Liverpool hit four as City's defensive shortcomings are ruthlessly exposed
Liverpool produced a stunning performance as they blew title favourites Manchester City away with a 4-1 win at the Etihad Stadium.
On what proved a chastening night for Raheem Sterling against his old club, Liverpool enjoyed a whirlwind start, with an own goal from Eliaquim Mangala and strikes from Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino inside 32 minutes.
Sergio Aguero marked his return from injury with a superb effort to reduce the arrears, but Martin Skrtel secured three Barclays Premier League points for the visitors nine minutes from time.
Liverpool's performance was some statement as they continue to build momentum under new boss Jurgen Klopp, while City were simply run ragged.
With Daniel Sturridge not deemed fit enough to start, Klopp named a side without a recognised striker as he also left Christian Benteke on the bench.
But, with Firmino playing in an advanced role in a front three with Coutinho and Adam Lallana, Liverpool were energetic and hard-working in attack.
They immediately set about City, who looked all at sea at the back and were sloppy in possession.
City were without their influential captain Vincent Kompany because of injury, and his absence was again keenly felt, but manager Manuel Pellegrini also opted to leave in-form Nicolas Otamendi and Fernandinho on the bench.
Pellegrini's decision may have been influenced by the pair's recent international exertions in South America, but the result was a clumsy and exposed central defensive partnership of Mangala and Martin Demichelis.
Two players not involved in the international action, Coutinho and Firmino, took great delight in exposing their flaws.
Just seven minutes had gone when Coutinho robbed Bacary Sagna on the City right and burst forward to slip in Firmino. Mangala managed to get in the way as the Brazilian pulled the ball back looking for his countryman, but the Frenchman got in a tangle and could not prevent himself scoring at the wrong end.
City struggled to recover and moments later Jesus Navas gave the ball away to Coutinho, but James Milner, on his return to the ground he left last summer, blasted over.
City contributed to their own downfall again as Liverpool grabbed their second after 23 minutes. This time Firmino seized on a poor header by Demichelis and played in Coutinho for a simple tap-in.
The Liverpool fans then took further great delight as a promising City attack broke down at the feet of Sterling.
The visitors continued to press and struck again after Joe Hart had initially saved a powerful long-range effort from Coutinho. City were slow to respond as Liverpool recovered the loose ball and Emre Can left the hosts standing with a neat back-heel. Coutinho raced through and coolly teed up Firmino.
Rarely have City looked so exposed, and it could have got even worse as Firmino was first denied by Hart and then shot narrowly wide.
There was finally a City response just before the interval as Aguero found the net with an exquisite dipping shot from outside the area.
But the Reds did not let it affect their game and Hart saved brilliantly with his feet from Firmino as they started the second half with the same intensity.
Sterling broke clear for City, but opted to pass inside to Aguero and his delayed shot was well saved by Simon Mignolet.
Despite that chance, City could not impose their will. Aguero bowed out after 66 minutes, while Liverpool freshened up their attack by sending Benteke on.
The Begian might have done better after being put clear late on, as he hesitated and Hart saved.
But Liverpool put the game out of reach from the resulting corner as the ball dropped kindly for Sktrel and the defender lashed in a ferocious shot.
Sterling's day ended on a sour note as he failed to turn in the ball from in front of goal after Mignolet parried an effort from Fabian Delph.
TWEET OF THE MATCH
"This is HUGE for LFC! Honestly what a confidence boost. And they are playing exciting & interesting, entertaining football #MCFCvLFC" - Inbetweeners actor James Buckley assesses Liverpool's performance after their 4-1 win at the Etihad.
Joe Hart: 7
Bacary Sagna: 5
Martin Demichelis: 5
Eliaquim Mangala: 5
Aleksandar Kolarov: 5
Yaya Toure: 5
Jesus Navas: 4
Kevin de Bruyne: 6
Raheem Sterling: 5
Sergio Aguero: 6
Fabian Delph (on for Navas, 46): 6
Fernandinho (on for Toure, 46): 6
Kelechi Iheanacho (on for Aguero, 66): 6
Simon Mignolet: 7
Nathaniel Clyne: 7
Martin Skrtel: 8
Dejan Lovren: 7
Alberto Moreno: 6
James Milner: 6
Lucas Leiva: 7
Emre Can: 6
Philippe Coutinho: 8
Adam Lallana: 7
Roberto Firmino: 8
Kolo Toure (on for Lallana, 90): 5
Christian Benteke (on for Firmino, 77): 5
Jordon Ibe (on for Coutinho, 69): 6
Roberto Firmino had his best game since his summer move from Hoffenheim, scoring his first for the club, assisting in two others. Link-up play with Philippe Coutinho was almost telepathic.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
Firmino's goal in the 32nd minute - Liverpool's third - gave them some much-needed breathing space and put a big enough dent in City's confidence to make a significant difference.
VIEW FROM THE BENCH
Manuel Pellegrini was almost as static as some of his players in the first half. Tried to rectify the situation with double half-time substitution even if gamble of playing Sergio Aguero paid off but sight of him laid back in his chair after Liverpool's fourth told a story. Klopp, by contrast, shouted, jumped and hugged his way around the technical area and got his tactics spot on with the inclusion of Firmino as a nominal centre forward.
MOAN OF THE MATCH
Despite an expensively-assembled team oozing talent City were so sloppy despite dominating possession in a first half they got what they deserved and it left them with an almost impossible task.
WHO'S UP NEXT?
Juventus v Manchester City (Champions League, Wednesday November 25)
Liverpool v Bordeaux (Europa League, Thursday November 26)
On his return to the Etihad, Milner said it was "strange" coming back in the opposite changing room but was pleased to claim all three points.
He told Sky Sports 1: "It's always strange coming back to a club when you've been here for five years, it's a long time. I made a lot friends here. But as soon as you get on that football field it's all about getting the three points."
Skrtel continued his scoring run against City as the Slovakian international has now scored four goals against them - the most he has against any club and said he would not mind "playing them every week."
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp believes that his team's passion and belief were the key to his side's comprehensive win.
The German said: "What can I say after 4-1? Especially at their stadium. It was far away from perfect. We took our chances and our goals and they were brilliant goals. It's difficult to stay in the game with this kind of opponent. We did it well, with big passion.
"Belief is the most important thing because they were a little bit surprised to be 3-0 in the lead but with results like this we have to believe."
Klopp was also pleased to keep Sturridge on the bench after he returned from injury.
"Yes, it's a big plus, when you can bring in Benteke and Ibe in a game like this, its perfect for us. With Sturridge on the bench, it was better that he didn't have to play tonight because he can train a few more days."
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini dismissed claims that his side's team selection was the cause of their defeat. The Argentinian opted to start in-form duo Fernandinho and Otamendi on the bench.
He said: "Everything went wrong. The performance, the way we defended, losing possession. It's not normal for us to play this way but it happens today.
"We tried to make some changes, we tried to attack but we made so many mistakes and it was impossible to come back."