As an augury of the 2022-23 season Liverpool will be the happier as Jürgen Klopp’s side already appear a slick team ready for serious combat.
Manchester City do not. Pep Guardiola was hardly concerned about losing this first ever Community Shield staged in July but may scrutinise how Erling Haaland was near-anonymous throughout as this, despite the manager’s post-defeat protestations, disrupted the side’s rhythm.
The No 9’s sole moment came when igniting the sequence that led to Julian Álvarez’s equaliser – and his first in City colours – and he ended with the type of point-blank glaring miss that may haunt, blazing over when it was easier to score.
At the final whistle Liverpool had the excellent Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mohamed Salah on the scoresheet plus the dynamic-looking Darwin Núñez, who scored their third and created the Egyptian’s penalty.
Salah, in a raucous atmosphere at a packed King Power Stadium was the fizzing, effervescent star of the opening half. An opening gambit was to sell a dummy and shoot – he found only side-netting but City had a warning they failed to heed as, too often, the No 11 was allowed to wreak havoc.
Seven minutes had gone when Guardiola offloaded a first rollicking of the term: João Cancelo was the victim for going back toward goal instead of finding Jack Grealish with an escape ball up the left.
City were being swamped so when Kevin De Bruyne forced a corner and the same player took the short delivery and curled in a cross Nathan Aké could, at last, threaten Adrián’s goal though he failed to connect.
The latter was Guardiola’s surprise selection for the day – the Catalan usually has one – as the Dutchman nearly sold to Chelsea was preferred to John Stones. Aké, though, was part of a rearguard that struggled to stymie Liverpool.
A prime instance of Salah’s freedom came when he controlled and dinked the ball inside to Alexander-Arnold. The right-back, seeing Andy Robertson swoop towards the far post, executed a chip to the Scot who should have finished.
All of the noise emanated from the red section of the venue, all of the action from those in the same colour livery. Thus, when Alexander-Arnold struck there was scant surprise. Salah – again – was found, this time by Thiago Alcãntara. And, again, the right-back awaited to his left: Salah tapped the ball to him and a bending shot beat Ederson via Aké’s forehead.
City, stung, had De Bruyne soon running in on a Riyad Mahrez threaded pass but the Belgian missed. Haaland, at this juncture, was a non-factor, limited to the odd touch and zero chances. Finally he had two of the latter. After bundling Robertson aside he made Adrián save but then, in the same passage, appeared awkwardly one-footed when skewering a cross with his left when the angle was made for his right.
City rallied as the interval neared, closing the 45 minutes how they would want: controlling ball and territory near Liverpool’s goal. But, no equaliser came – a Mahrez pea-roller simple for Adrián to collect an apt image of their toothlessness.
When the teams were named Haaland had been the one summer signing in the XIs, which meant Kalvin Phillips and Álvarez, Guardiola’s other fresh recruits, were replacements for City as, for the FA Cup holders, were Klopp’s new men – Núñez and Fabio Carvalho.
If each manager made no changes for the second half, Liverpool were soon, once more, carrying the threat. From a free-kick on the left Robertson dropped the ball into City’s area before Aké, leaping, headed clear. Next the menacing Alexander-Arnold marauded toward Ederson and was repelled near the six-yard box, Robertson crashed in a cross, and Jordan Henderson looked to nip in down the right before turning back into traffic.
Guardiola now made a move by making two switches: the ineffective Haaland might have been one but he escaped as Grealish and Mahrez were hooked, Phil Foden and Álvarez entering. At this juncture Roberto Firmino was also sacrificed – by Klopp – for Núñez so the land’s leading two rivals each now had their new top-gun marksman in action.
What was a surprise was how static City were with Haaland in the ranks: Guardiola, this evening at least, lost the fluid attack-play that has been so scintillating and successful for City due to the Norwegian’s reluctance to drop off the front.
That was until Álvarez’s leveller when Haaland did precisely this – finding space and passing to De Bruyne. His cross was volleyed by Foden at Adrián and when the forward challenged the keeper the ball squirmed to Álvarez whose strike stood – following a lengthy check for offside.
But, now, came a second VAR inquest: Craig Pawson was sent to the pitch-side monitor and adjudged that Rúben Dias handled Núnéz’s header. Salah coolly scored the penalty before Núñez sealed the victory in stoppage time.