Liverpool hit back to derail City title hopes
Liverpool 3-0 Manchester City
The pre-match rally cry from Jurgen Klopp was an appeal to the disheartened.
"Falling down is okay in life; it is expected. But you have to get up and keep going forward," he wrote, trying to raise morale after the Wembley woe.
Liverpool did not just lift themselves off the canvas against Manchester City, they did so by delivering three uppercuts that took the fizz out of Manuel Pellegrini's cup champagne. Four days after winning a trophy, the one City have come to expect most might now be beyond them. It was not that they were beaten at Anfield, but the emphatic nature of the loss underlined the erratic nature of both sides. Pellegrini's side were woeful.
Liverpool were superb, goals from Adam Lallana, James Milner and Roberto Firmino making them unrecognisable from the side that has limped through most of the season. The tame display of a City team that should have had momentum was plain odd given the class in their line-up. Tiredness is no excuse since it was Liverpool who went into the evening so deflated.
The predictable gag since photographs emerged of leading executives of the 'elite' clubs engaged in secret meetings was, 'How did Liverpool get an invitation?' Certainly no contemporary achievements warrant the Merseyside club's presence at the top table.
History still counts for plenty even if the current league table makes sobering reading, the energy and charisma of Klopp's press conferences too rarely replicated on the pitch. It is often said a manager's team reflect his personality. That alone tells us how much work needs to be done.
Insipid is not a phrase to springs to mind when assessing Klopp, so how comforted he would have been by a first half that was his side's most impressive on home soil since taking over. Lest we forget, he'd only won in front of The Kop in the league twice prior to City's arrival.
A first trophy at Anfield was Klopp's ambition four days ago. Escaping mid-table is the more modest ambition. Not that City arrived having exploited the huge gulf in class that was evident at Wembley.
Pellegrini could argue a treble was still possible, but a must-win league fixture in the first week of March was inconceivable when his side sprinted from the blocks in August. As Lallana and Milner put Liverpool ahead - a deserved lead at half-time - all the flaws that explain why City were so eager to recruit Pep Guardiola were evident. City have so many great players but they need shaping into a unit.
Their lifeless start on Merseyside was all the more surprising since Pellegrini had resisted mass changes, the absence of Yaya Toure in midfield enforced.
Joe Hart for Willy Caballero was expected, although the England's keeper's strange lack of positioning made him culpable when Lallana's hopeful strike bounced beyond him on 34 minutes.
Klopp made several changes to his Wembley line-up. The absence of Daniel Sturridge was not a surprise after he limped away on Sunday, while the trust in left-back Alberto Moreno may be wearing thin. His absence allowed Jon Flanagan to start a league game for the first time in 18 months.
Still Christian Benteke awaited proof the manager's supportive public words are not hollow. It's tough to see in precisely what circumstances the £32.5m striker will start again since Divock Origi was preferred up front. Pellegrini's inclusion of Raheem Sterling at least ensured plenty of invective from The Kop.
Flanagan's robust challenge on Sterling within 60 seconds set the tone, the former Liverpool winger jeered every time he chased the ball, let alone touched it. Sterling did get a cheer at half-time when he suffered the humiliation of being substituted.
Roberto Firmino was full of tricks and confidence, Emre Can was demonstrating his considerable potential and Lallana gave one of those displays that made you want to grab him and ask why he doesn't do this every week. Hart's error was a gift. Liverpool's best work took them to the edge of the box but the last pass was too often lacking, but Lallana's decision to take aim was rewarded.
Milner's five minutes later was more beautifully crafted, Lallana's backheel freeing Firmino whose pass found the ex-City man as he timed he run perfectly. Milner hesitated as he assessed whether to celebrate. Perhaps the frustration of the cup final loss got the better of him as the clenched fist duly arrived.
The removal of Sterling for Bony made City as open to further strikes. A third on the counter-attack - again crafted by Firmino - underlined the dual personality of Klopp's side. It was brilliant again, the Brazilian picking his spot after Lallana was again a menace.
Origi departed to a standing ovation granting Benteke a rare opportunity. The away fans were left only to celebrate the League Cup and chant about the title at Liverpool's expense two years ago.
These teams have gone toe-to-toe in this last few days as they did then, but are a long way off from showing the same consistent quality.