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 By Dave Usher

Liverpool's defensive deficiencies exposed after Sadio Mane red card

Craig Burley breaks down what exactly went wrong with Liverpool's defence against Manchester City.
ESPN's Stewart Robson and Peter Walton share their thoughts on all of the biggest refereeing decisions from the Premier League.

It's often claimed that attack is the best form of defence. For Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool, however, it would appear that it's the only form.

Saturday's shocking 5-0 drubbing at Manchester City confirmed supporters' long-held fears about their team's vulnerability at the back, as Liverpool's defensive shortcomings were ruthlessly exposed by the brilliant Kevin De Bruyne and Co.

Liverpool's defensive flaws are usually covered by the goal threat they carry at the top end of the pitch. Even if they aren't scoring four or five, the mere threat of what their front line can do is often enough to prevent opponents pushing forward too much.

City had looked nervy and vulnerable in defence right up until a Sadio Mane red card  eight minutes before half-time was quickly followed by the tactical withdrawal of Mohamed Salah at the break.

With no attacking threat to keep City honest, Liverpool's defence was left exposed in the second half and the outcome was not pretty. In truth, they were fortunate it was only five.

The sending off doesn't excuse what followed, but it does explain it. A more defensive-minded team could have dealt with going down to 10 men much better than Liverpool did. West Brom's Tony Pulis or Burnley's Sean Dyche, for example, would set their teams up in such a way that losing an attacker wouldn't necessarily force them to change their style much, if at all. They'd still lose, but at least they'd make it difficult by sitting in with two low blocks of four and restricting space.

Asking these Liverpool players to do that effectively is not very realistic because it isn't something they work on a day to day basis. Every team has their own identity, and Liverpool's is very much to play on the front foot. That's who they are, it's what defines them and it's what makes them one of the best teams in the country. They can't just flick a switch and defend the edge of their box like Burnley do.

Former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers once claimed that it's "not difficult to play defensive," and he has a point. Liverpool could play like that if they had a manager who wanted to, but the fans would not like it. They want to see their team attack and play attractive football.

That's what Rodgers was able to do for a while (until he lost Luis Suarez and it all fell apart), and it's exactly what Klopp does so well now. It seems little regard is given to defending, which is fine when your attackers are so terrifying that opponents are wary of sending too many players forward in case they get caught on the break.

Because they are used to playing Jurgen Klopp's attacking style, Liverpool were not prepared to defend once down to 10 men.

For 38 minutes with Mane and Salah on the field, Liverpool were ripping through City at will, just as they had done to Arsenal two weeks earlier. Unfortunately, the ruthlessness that was on show against the Gunners was sorely lacking against City, with Salah particularly wasteful.

Mind you, he'd missed three great chances against Arsenal, too, before he eventually found the net, and there's no reason to think he wouldn't have done the same to City. He misses a lot of chances, but he never seems to have to wait too long for another.

So despite trailing 1-0, Liverpool still had every reason to feel good about how the game was going. But that all changed when Mane was a split second later to the ball than City keeper Ederson Moraes, and Mane's raised boot caught the Brazilian in the face.

Ederson had to be substituted and Mane was given a red card. The decision by referee Jon Moss split opinion, but there is no right or wrong answer. Moss was well within his rights to produce a red card, but it's entirely subjective as to whether he should have or not.

Even trailing 1-0, Liverpool still had some hope, particularly if Salah could force Nicolas Otamendi into a foul that would have led to him picking up a second yellow card and evening the numbers. Unfortunately, City soon made it 2-0 and that was game over.

At that point, Klopp waved the white flag and withdrew Salah at half-time, meaning the Reds no longer posed any kind of threat to City and would be merely hoping to keep the score down. They failed, miserably.

Against a lesser side they might have coped with going down to 10 men, but City are the last team you'd want to face in those circumstances. That said, Liverpool should have made a better fist of it than they did, and not one player in red came out of the game with any credit.

It was an embarrassing, humbling experience, but it actually means little in terms of the rest of the season -- and Liverpool's players should certainly not lose confidence as a result of it, especially as they looked the more accomplished side when it was 11 v 11.

Of course the result is disappointing, but this was a unique situation that Liverpool will almost certainly never find themselves in again. The important thing now is to just forget this, chalk it down to experience and move on.

Dave Usher is one of ESPN's Liverpool bloggers and the founder of LFC fanzine and website The Liverpool Way. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.

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