John Aldridge: 'Liverpool kicked Man City in the gut this weekend - all the pressure is now on Pep Guardiola'
LIVERPOOL keep kicking Manchester City in their solar plexus and yesterday’s latest blow must have hurt Pep Guardiola’s Premier League champions
City lost to Wolves at the Etihad Stadium today, leaving Liverpool eight points clear at the top of the table again after beating Leicester in dramatic fashion, with the gauntlet well and truly laid down by Jurgen Klopp’s men.
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That makes it eight wins from eight at the start of this Premier League season and 17 victories in a row if you go back to last season, so City know this Liverpool team are ready to engage in battle with them until the final kick of the season.
I was at Anfield yesterday and you could feel the mood of anticipation around the ground at the final whistle. Klopp was giving his punches to the crowd, there was a real air of defiance and all this after a game that confirmed Liverpool are a long way short of their best at the moment.
They ground out a victory at Sheffield United last weekend, looked vulnerable defensively against Red Bull Salzburg in the Champions League a few days later and didn’t click up front once again against Leicester. Yet they have won all three of those matches and head into the international break in a wonderful position at the top of the table after a win against opponents who had a big advantage heading into this game.
They had a full week to prepare physically and tactically and you could see that Liverpool looked leggy in the second half, as they played a demanding Champions League game last Wednesday. All that matters in the end is the fact that three more points have been added to Liverpool’s Premier League tally against a side that I believe will be contenders to finish in the top four this season.
Leicester are a decent outfit and Brendan Rodgers has done a good job to get them firing at the top end of the table a few months after he arrived at the club. Rodgers got a decent reception on his first return to Anfield since he was sacked and replaced by Klopp in October 2015 and that was always likely to be the case. First of all, Reds fans always show respect to people who have done their best for the club and while he failed to win a trophy during his reign as manager, some of the football his side produced in the 2013/14 title challenge that so nearly ended in success was among the best I’ve seen from a Liverpool team in recent years.
He has proved himself to be a decent manager with the success he achieved at Celtic and by the foundations he has laid in his first few months at Leicester and they will take points off the top sides this season, but I was disappointed by their performance in the opening 45 minutes at Anfield.
I know teams fear Liverpool and with good reason, but Leicester were very defensive early and needed the impressive performance of their centre-back Caglar Soyuncu for their game-plan to work.
The Turkish defender was signed to replace Harry Maguire and after receiving some sparkling reviews during the first few weeks of the season, he had his biggest test yet yesterday against Liverpool’s forward line and passed it with flying colours alongside Jonny Evans. It was Evans who was caught out as Liverpool scored first through Sadio Mane five minutes before half-time, as a fine pass got through the Leicester defence and the finish from Liverpool’s top scorer was as immaculate as you would expect.
Leicester improved after the break and got their equaliser through James Maddison. But Liverpool were due a little break from VAR and they got that when the referee checked on the late challenge that resulted in the penalty and ruled in favour of Sadio Mane. James Milner is a guy who can handle a big moment and with so much at stake as he stepped up for his injury-time penalty, he was never going to miss to give Liverpool a victory they deserved.
Kasper Schmeichel kept Liverpool in the game with some great saves in the second half and on a day when the front three of Mane, Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino were not firing on all cylinders once more, this team that fights until the final whistle found a way to win again.
The defence looked a little more solid yesterday as Virgil van Dijk looked back to his best and Dejan Lovren did well alongside him. However, this performance was all about guts and a desire to win when two points seemed to be slipping away.
This weekend was another reminder that all the pressure is on them as they aim to hang on to their title.