Pellegrini's selection and tactics wrong, says Richard Buxton
City boss culpable for team selection as champions capitulated against Pool
MAN CITY 1
(Sergio Aguero 44)
(Eliaquim Mangala 7-og, Philippe Coutinho 23, Roberto Firmino 32, Martin Skrtel 81)
Had he felt so inclined, Manuel Pellegrini need not have looked too far when pointing the finger of blame for Manchester City's latest shortcomings.
It was standing in the Etihad Stadium's technical area.
What had previously been a foregone conclusion in the fate of the English Premier League title has now opened up into a three-horse race.
Yesterday morning (Singapore time), City's champions hallmark disappeared without a trace - and Pellegrini stands alone in its culpability.
Any anger the Chilean feels should be self-loathing.
A preoccupation with finishing top of City's Champions League group appeared to dominate every facet of his tactical mindset.
His subsequent assertion that the same starting 11 which surrendered so meekly to Liverpool, in his side's heaviest EPL home defeat since 2003, would have started again rang hollow.
For a start, he played the wrong Argentinian defender.
Defence is no longer his best form of attack. The decision to deploy Martin Demichelis over Nicolas Otamendi proved costly.
At his compatriot's expense, the 34-year-old Demichelis made his first EPL start since a 4-1 hammering by Tottenham Hotspur in September. It was little wonder that history repeated itself on home soil.
Criticism of Otamendi's formative months at the Etihad Stadium were not without foundation, yet Demichelis demonstrated why he remains the maligned figure in City's defensive stock.
Eliaquim Mangala, too, appeared panic-stricken and overrun when placed under the slightest pressure from a Liverpool front-line devoid of a recognised striker for 77 minutes.
Vincent Kompany's return cannot come quick enough for a defence that has fallen into wreck and ruin during his bouts of absence.
That backline paucity was not helped by a lack of protection afforded by similarly poor selections in City's central midfield.
Once again, Thursday morning's trip to Juventus dominated Pellegrini's thought process as another compatriot conundrum reared its ugly head when Fernandinho was sacrificed for Fernando.
It was a decision he would come to regret by the interval, when Fernandinho was deployed in favour of a largely ineffectual Yaya Toure.
Like Otamendi, resting the Brazilian enforcer in anticipation of the showdown in Turin backfired spectacularly on Pellegrini.
Other selections were borne out of necessity rather than personal choice.
Sergio Aguero's conciliatory strike in the 44th minute was vindication for his hour-long cameo in a first start since returning from injury.
It was a shining light in a faltering City side that would have eluded them had Kelechi Iheanacho, their only other available striker, led the line instead of the free-scoring talisman.
On an evening when the focus was primarily on those who had absconded from Anfield rather than those who elected to stick around, Liverpool offered compelling evidence that a striker crisis can sometimes be advantageous.
Daniel Sturridge and Christian Benteke's recent injuries have proved to be blessings in disguise as Liverpool's squad acclimatised to their new identity.
They have not been as missed as the loss felt by City during Kompany and Aguero's respective spells on the sidelines.
Juergen Klopp can now count on two Brazilians - Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino - who were allowed to pick apart City's defence with remarkable ease.
Such is the acceleration of the pair's blossoming partnership that there are increasing signs the former Hoffenheim playmaker's summer arrival was a gift of foresight from the Liverpool hierarchy, in anticipation of Klopp's appointment as manager last month.
Maybe this was the plan all along.
“It was almost a perfect performance. They were absolutely outstanding. The front three of Lallana, Coutinho and Firmino caused them problems for the vast majority of the game. City couldn’t handle them.”
— Former England and Newcastle striker Alan Shearer on Liverpool’s 4-1 win over City
BY THE NUMBERS: 4
This is only the second time that Man City have conceded four goals in a competitive game at the Etihad, after a 4-2 loss to Aston Villa in 2012.
City censured for collapse
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini admits his side were a complete disaster and unrecognisable to him in the 4-1 defeat at home by Liverpool yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Beginning the day top of the Premier League, having lost just once at home and conceded only five goals in six matches, they ended it in third place.
An own goal from Eliaquim Mangala was followed by efforts from Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino, as City conceded three league goals in the first half for the first time since February 2003.
Sergio Aguero's ninth of the season just before the break on his return from injury barely softened the blow, before Reds defender Martin Skrtel brilliantly volleyed home in the second half to complete the rout.
"I am more than angry, it is unbelievable the performance we had," said Pellegrini.
"I have never seen this team play in the way they did tonight. It was a complete disaster, the whole team.
"It is difficult to understand why we should play so badly - not just one name but a complete team in defending or attacking possession.
"I think we didn't prepare - we lost so many balls in attack, it was impossible to create chances. We conceded four goals and could have conceded at least three or four more."
Pellegrini's decision to leave out centre back Nicolas Otamendi and midfielder Fernandinho - two of City's most consistent performers recently - was questioned. But the Chilean refused to explain his team selection or his substitutions of captain Yaya Toure and Jesus Navas at half-time.
"I will not explain the starting 11. If I had to choose the same starting 11 again, I would do," he added.
"There are a lot of things why I took the decisions with the starting 11, but there was not one thing.
"I was not happy with the performance of the 11 players, not just Yaya and Navas when I substituted them at half-time.
"We tried to make another system and press high, but it was exactly the same, it was not our night."
Pellegrini also refused to discuss the performance of Raheem Sterling on his first appearance against the club he left in the summer in a £49-million ($105m) deal.
"I don't want to talk about one player," he said. "These things sometimes happen in football, why we played so badly today - that is why I do not want to talk about one player or a tactical system."
- PA Sport.
"I will not explain the starting 11. If I had to choose the same starting 11 again, I would do."
— Man City manager Manuel Pellegrini
Raheem not so Sterling
Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling faced his former club Liverpool yesterday morning (Singapore time) for the first time since his £49-million ($105m) summer move.
PA Sport looks at how he performed in their 4-1 loss.
Booed by the visiting fans every time he touched the ball, those same fans were chanting "Sterling, what's the score?" at the end.
He got a better reception from his ex-teammates.
The 20-year-old had one chance to shoot, but squared to Sergio Aguero in the second half and his effort was saved.
Missed from three metres out late on.
Followed the pattern of his team in general - started brightly but quickly began to wane and was virtually anonymous by the end of the first half.
Saw more of the ball as the game opened up, but did not do enough with it.
Not the game - definitely not the result - the youngster would have envisaged on his reunion with the club where he made his name and was heralded as the next big thing in English football.
- MAN CITY: Joe Hart, Bacary Sagna, Martin Demichelis, Eliaquim Mangala, Aleksandar Kolarov, Yaya Toure (Fernandinho 46), Fernando, Jesus Navas (Fabian Delph 46), Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero (Kelechi Iheanacho 66)
- LIVERPOOL: Simon Mignolet, Nathaniel Clyne, Martin Skrtel, Dejan Lovren, Alberto Moreno, James Milner, Lucas Leiva, Emre Can, Adam Lallana (Kolo Toure 90), Roberto Firmino (Christian Benteke 77), Philippe Coutinho (Jordon Ibe 68)