Sunday 14th January will always be a day to remember in the history of Premier League 2017/18 season when Liverpool ended Manchester City's unbeaten run with a 4-3 win at Anfield.
Yet it had been 284 days since Pep Guardiola’s team last experienced a defeat in the Premier League. The run stretched 30 games and at least now the other teams towards the top of the table have been reminded the champions-in-waiting can be beaten, after all.
It has certainly been a long time since City appeared this vulnerable and in that nine-minute blitz when Liverpool rattled in three second-half goals it was remarkable to see the way the most accomplished team in the country disintegrated. More fool us, perhaps, for thinking that City had eradicated the shortcomings that troubled Guardiola in his first year at the club. Liverpool were not flawless either but, equally, let’s not be too critical when they can conjure up this much fun. It was a breathless afternoon and on this evidence, Jürgen Klopp must be pained that there is still a 15-point gap between the two teams.
This was Liverpool’s first game since Philippe Coutinho’s move to Barcelona and it was some response from Klopp’s players bearing in mind the obvious questions about how it would affect the team. Defensively they are still far too accident-prone, Loris Karius’s goalkeeping can spread anxiety and Liverpool, winning 4-1 as the clock ticked into the 84th minute, came perilously close to throwing it all away. Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gündogan had set up an almost implausible feat of escapology but Sergio Agüero had strayed offside with City’s last chance, four minutes into stoppage time, and the game was denied a final, dramatic twist.
As vibrant as they were going forward, Liverpool certainly looked susceptible in defence and Leroy Sané’s goal to make it 1-1, beating Karius at his near post, was just the latest reminder that Klopp’s men will continue to be held back until they have a goalkeeper who is suitable for a club of their ambitions. Karius has previous, of course, and the only possible mitigation was that most of the blame should be apportioned to Joe Gomez for leaving Sané with the chance in the first place.
Yet City were even more careless at the back and, at this level, no team can expect to defend this generously and get away with it.
The way Firmino outmuscled John Stones before clipping in Liverpool’s second goal was a case in point. Mané’s goal two minutes later was a brilliant left-foot finish but it originated from Otamendi losing the ball inside his own half and the next one – in the end, the game’s decisive moment – came after Ederson had hared out of his penalty area to kick the ball straight to an opponent. Unfortunately for him, that opponent was Salah, who promptly curled the ball back over the goalkeeper into an empty net from 40 yards out.
The only problem for Liverpool at 4-1 was that the game still had more than 20 minutes to go. Silva, one of City’s substitutes, turned in his team’s second goal after a lucky ricochet in the penalty area and when Gündogan prodded another one in, two minutes into stoppage time, it set up a nerve-shredding finale.
Yet the final result was a fair one. City had only four shots on target and Liverpool dominated long periods from the moment, nine minutes in, when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain eased unchallenged past Fernandinho and took his shot early, thumping the ball beyond Ederson with a low right-foot drive into the bottom corner.
Karius should certainly have done better with the shot from Sané and, not for the first time, it was strange that Klopp should select him for such a key assignment. It would have mattered a lot more, however, if City had saved themselves late on and the bottom line was that too many of Guardiola’s players were strangely off form.
Raheem Sterling, facing his old club, got little change out of Andrew Robertson and was substituted, to the pleasure of Liverpool’s crowd. Kevin De Bruyne’s nutmeg on Oxlade-Chamberlain was a joy but the Belgian did not have his usual influence and City missed the way David Silva, who was on the substitutes’ bench, knits the team together. Liverpool held on and, for the first time since a 2-1 defeat at Chelsea on 5 April last year, City were reminded what it was like to finish a league game as the losing side.
#credit: The Guardian