You have to suspect on some level that Manchester City’s season is starting to dissolve away, or at least slip into some awkward phase between competing for the Premiere League title and angrily crashing out of European contention. It doesn’t help when your manager declares the gap between you and first-place Chelsea (currently ten points) is “a lot of points” and too great to overcome after a 4-0 drubbing by Everton in which Man City held the ball for 71% of the time and conceded on the first shot of the game for the fourth time in seven matches. (They also led in shots 13-6 and had twice as many corners as Everton – time to self-immolate the stat sheet.)
Guardiola’s posturing during and after the game felt like a little piece of dramatic martyrdom: he’s acting as if he’s trapped in a circle of Hell, but one of the lesser ones, where demons don’t tear at your skin but you constantly run into high school classmates at the supermarket, your Ferrari’s stereo only tunes to morality sermons and theremin music, and you suddenly and deeply become aware of your own nose. Pep spent most of the game staring into the oblivion, more or less not reacting when his team gave up a second goal only 90 seconds after the half, or when the midfield devolved into a jujitsu match – Man City stopped channelling their frustration/desperation goalward and instead spent their half sliding and elbowing and generally attempting to cause havoc, to little avail. It’s usually pretty obvious when a team simply isn’t feeling it, and perhaps the spark was smothered after an early penalty no-call went against them, but the ball seemed to be rolling downhill away from Man City all evening.
Everton, for their part, managed to solidify their upper-mid-table position by countering effectively, precise shots and a general joie de vivre compared to their opponents, especially after a dazzling 79th minute goal by 18-year-old Tom Davies, who split two defenders on the wing, hit a deft pass, was knocked down only to recover, dust himself off and calmly chip the ball past Claudio Bravo. (Lukaku tried – and failed – to bump the shot in at the last second, but barely and thankfully whiffed.) Ademola Lookman, who looks as if he’s too young to remember flip phones, man (sorry), finished off both the day’s youth movement and Manchester City by going five-hole on Bravo in the 93rd minute. A goal in his debut! A rout! Two goals by teenagers! A descent into Nike neon dread!
Guardiola came to England as a conquering tactical genius, but instead seems like a lonely wizard in exile – the press is starting to churn into attack mode, and unless Pep can find some points (and reorganize/reenergize his defense) it might not be long before they’re baying for his blood (or, ahem, his resignation).
If left up to NBC, today’s Manchester United/Liverpool match at Old Trafford would have been a highlight reel affair – floods of confetti and soaring chants and pastel-branded goosebumps. You know, a real sense of importance. Instead, we got an inevitable-feeling 1-1 draw sprinkled with sloppy giveaways and Arlo White and Graeme Le Saux reminding us of NBC’s new Spidercam and coming up with different adjectives to describe the iron-grey (lead-grey, steely, etc. etc.) sky over Manchester.
The last meeting between the clubs was a slog, but this – this was a zesty slog. Really a nervous, jittery game all around, especially for Paul Pogba, who peppered up a clumsy first half with a particularly egregious handball that gifted Liverpool a penalty (which Milner converted, 1-0) in the 26th minute. He then proceeded to play the rest of the match with the manic disorganization of a man trying to rectify his mistake (have to image that feeling is magnified exponentially after $116 million transfer fee), overelaborating on every touch and losing the ball quickly.
Rooney came on as a halftime replacement in the media-narrative-shadow of passing Sir Bobby Charlton on Man U’s all-time scoring charts, but other than some ineffective waddles straight at defenders, Wazza didn’t make much of a difference until his tangential involvement in Ibrahimović’s 83rd minute equalizer. A goal which, felt right – the match was played under a fog of…not quite the feeling that the gods preordained a draw, but more like the feeling that everyone would be dissatisfied at the final whistle. If that’s a little shapeless for you, consider this was a match that featured a WWE-style headlock, a maybe-possibly-totally offisde on the tying goal, and an almost manager brawl – a Firmino/Hererra scuffle at the very end sent Klopp into a very un-Klopplike (or maybe very Klopplike) shouting and bouncing fit at José Mourinho. Perhaps some of the general angsty milieu from Goodison seeped into this Manchester/Liverpool derby as well.