Liverpool vs. Manchester City: What Manuel Pellegrini Learned at Yankee Stadium
NEW YORK — Yankee Stadium is a strange place to watch Manchester City play football.
This enormous, sprawling progeny of the House that Ruth Built is marked at every turn with the iconic "N.Y." logo. It is on everything, including the grass behind the space where home plate can normally be found.
With the Yankees in Texas, though, the Guinness International Champions Cup came to the Bronx. Not surprisingly, with New York City FC's debut getting closer by the day, Manchester City were tabbed to play in New York.
So they drew the proper lines for a football pitch on a baseball field, and the goals were where they belonged. But the foul poles still towered over the bleachers in left and right fields.
And a black-and-white portrait of George Steinbrenner's face loomed over the center of the pitch like the wrath of an angry deity.
Doubt the viability of world football in the United States all you like. Over 60,000 fans turned out to FedEx Field to watch Manchester United. Yankee Stadium was remarkably full for Manchester City and Liverpool, and over 100,000 tickets have already been sold for United's visit to Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Even if the American fans have to watch world football in a baseball stadium, they will do it.
Here are seven things Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini learned from this most recent Manchester City assault on the Big Apple, which ended in a 3-1 penalty-shootout loss to Liverpool after the sides drew 2-2 at full-time.
Manuel Pellegrini Learned That Brendan Rodgers Is Taking This Tournament Seriously
Granted, Liverpool's squad depth is not even with that of Manchester City on Liverpool's best day. With Luis Suarez gone (and that transfer fee not spent yet), Liverpool's roster does not have a lot of excess.
But Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers very clearly did not come to New York to become another victim of another City carpet-bombing.
After seeing Sporting Kansas City and AC Milan get strafed in City's last two exhibitions, Rodgers decided to put something awfully close to his best XI out against the reigning Premier League champions.
Conversely, Pellegrini was still without most of his best. Neither Vincent Kompany nor Sergio Aguero were even on the team sheet, and Yaya Toure, Joe Hart and David Silva did not start.
Even before kick-off, then, Pellegrini knew that Liverpool were in this match and in this Guinness International Champions Cup with winning, not preventing injury or playing it safe, in mind.
Manuel Pellegrini Learned That Manchester City's Brand Has a Long Way to Go
In a football world where, as Michael Davies of the Men in Blazers podcast says, you're either a Blue or a Red, Manchester City found out that New York is a Red town where Liverpool are concerned.
City's players were booed heartily entering the pitch. Steven Gerrard's first appearance on the enormous video board in what is normally center field brought a huge cheer from a predominantly red-clad crowd.
This was not a disinterested American crowd getting behind Liverpool because they lost the Premier League to Manchester City last season. This was a straight and legitimate show of Liverpool's global reach.
Not even the fact that Liverpool's owners also control the Boston Red Sox mattered to a New York crowd draped in Liverpool's distinctive red.
It was all quite ironic, since City are launching New York City FC next season. City might have hoped that they would be the story of their appearance in New York.
On this night, though, City were a foil in what will someday be their own backyard. Certainly, hearing "You'll Never Walk Alone" at a "neutral site" City match had to be a bit disorienting.
"Hopefully with the things that we're doing all over the globe, expanding as brand as a club, the trophies we're winning in England, I'm sure the next three or four years there'll be a lot more Man City shirts out there," City midfielder James Milner told me post-match.
As for this go-round, though, Milner allowed that it was "an away game in New York."
Manuel Pellegrini Learned That Playing 15 on 11 Is No Fun at All
Consistent with the theme of Liverpool playing this match as a neutral-site home team, Pellegrini watched helplessly as referee Silviu Petrescu kept his whistle and his cards holstered despite numerous careless Liverpool challenges.
Most notably, City striker Edin Dzeko took such a pounding in the first half that at one point he ended up splayed on the Yankee Stadium turf in the Liverpool penalty area for a few moments while play continued. It was a remarkable facsimile of the pseudo-nap Dzeko took at Goodison Park last spring.
Then City had a beautiful goal ruled offside, and Pellegrini and City had to wonder what it would take to hear a whistle or see a flag (or a card) that did not abet Brendan Rodgers' charges. In fairness, Petrescu's "no harm, no foul" style had both sides gasping in disbelief for much of the night.
And maybe it was just a friendly, but you would never have known that from the determined and hard play at both ends.
It is hard to imagine a Premier League manager or supporter missing the likes of Howard Webb or Mike Dean, but it would have been nice to have one of them running the show in New York.
Manuel Pellegrini Learned That Steven Gerrard Is Still Steven Gerrard
Manchester City had 56 percent of the possession in the first half and worked many wondrous buildup plays only to reach the dressing room scoreless.
Then City broke through with a scruffy tap-in from Stevan Jovetic in the 53rd minute created almost wholly by (wait for it) a defensive gaffe from Steven Gerrard.
Jesus Navas' harmless-looking cross found one of Gerrard's feet, then the other, until it fell to Jovetic for an easy finish. Navas was credited with an assist, but the real help came from the Liverpool captain.
Gerrard has this thing about helping City out by missing the ball and falling down. That trend continues.
Manuel Pellegrini Learned That Stevan Jovetic Wants to Be a Big Player at City
Stevan Jovetic came off for Manchester City after 70 sparkling minutes, and the City supporters in the seats rose as one.
Unfortunately, perhaps, the roar was probably as much for Yaya Toure's entry into the match as it was for Jovetic's stellar performance.
But the young Montenegrin was everything Pellegrini could have wanted him to be against Liverpool. Jovetic was physical, found his way to advantageous positions and converted two chances into goals.
With Alvaro Negredo sidelined until October (at least), Pellegrini had to be gladdened by seeing a striker not named Edin Dzeko or Sergio Aguero creating offense for his club.
And credit Jovetic for pushing himself into Pellegrini's plans going forward.
Manuel Pellegrini Learned That Playing Without Kompany and Zabaleta Is Tough
Manchester City had the better of the play for most of the match. Pellegrini surely realized that the best way to hide his makeshift back line was to keep pressing Liverpool and keep the ball out of City's end.
It almost worked, too.
City had the lead twice, but each time defensive lapses from Matija Nastasic, Gael Clichy and Dedryck Boyata sent a Liverpool attacker or three in on City's second-half goalkeeper, Joe Hart. In truth, had Hart not played an agile and balletic half of football, City could have lost by a few goals.
Not even an in-form Hart had any chance of stopping Raheem Sterling's 85th-minute equalizer, which resulted from another breakdown in front of City's goal.
Pellegrini will relish the sight of Vincent Kompany at centre-back when the matches begin in Premier League play.
And Eliaquim Mangala's price tag may be going up.
Manuel Pellegrini Learned That His Backups Are Not Great Penalty Takers
Once City gave their late lead away, there was a definite sense of the inevitability of a Liverpool result. That sense became far stronger once the match went to penalties.
City had removed Dzeko and Jovetic before regulation time ended. Only Aleksandar Kolarov and Toure seemed like reliable penalty takers of the Sky Blues still on the pitch.
And naturally, Kolarov and Toure both missed.
That City might (should?) have won in regulation made the shootout loss all the more sour.