Manchester City hurled themselves right back into the title race last night and blew away Liverpool’s unbeaten run in the Premier League with a 2-1 victory at the Etihad.
Jurgen Klopp clearly didn’t have the courage of his convictions as the Scouse Special Victims Unit became victims of their own success or lack of it. Rather than playing their normal football, Liverpool for some reason feared Fernandinho and David Silva, deploying Milner and Wijnaldum to try to snuff them out. Therefore instead of their three-up-three-down midfield, where those players bolster the back four and support the front three, it left only Henderson, approaching if not past his sell-by date in this team, to combat the effervescent Bernardo and the wing raids from Sterling and Sane.
The dangers could be spotted straight away. Instead of his normal calm assurance, secure in the knowledge he has three in front of him, Van Dijk became a row Z merchant, using the old tried and trusted methods of postponing danger.
At the other end, the new found role for Mole Salad suited City. With Laporte playing as a makeshift left back, the Pharaoh of Formby should have stretched City to the right, but apart from getting dragged in for Firmino’s equaliser, the Frenchman didn’t get issued with too many problems all night.
The Blues laid down the gauntlet from the start, using Sane and Sterling as much as possible as Liverpool offered no protection to the full-backs. Chances arrived and at times the defending was desperate, but the first real chance fell in almost amusing circumstances, to Liverpool. Ederson was caught not dealing the end of a stunning counter-attack by the Scousers which looked as though it would put them in front. Stones cleared Mane’s shot but the diving Ederson headed it towards his own goal. Stones then pulled off an astonishing recovery off the line which replays showed was only 11mm short of being a goal. I’m glad that wasn’t left to an inept linesman to call.
City then moved up the other end with Aguero buzzing around the box and Sane leading Alexander Arnold a dance. Lovren, the best centre-back in the world who on the day declared Liverpool would go unbeaten all season pushed Aguero over but the referee Stretford Taylor waved it on. Sane took up the reins, Aguero got himself back onside then made a near-post dart. Bernardo found him and he blasted it right through Allyson to give the champions a deserved lead.
In the second half, Liverpool got into the game a bit more, but in fairness didn’t look threatening, but on 64 minutes they were handed a present. Another dose of City’s recent inability to get their lines clear saw Liverpool play into the inside left slot. Robertson, another victim of lack of protection at the defensive end of things, lobbed it over the oncoming Laporte, out of position, Kompany let Firmino go and he duly headed into an empty net.
It stunned the Etihad as Liverpool had hardly deserved it and everything was set for a Scouser onslaught and what had been almost a nerve-free cauldron for City, suddenly had its first fix of the jitters. But it was City who got back on the front foot and Aguero went close as did Sterling.
Then just 8 minutes after Liverpool scored, City ‘s quick-fire play through midfield, found Sterling’s run, unread by Robertson, he in turn located the unmarked Sane and this time the German slammed it in off the far post to send the Etihad into raptures. But would city hold out? Kompany who had cleared one off the line and had also clattered Salad, leaving the pundits baying for a red card, was clearly tired and Pep hauled him off in favour of Otamendi. Walker was also sent on to shore up things at the back.
Hold out City did and quite easily as it happened. Indeed on another rapid counter-attack, had Sterling selected Sane instead of Aguero it would have been 3-1, but Sergigol took a second too long and Allyson recovered to make a superb save.
Spare a thought for Bernardo who ran over 13 km and was still leading the press in the 95th minute. Fantastic MoTM performance. And as for Salad – he got the fewest touches on the pitch. I suspect his new role is easier for City to deal with, especially Vincent Kompany.
A great result for City, whose next foray in the Premier League is at home to Wolves a week on Monday, and the Blues look hungry again. They must now go on an unbeaten run themselves to restore the pressure on Liverpool.