If a week is a long time in politics, it can feel like a new season in football. Ask Liverpool, ask Manchester City.
Just a week after the Blues’ defeat at Chelsea allowed the Reds to claim the title, City gave them notice of what to expect when they come to defend it.
Four-nil was a hiding and could have been more. And, no, the Reds were not hung over from their celebrations, an angry Jurgen Klopp insisted.
They started brightly and could have been 2-0 up before City scored, but a post denied Mo Salah and Sadio Mane mis-timed a simple header.
Pep Guardiola graciously agreed that a week was enough time “to get the beer out of their blood”. But you wondered what City had in theirs. This is no dark insinuation, more a compliment to their motivational powers.
Stung by a 23-point deficit to the champions at kickoff, they still had much to play for. Besides making that gap more respectable, they are a goal up on Real Madrid in the Champions League and chasing a treble.
This is a pivotal month in the club’s history and it was no pyrrhic victory, more a statement of intent: “Next season starts today,” claimed Raheem Sterling whose fourth goal was his first in the league against his former club.
If this was about bending the calendar, City will be looking for another next week that is not in their hands: the verdict from the Court of Sports Arbitration (CAS) on their appeal of a two-year ban from Europe.
If CAS upholds the ban, the league title will be their main focus. But being confined to port could see a few stars desert the ship and even Pep may not stay on board. Either way, everyone in blue felt the need for a five-star performance.
They gave a guard of honour but did not rain on Liverpool’s parade – thanks to the virus, there isn’t one – they produced a deluge. Running the show was Kevin de Bruyne, but for City even in his pomp, you couldn’t ignore the poignancy.
The Belgian playmaker has been the most vocal about the future, bluntly warning that he’ll be off if City can’t play in the top competition for two years.
Even one year might be enough to give him cabin fever. The way he exposed Liverpool they would be relieved to see the back of him.
But not far behind, and finally blossoming now that he’s being allowed decent servings of game time, Phil Foden showed why he’s been hailed as David Silva’s natural successor and has more goals in him than we thought when he was on his “diet”.
Even at centreback, their Achilles heel position, there was hope for City.
Eric Garcia, 18, looks a better option than either Nicolas Otamendi or John Stones as a partner for the fit-again Aymeric Laporte. But still, you feel, they need an experienced long-term replacement for the much-missed Vincent Kompany.
While making next season look a mouth-watering prospect (as long as they can keep the squad together) was the main takeaway, Pep will still have his sights set very much on this one.
City meet inconsistent Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final and have one foot in the quarter-final of the Champions League. He must fancy that his Holy Grail, which has proved so elusive since he left Barcelona, is well within his grasp.
Once they’d sobered up, Liverpool spent much of the week saying how together they are: a happy band of brothers under a manager for whom they would go through brick walls.
And they insisted their hunger for more titles bordered on ravenous. After this result, Klopp will be relieved they played down talk of a new era of dominance.
One bad day at the office doesn’t detract from their achievement but may be useful in guarding against complacency.
Some fans were already uneasy about the lack of transfer activity, especially pulling out of the cut-price deal to sign Timo Werner.
Not even the postponement of the African Cup of Nations from next January to 2022, which means Salah and Mane will not, after all, miss a vital chunk of the season, can conceal the risk in relying on the present Front Three.
The trio has been remarkably injury-free, but many Kopites feel another top-class forward would be useful anyway.
Centre-back partners for the imperious Virgil van Dijk have not been so fortunate, with both Joel Matip and Joe Gomez being absent for long periods. And that may be an area to strengthen.
Klopp has more options in midfield where those slow burners Naby Keita and Takumi Minamino are hoping to finally show what they’re made of.
Although City’s 100-points record is a tempting target, Klopp is more likely to try out a few kids to see what they’re made of – and if he does really need to spend.
He will not lose sleep over the defeat and it’s a result that only makes us say “Bring on next season” even before this one has finished.
Time limit and common sense must save us from this VARce
This week was a bad one for VAR. Just like almost all the others that have preceded it. But the disallowed “goals” at West Ham and Sheffield United were in a dunce’s class of their own. We’ve all seen them, and I’ll spare you the details.
It’s beyond dispute that this well-intentioned operation to get the right decision has descended into farce.
It does get it right most of the time, but the wrong calls and, most of all, the stupid calls, make us think it’s not worth the bother.
As Jose Mourinho said after the latest debacle, “It will turn fans away”.
Even the piped in-crowd sounds have booing built in when the referee signals it is being used. It is an accurate reflection of fans’ sentiments.
VAR apologists insist it must stay and that we cannot uninvent the wheel, but this “wheel” isn’t even round. The biggest complaints are about time and the lack of common sense.
Surely, both easy to fix: put a time limit of one minute on any decision and if it cannot be reached, go back to the referee’s original decision.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.