As Roy Hodgson embarks on his first season as Liverpool manager, Monday night's game against Manchester City should give the clearest indication yet that the times are changing in the top order of the Premier League.

Liverpool, once declared as a key member of the "big four", looked pale in comparison to a Manchester City team that is rapidly turning themselves into a force to be reckoned with.

While Hodgson must be given plenty of time to implement his philosophy on the team, his decision to play a rigid and lifeless 4-4-2 at Eastlands backfired. On paper the eleven looked to have some bold intentions with David Ngog paired with Fernando Torres. However, the duo's similarities and lack of support from midfield meant they were far too isolated.

City's strong and imposing back four, ably shielded by Yaya Toure, Gareth Barry and Nigel De Jong, looked on top from the outset. There was little space to manoevuer in City's final third and Liverpool very rarely looked like penetrating the home side's back line. Steven Gerrard, who was expected to be the central midfielder to bomb forward, looked like he was instrcuted to hold the middle of the pitch with Lucas Leiva.

Hodgson's cause wasn't helped by numerous under-performers. Glen Johnson, on his 26th birthday, possibly had his worst game in a red shirt. Widemen Dirk Kuyt and Milan Jovanovic never looked like troubling City's full backs - despite Joleon Lescott looking slightly uncomfortable at left back.

Hodgson, similarly to former manager Rafa Benitez, was famed for the organisation and defensive discipline of his teams. Therefore it was worrying to see Liverpool opened up at regular intervals and comfortably beaten by a side who have a relatively similar level of playing talent available to them.

Liverpool's first defeat of the season probably brings back down to earth any heavy expectations after a promising opener against Arsenal. A challenge for the top four is certainly the most realistic ambition. City - in contrast - will harbour title hopes, and on this evidence it's apparent they're superior to the men from Merseyside.

The depressing situation for Liverpool supporters is the rapid decline in anticipation, expectation and excitement from the end of the 2008/09 season. After being so close to claiming a 19th title, suddenly the holy grail looks further away than ever.