Monday 11 November 2019

Pep's 'diving' jibe sets tone for huge Reds duel

Late late shows: Kyle Walker wheels away after scoring Manchester City's late winner against Southampton. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Late late shows: Kyle Walker wheels away after scoring Manchester City's late winner against Southampton. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

John Percy

It was a goal that travelled all the way from Villa Park and up the M6 into Pep Guardiola's brain, and has drawn the battle lines ahead of Sunday's huge encounter between the Premier League title contenders.

Sadio Mané's brilliant header deep into Kloppage time ensured Liverpool will face Manchester City at Anfield with their six-point lead intact, but it was Guardiola's post-match comments that will dominate the build-up.

Sadio Mane's glancing header in injury time rescues Liverpool, who had been losing with four minutes of normal time remaining at Villa Park on Saturday. Photo: Marc Atkins/Getty Images
Sadio Mane's glancing header in injury time rescues Liverpool, who had been losing with four minutes of normal time remaining at Villa Park on Saturday. Photo: Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Mané had swung the game in Liverpool's favour against Aston Villa with an assist and the winning goal - yet as he climbed aboard the team bus on Saturday evening he was being accused by Guardiola of "sometimes diving".

The Senegal forward had been booked in the first half against Villa for simulation, falling theatrically under an innocuous challenge in the penalty area from Frederic Guilbert, and that moment had obviously been relayed back to the Etihad Stadium.

It was clearly a pre-meditated snipe from City's manager that will probably galvanise the Anfield crowd and be used as ammunition in Jurgen Klopp's dressing room.

Guardiola's remarks emerged too late to be brought to Klopp's attention on Saturday, but he insisted the potentially pivotal game this weekend was far from his thoughts.

Manchester City Pep Guardiola. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images
Manchester City Pep Guardiola. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images

He said: "I never thought for a second about the Man City game and the Aston Villa game together. I never thought, 'OK, you should win that, because maybe we lose next week and then we are on a level or whatever.' I didn't ask (about the other results), it was not too important. We play Genk (in the Champions League) and then we play Man City.

"Yes, it's important, away at Aston Villa, the way they set up, really important, really difficult - but we did it, and that's good. And now we have to again collect the bounce and prepare for the next challenge, Genk."

Liverpool have now won 19 of their last 20 league games and this dramatic finale must have felt like a punch in the guts for Guardiola.

They had been poor for an hour, falling behind to Trezeguet's first-half goal and cursing a ridiculous decision from the video assistant referee for ruling out Roberto Firmino's equaliser as his armpit was offside.

But the comeback became more inevitable as their intensity levels increased, with Andy Robertson heading in an 87th-minute leveller before Mané's deft header from Trent Alexander-Arnold's corner.

It means Liverpool have now accrued eight points from five late goals against Leicester, Manchester United, Tottenham and now Villa.

Adam Lallana, the midfielder, believes their resilience makes anything possible.

"It's almost like a sixth sense," he said. "Teams worry when it's late.

"Of course, you can feel the crowd getting tense, that's exactly what happens when you get late goals and the momentum is there. It doesn't surprise me that we got that second goal.

"We've just got that momentum, and the character is there in abundance. With the deliveries and set pieces we've got in our team, we use it to our advantage. It's such a weapon."

It was a gut-wrenching finale for Villa, who were dreaming of their first home win over Liverpool in the league since May 2011.

Many of their players sank to the turf at the final whistle, broken by the late comeback.

But after spirited performances against City and Liverpool in their last two games, Dean Smith's Championship play-off winners have proved they belong in this division.

This famous old theatre was rocking and Tyrone Mings, John McGinn and Marvelous Nakamba were outstanding in what was an excellent team performance.

After back-to-back games against the two title contenders, McGinn is perfectly placed to assess their strengths.

"Liverpool don't give up, they keep going - and they probably tired us out too much right at the end. They are relentless," he said.

"It was the same with Man City last week, they just drain you mentally. You try your best to press them, but they are top teams - and full credit to them.

"I'm gutted. But we've got to be proud of how we played, and if we play like that for the rest of the season we'll be fine. Maybe the next time they come calling we'll be a bit closer."

Telegraph.co.uk

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