Manchester City have some issues to address ahead of next season, writes Paul Hassall, but their performance on Thursday suggested that next season’s title race will befitting of two generational teams.
The Merseysiders may well have been suffering from a prolonged hangover from toasting their euphoric moment, but credit must go to Pep Guardiola and his men, who followed up a respectful guard of honour with a response typical of a group who are serial winners in their own right.
Jurgen Klopp: Defeat had nothing to do with title celebrations
Despite this rare off day, it's easy to see why Liverpool are being tipped to go from strength to strength. City are 20 points adrift with six games to go and are way below the points tallies that saw them top the table in 2018 and 2019.
It is a significant drop off and the Citizens' problems are clear. They have far more areas to address than the Reds ahead of the new campaign. The Citizens have defensive issues to rectify in the transfer market as well as a changing of the guard with club legend David Silva the latest set to follow Vincent Kompany out of the Etihad exit.
It's far from a simple picture for Guardiola, who himself has refused to commit beyond his contract that runs out next summer. Throw in the Champions League ban and it's no surprise observers are suggesting it could be Jurgen Klopp's time to dominate the English football landscape.
However, City's performance here, against their biggest rivals, galvanised the team and their fans' own belief that they aren't going to conveniently fade away just yet. They have a wealth of talent at their disposal, particularly in an area where Liverpool are perhaps not as strong. The Reds' midfield is more workmanlike, perhaps lacking the same guile and creativity as their Manchester rivals.
There has been a lot of talk about Jordan Henderson as player of the season and the Reds skipper may yet receive one of those accolades, but in Kevin De Bruyne, Manchester City have the best midfielder in the league, if not the world. He showed it again here in a game packed with world class performers. Quite how he has not secured one of the end of term individual awards yet is a mystery. At 29, the Belgian is at the peak of his powers and if he remains fit and healthy can assume an even greater responsibility alongside the likes of Raheem Sterling in helping City regroup and come back even stronger. Indeed, amidst some areas of uncertainty there are major positives too. Phil Foden is finally being given more time to shine and is showing just why there are such high hopes for him both at club level and internationally.
City could yet end this season with three major trophies, but Guardiola is ever the perfectionist. He will be relentless in what will become an obsession to wrestle the Premier League momentum back their way next term. This 4-0 result may well go down as a blip for Liverpool in a season that saw them end a 30-year wait for the title at an absolute canter, but Pep and his team will be quietly confident they can put things in place to ensure next year's race is more befitting of a battle between two sides who will go down amongst the English top-flight's greats.