcomer Alberto Moreno.
Consistency has long proved elusive at left back for Liverpool. Gerard Houllier signed the last reliable defender in that position in John Arne Riise, last seen failing to keep Fulham in the Premier League.
Moreno is now auditioning for the part of left-sided gatekeeper: a role that is particularly fraught with danger at Liverpool, thanks to the wingers' tendency not to track back.
But Silva teased the newcomer. Stevan Jovetic bullied him. City punished him for a couple of defensive lapses.
Competent going forward, the 22-year-old conceded too much space when those attacking pistons cranked up City's goal-scoring machine.
Rodgers is confident that Moreno will adapt to his Anfield environment quickly (even if Fabio Aurelio and Aly Cissokho never did) and he may well progress under his manager's tutelage. But the new defender epitomises Liverpool's transfer policy.
Both the Reds and Chelsea were in the market for a left back. The Blues bought the best one available in the shop window and signed Filipe Luis. Liverpool invested in a cheaper option, banking on youthful potential.
Perhaps Rodgers had no choice. He cannot compete financially with either Jose Mourinho or Manuel Pellegrini and has to select from the second tier rather than the top shelf.
But there is still a suspicion of money being sprinkled around, instead of focused on primary targets - a suspicion that yesterday's defeat did nothing to dispel.
In terms of financial outlay, Chelsea, City and Liverpool have spent similar amounts, but only the Reds' shopping list feels a bit random.
Too many midfielders and not enough proven defenders would be the long and short of it; a concern exacerbated by goalkeeper Simon Mignolet's habit of making the odd blunder.
His debut campaign was occasionally spectacular, but not always solid and his positioning let him down again yesterday.
With his first touch, substitute Sergio Aguero beat Mignolet at his near post, with the Belgian displaying the positional awareness of Mr Magoo.
His keeping is by no means calamitous, just a minor cause for concern, rather like Gerrard's wandering around his own penalty box.
The skipper's tendency to split his two centre backs in search of that angled Hollywood pass remains an integral feature of Rodgers' strategy.
On the flip side, Liverpool's cluttered central defence encouraged City to stretch the play towards their wide men - and Silva really needed no further encouragement to bypass Gerrard, leaving the skipper looking like he was wading through treacle.
As it stands, there is not a great case to make for Liverpool's defence.
Rodgers believes he is taking a risk in buying Balotelli.
But he will take a bigger risk in not buying another defender before the transfer window closes.
Rodgers confident over Mario
VIEW FROM THE STANDS: Mario Balotelli (right) watching his new team Liverpool take on his former side Manchester City beside Adam Lallana. PHOTO: REUTERS
Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers is confident he can get the best out of Mario Balotelli despite the player's colourful past.
The 24-year-old has returned to the Premier League after finalising his £16 million ($33m) move from AC Milan and was at the Etihad Stadium to see his former club Manchester City beat his new side 3-1 yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Balotelli has had an eventful career so far, none more so than during his three years at City where he got into his fair share of scrapes on and off the field, but Rodgers does not see that as a problem.
"I've worked with those type of players all my life from when I worked in youth coaching," he told Sky Sports.
"I never had the finished article and that's how - at times - I like it.
"Most players I like to sit down and look in the eye and see the honesty and the humility that they have.
"I spent a bit of time with him, about three-and-a-half hours, just talking him through Liverpool - it's a massive club and it's a different club, it's a family club with strong family values and, as I said, behaviour is very important here.
"He's a very bright boy. He was very clever. He understood where he's at this stage of his career and he knows himself that this is probably his last chance.
"I look at the talent. He's a wonderful talent. There's no doubt he's at a stage in his career that this might be the last chance at a big club because he needs to settle down and show maturity.
"He's got huge potential but needs to come to Liverpool and be consistent because, if he can do that, we've got one hell of a player."
Former Liverpool vice-captain Jamie Carragher believes Rodgers is taking a risk with Balotelli.
"Looking at the situation Liverpool were in, one week until the window shuts, they needed a striker and they're getting the Italian No. 1 striker for £16 million," he told Sky Sports.
"I think it is good business from Liverpool but there has got to be a worry signing Balotelli.
"There's a reason he costs £16 million and has moved so often within his career already. That is a problem for Liverpool.
"If we could see the Balotelli we saw at Euro 2012, I'd say 'It's a great signing' but I don't want to see the Balotelli I saw at City in a Liverpool shirt - petulant, stupid, sendings-off, walking about.
"I played against him two or three times (and he was) doing nothing in the game and you knew if you got tight to him and put him under pressure, he'd fall out again." - PA Sport.