Friday 17 August 2018

Guardiola and City rocked by frenzied Pool onslaught

Manchester side made to look a shadow of the team marching towards Premier League glory

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola can’t hide his dismay on the Anfield sideline last night. Photo: Anthony Devlin/AFP/Getty Images
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola can’t hide his dismay on the Anfield sideline last night. Photo: Anthony Devlin/AFP/Getty Images

Jim White

Never can a welcome have had such a dramatic effect. Manchester City arrived on Merseyside into a storm of a kind I have never before witnessed in English football.

Outside Anfield, a crowd had been gathering for hours, their intentions abundantly clear: they wanted to let their visitors know they were in for a game.

There was no way for City to avoid the trap being set for them, no disguising the Mancunian coach as it crawled through the traffic.

The bold graphics on the side seemed to act as a target. Missiles rained down on it, smoke-bombs were sparked, everywhere smelled of ordnance. And the noise was extraordinary: a visceral howl of threat hung over Liverpool 4.

Inside the ground, it was no less charged. In these days of the ascendancy of the prawn sandwich, the fans were in place 45 minutes before kick off, going through their songbook, passing banners overhead detailing their club's European pedigree.

Sure, the City fans cowed in the corner of the Anfield Road stand did their best to disparage their efforts.

The team’s bus comes under attack outside the stadium beforehand. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters
The team’s bus comes under attack outside the stadium beforehand. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters

"Just like United," they sang, "you live in the past".

It was the last we heard of them.

Here was the club that defines itself by its European pedigree up against the team that has never really got on with continental competition; the fans who sing themselves hoarse when Europe is on the agenda against the fans who boo the Champions League anthem.

There was no doubt who was winning the battle of the noise. If choruses of You'll Never Walk Alone won silverware on their own, titles would never head anywhere other than Anfield.

Atmosphere

This was much more than simply the home crowd answering their manager's plea to get behind their team. This was an atmosphere seldom seen in the sterile Premier League era. This was the past reborn.

From the moment the prospective English champions stepped on to the Anfield turf, it was clear they had been disturbed by what had greeted them.

Just as the volume seemed to light a fire in the belly of the men in red, so it emasculated their opponents in blue. As every touch by a Liverpool player was greeted with a cacophony, so every touch by their City opponents was met by a piercing chorus of whistles.

What City had to do was seize an early advantage, kill the noise, undermine the dynamic.

Instead, they faltered. Players such as Leroy Sane, normally so sure footed, began to make poor decisions.

After a season of peerless goalkeeping, Ederson was suddenly giving a passable impression of Claudio Bravo. Extraordinarily, David Silva was being caught in possession.

Mainlining the noise, Liverpool poured forward. Under the relentless pressing, City looked suddenly something they haven't all season: ordinary. This was how to beat the best team in the land.

You imagine Jose Mourinho, watching this from a distance, was rapidly reformulating his tactics for Saturday's title-deciding showdown. Or maybe not.

In the face of the row, whatever City's plan was, it wasn't working. The noise would not be abated.

When the peerless Mohamed Salah scored, the grand new main stand actually shook. By the time Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sadio Mane added the second and third goals, the superstructure was undergoing a test its architects cannot have predicted.

All around the ground, the home fans were wearing expressions of joyful astonishment.

Watching from the touchline, how Pep Guardiola must have wondered what was happening to his well-oiled machine. He did his best to halt the contagion.

When Nicolas Otamendi sent an over optimistic pass yards ahead of any City runner, instead of greeting it with the reaction it deserved - a snarl - he ostentatiously clapped his hands above his head.

He could see what was happening, and was trying to encourage his players, trying to generate patience, calm in the madness.

In the second half, Guardiola had some reaction from his team. They tried to play their way through the noise.

Raheem Sterling, the prodigal son treated as a pariah when he came on as a substitute, did his best - galloping down the line, fizzing with an appetite for revenge, his past perhaps inoculating him against the undiminished noise.

However, his efforts were not enough. City now have an Everest-scale mountain to climb at the Etihad, where they are unlikely to be assisted by the oxygen of noise.

Salah told his manager that he's "all fine, all good" after he was forced to come off with an apparent injury but Liverpool will sweat on his fitness untill a full diagnosis is confirmed.

City and Guardiola, meanwhile, have enough worries of thier own. (© The Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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