Date: 14th January 2018 at 7:12pm
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The Nation awaited and finally the Nation got what at least the red two-thirds of Merseyside wanted. Manchester City’s unbeaten run stretching back to last April finally came to an end in a thrilling match at Anfield, where the vibrant reds were just about able to hang on in a seven-goal extravaganza.

The Blues fielded an expected line-up with the possible exception of David Silva, who for some reason was kept on the bench. This meant that the creative burden in midfield lay solely at the feet of Kevin de Bruyne, although Gundogan was supposed to be in there somewhere, replacing the Magician.

But it was Liverpool who got going first. Their brand of attacking football is the closest to City’s in the Premier League and but for some unusual results, they would be giving City a much better run for their money than Moaning Maureen’s Toffee Shop Selection.

The threat caused to any team offered by Mane, Salah and Firmino, who all scored in this match, should not be underestimated, and for me this is the team who will finish second if City are fortunate enough to be collecting the title in the middle of May.

The opening goal, however, came from a different source. Oxlade-Chamberlain might not have been a favourite at City’s London-Based Elite Development Squad, formerly known as Arsenal and clearly didn’t follow the heavily trodden path, but his opening goal was first class, creating his own space at the edge of the box, improperly attended by Delph and Otamendi, spotting Ederson maybe one step too close to his left-hand post and then drilling his shot inside the right-hand post, with the game barely ten minutes old.

The Reds continued to deny City space in key areas and at the same time kept the ball away from their dodgy net minder, Karius and a back line shorn through injury of its new conductor in chief, Van Dijk.

Towards the middle of the half, City, in no hurry nor panic, started to pull their own game together and finally, just ahead of the break, Sane, who had done practically nothing, skipped past Gomes, rounded Matip and hammered it in by the near post. I don’t know what Karius was doing in his bid to save this, but it levelled things up and set City on the front foot.

After the break, City were starting to put their foot on the gas. The Kop had gone a little bit quiet and it looked as though the Blues would be the next scorers, but what happened in just a few minutes around the hour mark, was completely unexpected. Three City mistakes were punished clinically by the remnants of the so-called Fab Four, a title which Klopp didn’t like so much that he sold one of them.

With the Blues losing out in midfield, Liverpool pushed to ball up to Firmino. It should have been an easy task for Stones to tidy up but the Brazilian was stronger, heaving him off the ball before bending it in off the far post with Ederson stranded.

Next up, of all people de Bruyne lost the ball deep in Liverpool territory. Once again, Liverpool recycled it rapidly and Mane hammered it into the top corner from the edge of the box. Again, no chance for Ederson.

At this point City were losing it a bit and not only on the scoreboard. The discipline, a feature of City’s march to the top this season, got left behind and a series of yellow cards abounded with Otamendi, Sterling and Fernandinho all finding their way into Mr Marriner’s book.

In their next raid, Ederson made the critical and crucial error of trying to be too smart in his footwork, passed it to Wijnaldum, it ricocheted to Salah who spotted Ederson hadn’t recovered his ground and chipped a beauty to make it 4-1.

City looked shell-shocked. There was still 20 minutes to go and Liverpool not only sensed more goals, but maybe scented blood as well. It took City ten minutes to re-group. Sterling, still unable to deal with the persistent booing from a normally knowledgeable set of fans who should by now have left this behind graciously, was replaced by Bernardo Silva. A substitution that was to have quite an impact on what remained of the match because after 84 minutes, some resurgent City pressure from Sane and Gundogan got him clear near the penalty spot and his true shot found the back of the net.

One thing about this Liverpool team is that it is not confident trying to defend insurmountable leads and as the match passed into stoppage time, Gundogan squeezed in another to make it 4-3. Now the nerves were jangling. No doubt Sue was hiding in a cupboard or something and screaming obscenities at the Liverpool defence and I bet she nearly had a heart attack at the end when a City free-kick was headed into the side-netting by Aguero.

This time Liverpool did see it out, but it would have been interesting had City scored number two five minutes earlier. Klopp moved from the smiley-miley to the apoplectic.

Pundit land would have exploded like the New Fireworks in London as Liverpool finally showed the football world how to do it. The problem is that no other team in this country, and there may only be one or two worldwide, has the firepower enjoyed by the reds. They have energy, they have desire, they put you under pressure and then they have the potency to punish your mistakes. That is precisely what they did this weekend. The key assists to their goals came from the opposition.

The City errors have been there in a number of matches, but other teams don’t have the quality in and around the box that Liverpool have. Add to that the fact that City score shedloads of goals, in essence just as they did at Anfield and you see the real reason City are top of the charts. But the threat will come from Anfield. Klopp has a very patient team-building ethos and his side is a quality goalkeeper away from a title-tilt. His bench is improving as players get back from injury, especially Lallana and the whole thing at Anfield looks destined to rival City, if not this, then definitely next season.

City looked a little jaded in key areas. This was probably Fernandinho’s poorest match this season and without Silva, de Bruyne simply can’t carry the assist load. He was not helped by a below average effort from Gundogan whose passing wasn’t spectacular – although he wouldn’t have faced a counter-press like this one probably in his footballing life. I think Bernardo might have been a safer bet in the number ten role if David wasn’t fit enough to play.

Aguero still looks a shadow although it was his astute pass that lead to Silva’s goal and he did have to plough a lone furrow up top. He could have levelled it up at the end though.

The fingers will point in the direction of Ederson at a stadium that is proving to be a graveyard for modern goalkeepers and played today under the spectre of Tommy Lawrence who sadly died earlier this week. I have many memories of the big man playing in the sixties at Maine Road and it is never a great experience when one of the game’s legends leaves us behind.

Normally so assured and confident in his footwork, Ederson unnecessarily rushed his clearance, well, pass really and probably did not expect the rapier-like precision with which Liverpool were to counter. That was probably the defining moment for Liverpool, the one-goal-too-far for City.

In recent matches it has been difficult to judge City’s man-of-the-match because the team collective has been the reason for their golden streak. Today everyone was susceptible to errors, but if I had to choose someone it would be de Bruyne. Even he made an error that started a Liverpool move that ended in a goal.

As you will have guessed, I didn’t watch the match with dear Susan as she threatened to put on Alan Titchmarsh or something similar if City got in front. I suspect that when it was 4-2, she went into hiding!!

City at last have a full week off now and can take stock of the situation before Newcastle come to town on Saturday evening. They provided one of the stiffest tests for City this season, but the Blues still found a way. I suspect Pep will go with his best available team next weekend which hopefully will include David Silva. Players like de Bruyne and Fernandinho can recharge their batteries in readiness for another attack of football every three days as Newcastle, Bristol City in the FA Cup Fourth Round, West Brom and Burnley all lie in wait. The three Premier League fixtures look eminently winnable and I hope that Guardiola rotates for the Cups and plays his best team in the League.


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