Thursday 18 October 2018

Breathtaking Liverpool blow Blues away

Liverpool 3 Manchester City 0

Mohamed Salah (centre) celebrates with Roberto Firmino and Andy Robertson after scoring Liverpool’s first goal. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Mohamed Salah (centre) celebrates with Roberto Firmino and Andy Robertson after scoring Liverpool’s first goal. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Miguel Delaney

After a genuinely magical Liverpool night that lived up to every effusive word ever uttered about Anfield, Pep Guardiola and Manchester City are now going to have live up to all the hype about them to turn this tie around.

The Catalan will maybe have to produce his greatest feat of management yet, or something at least as wondrous as Jurgen Klopp conjured here for this coruscating 3-0 victory that itself will match anything this great old ground has seen in Europe.

That's the scale of the task for City in the second leg, that's how magnificent Liverpool were.

It was amazing to think that the utterly thrashed visitors could be crowned the most commanding ever English champions as soon as Saturday, because it's been a long time since they have been made to look this callow, this out of ideas, this poor.

City's night started with their bus getting smashed up and just got worse. The only blemish for Liverpool, the second-half injury to the dominant Mohamed Salah.

The consequences of that remain to be seen, but the consequences of Liverpool's game-plan were already ruinous for City.

Liverpool's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Photo: Anthony Devlin/AFP/Getty Images
Liverpool's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Photo: Anthony Devlin/AFP/Getty Images

There was nothing special or sophisticated to that game-plan in terms of tactics in setting up this special night, other than Klopp realised how to maximise his main weapon.

It is a relatively simple one that remains one of the most ruinous in the game: pure pace. Speed. It was just weaved to brilliant effect.

The real key, though, was that Liverpool successfully set a pace that City couldn't match, even when Klopp's team began to naturally subside. That is also where the real inquest will come about the game for Guardiola, as he strives to discover why this happened.

One of many remarkable - well, astounding - aspects of this game was that City had started it the better team. Guardiola had obviously been extremely mindful of the ruinous effect of Liverpool's rampaging pace.

Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters

So mindful, in fact, that his entire game-plan seemed to be set up around it. That backfired badly. Liverpool were just too fearsome on the front foot.

In so evidently trying to take the sting out of any fast Liverpool start by slowing the pace of the match, they took all sting out of their own game and were just completely unable to match it when Klopp's drastically upped that pace.

City couldn't raise themselves. They were so flat-footed and this was evident in so many big moments.

It was never more obvious than the moment that set the pattern of the game, and the subsequent tempo.

Liverpool's Sadio Mane in action with Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters
Liverpool's Sadio Mane in action with Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters

Although City had been some way successful in so suffocating the match in the first 10 minutes, it was undone as quickly as a Salah run - and by a Salah run.

Stormed

He stormed through the City half on 11 minutes; Guardiola's backline struggled to stay on their feet in response, and the ball eventually came back via Roberto Firmino for the Egyptian to continue his gloriously prolific season.

The second goal didn't come from the same type of counter, but was a result of the same Liverpool power against City's ponderousness.

As Fernandinho and Vincent Kompany could only half-clear an attack, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain responded by making the fullest possible connection with the ball.

A better goal this season you will struggle to see. A pure strike that flew into the top corner.

It summed up the difference between the sides, something made all the clearer a moment later.

As David Silva stood with the ball on the edge of the Liverpool box taking his time to pick out a pass, James Milner just charged back to thunderously win it off him. This was what it was coming down to.

While every City player looked so sluggish, Liverpool looked like scoring from every attack. So they duly did exactly that from the next one.

Salah was afforded so much time to pick a cross, and Sadio Mane was afforded the space in the box to pick his spot with a close-range header.

Anfield was absolutely rocking; City were just absolutely rocked.

Really, they were worse than rocked. They looked stunned, as if they couldn't quite believe what was happening, and didn't know how to get themselves out of this.

At that point, Guardiola's pointed pre-match words seemed all the more relevant.

"What I admire the most from the important teams is in the bad moments they are calm, they remain calm," the Catalan had said.

"In the bad moments, the opponents are attacking and it looks like I am taking a cup of coffee because I know my chance is coming."

He didn't look like he was taking a cup of coffee, nor did his team look anyway calm.

A chance did present itself, mind, but because of blind fortune rather than City force. Salah had to go off injured, replaced by Gini Wijnaldum.

The entire mood around Anfield had shifted, from one of excitable anticipation to edgy anxiety, as City finally began to have more of the ball.

It was just that Guardiola's side hadn't yet shifted gears. Sure, they had more of the ball, but they were still so sluggish and sloppy with it.

It was if the early approach had terminally stifled them for the remainder of this game.

They didn't realise that there was now a vulnerability to Liverpool, nor did they realise that they have far more attacking options than just hitting it out to a Leroy Sane not at his liveliest. This was all a coach as sophisticated as Guardiola had?

Trent Alexander-Arnold had clearly been targeted at right-back, but was able to meet every challenge.

City weren't able to raise it further. It said much that a very quiet Kevin De Bruyne was so frustrated he offered the type of foul that brought a booking.

City could bring nothing else to the game.

The inherent chaos to this Liverpool team will mean they won't consider qualification for the semi-finals any way secure, but their backline - and especially the brilliant Dejan Lovren - stood up superbly in the second half.

City couldn't even reach second gear. Any celebrations for confirming first place in the Premier League on Saturday will feel that bit hollower and emptier, because Guardiola is now going to have second-guess himself with that.

There was none of that with Klopp or Liverpool. They assuredly won with the purity of a team that just went for it, that played on their best qualities, and produced a night that will go down as one of the best, even in this club's history. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport