Liverpool defeated Man Shitty 2-1.
The Guardians Andy Hunter;” Sixty days after his last Liverpool appearance was brought to an abrupt, painful and tearful halt in the Champions League final, Mohamed Salah returned seamlessly to his role as tormentor-in-chief for Jürgen Klopp’s team. Manchester City were again made to suffer, succumbing to their fourth consecutive defeat in seven months to Liverpool courtesy of Sadio Mané’s stoppage-time penalty.
Salah transformed a pre-season friendly in which a youthful City side held the edge, and the lead through Leroy Sané’s fine finish, before succumbing to the greater energy and quality that the Egypt international and Mané brought to the Liverpool attack. The scorer of 44 goals for Liverpool last season equalised 70 seconds after his introduction at the MetLife Stadium. He could have finished with a hat-trick but had to settle for a pivotal role in the penalty that gave Liverpool victory instead.
“Mo has no problems, he just has to get used to what we do,” said Klopp, who welcomed Salah back for the first time since the shoulder injury that contributed to Liverpool’s loss to Real Madrid in Kiev. “We have done a lot to strengthen the muscles in his shoulder. If I had concerns he wouldn’t have played. He came in and scored after maybe 35 seconds and had a big impact along with Sadio and Dom [Solanke]. It was a nice second half. It is still there, it is all good, but we need to keep on working.”
Preparations for the International Champions Cup fixture were far from ideal for both teams. The pitch was a problem too, sodden following a day’s downpour and patchy having been relaid at 5am on Tuesday after a series of Taylor Swift concerts. City had 16 members of their first team squad missing due to post-World Cup holidays and injuries. A youthful, inexperienced starting XI was the inevitable consequence although £60m record signing Riyad Mahrez made his second appearance in City colours.
Liverpool’s selection issues were less dramatic, with Georginio Wijnaldum returning for his first game of pre-season and Klopp’s team far more recognisable, but they only arrived at their hotel in New Jersey at 2am on the day of the game. Technical issues with their plane and an electrical storm delayed their flight from Charlotte by almost eight hours. Summer signing Naby Keïta suffered a sore neck on the journey and was omitted from the match-day squad as a result.
In the circumstances City’s youngsters acquitted themselves well, playing the sharper and more threatening football in the first half despite Liverpool enjoying more possession. Lukas Nmecha, the Hamburg-born England Under-19 international, caused frequent problems for Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk in the centre of Liverpool’s defence with intelligent movement and strong hold-up play. Oleksandr Zinchenko settled comfortably into a holding midfield role and Brahim Diaz also impressed behind Nmacha. It was Mahrez who dictated the rhythm of the City performance, however, effortlessly controlling proceedings in a more central midfield position than he usually had at Leicester City.
Mahrez created the first opening of the night with a perfectly weighted ball into the path of Nmacha. The 19-year-old’s low shot was parried by Loris Karius and, under pressure from Fabinho, he skied the rebound wastefully over an open goal. The striker appealed in vain for a penalty, as did Luke Bolton when he was caught by Andy Robertson inside the area but stayed on his feet before falling once the ball had rolled out for a goal-kick.
Referee Sorin Stoica was unmoved by a third penalty claim when Curtis Jones was sent tumbling by Cameron Humphreys shortly before the interval. Jones was Liverpool’s stand-out performer in the first half. The 17-year-old has enjoyed a fine pre-season for Klopp’s team and he posed the greatest threat to City’s defence from the left of Liverpool’s attack. That was until his replacement, Salah, entered the fray in the 61st minute.
The friendly was in desperate need of incident to enliven a crowd of 52,635 – a healthy attendance by any standard yet way below the MetLife Stadium’s capacity of 82,500. The appeal of two of the Premier League’s leading lights was inevitably diminished by the absence of so many star names. The quota, and the spectacle, was improved by the second half introduction of Sané.
Within seconds of Solanke having a goal disallowed for offside, City opened the scoring with a quality goal on the counter attack. Bernardo Silva, another half-time substitute, sent Sané sprinting clear of Van Dijk with a fine turn away from Fabinho and ball down the left channel. The Germany international, still smarting from his surprising omission from Joachim Löw’s World Cup squad, left Van Dijk in his wake before sweeping a powerful finish beyond substitute goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher.
Liverpool levelled swiftly and, to the audible delight of the majority in the crowd, it was Salah who scored with a close-range header from Rafael Camacho’s inviting right-wing cross. The Egypt international had been on the pitch for only 70 seconds when he equalised past an exposed Joe Hart, who replaced Claudio Bravo during the interval, and Salah was instrumental in turning the game emphatically in Liverpool’s favour thereafter.
Salah almost headed in a second from Mane’s cross but his effort was deflected wide by Humphreys. He then struck the crossbar when clean through on goal and helped create two decent openings for Mané, neither taken. Liverpool’s late dominance appeared set to peter out into a penalty shootout but, in the 92nd minute, they were awarded a spot-kick when Tosin Adarabioyo clumsily pushed Solanke in the back as they challenged for Salah’s chip into the penalty area. This time Stoica did point to the spot and Mané made no mistake, sending Hart the wrong way to record another win for Klopp over Pep Guardiola.
“It is incredible what we have done,” the City manager said. “It was amazing what these players have done for 75 minutes against that team, one that played for the Champions League. I am so, so proud. I am happy to be manager of these guys for that reason. In the last 15 minutes we were so tired and the quality of the changes that Liverpool made up front meant they deserved more goals in the end, but the way we played for 75 minutes was incredible. The average age was 19, so good.”