Stevan Jovetic was the hero, but Manchester City triumphed because of intelligent play in deeper positions, with David Silva crucial in ensuring their midfield dominance.
Both teams used familiar formations from last season, with Brendan Rodgers continuing to play Steven Gerrard in his deep-lying role at the base of a midfield trio, sometimes dropping between the centre-backs to collect the ball and spray long passes into attack.
One fantastic early ball released Raheem Sterling, although the Liverpool captain sometimes looked uncertain defensively, with City bringing both David Silva and Samir Nasri inside into positions between the lines. Silva’s positional awareness remains outstanding, and he nipped past Gerrard in the build-up to Jovetic’s opener, creating panic in the centre of Liverpool’s defence.
One moment, at the start of the second half, showed Silva’s genius as he moved into a deep position to drag Gerrard up the pitch, then sprinted past him, received the ball via Jovetic’s pass, and released Edin Dzeko with a clever through-ball. The Bosnian didn’t make the most of the opportunity, but it was a perfect example of how Silva orchestrates the game from between the lines, and how Gerrard, for all his qualities, struggles against opponents as nimble as the Spaniard.
Silva also played an instrumental role in Jovetic’s second, playing a clever forward pass into the striker from a deep position. For both goals he was in right-of-centre positions, despite the fact he was playing from the left, summarising his tendency to drift laterally. In the first half, City were overly cautious in possession. Liverpool threw men forward and allowed Manuel Pellegrini’s side counter-attacking opportunities, but in the absence of Jesus Navas and Sergio Agüero, and with Yaya Touré unusually quiet, they lacked a burst of pace in possession. Some of the most dangerous forward running came Pablo Zabaleta, who forced Philippe Coutinho back and made inroads shortly before City went ahead, following an error from the debutant left-back Alberto Moreno.
The tempo of City’s play changed after the introduction of Navas and Agüero midway through the second half, and that duo combined to score the third, an extremely direct goal. That tactical shift was notable as Liverpool looked to dominate possession more, City offered a counter-attacking threat, which killed off any chance of a Liverpool fightback.
For Brendan Rodgers’ side, the most simplistic analysis is also the most truthful – without Luis Suárez, there was a lack of good interplay upfront, with Daniel Sturridge isolated. Liverpool have replaced the Uruguayan intelligently in the transfer market, with Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Mario Balotelli, Lazar Markovic and Emre Can set to provide a variety of attacking qualities, but none started the game, and this felt like a Liverpool side temporarily stranded between two eras.