Friday 20 July 2018

Relentless Reds find formula to destroy City

Liverpool 4 Man City 3

Sadio Mane of Liverpool celebrates with team-mate Andy Robertson after scoring the third Liverpool goal. Photo: Getty Images
Sadio Mane of Liverpool celebrates with team-mate Andy Robertson after scoring the third Liverpool goal. Photo: Getty Images

Jason Burt

Stop the press. Manchester City can be beaten. And it was the 'gegenpressing' that did it - plus the cauldron of emotion, desire, will, intent and hunger that Anfield was whipped up into as Liverpool gained this remarkable victory. The stadium, quite literally, rocked and City, just as incredibly, struggled to cope.

There was a nine-minute spell in the second-half when Liverpool scored three times, when they also struck the woodwork, and it seemed the magic that Pep Guardiola has weaved at City had been exposed as smoke and mirrors. But his side are not 15 points clear, have not gone 22 Premier League without losing, for no reason and it was astonishing that, by the end, Liverpool were left hanging on.

Manchester City's Leroy Sane scores his side's first goal. Photo: PA
Manchester City's Leroy Sane scores his side's first goal. Photo: PA

But such is Jurgen Klopp; such is his way; such is the pulsating, open football he demands. This was a win in his image; a win full of heart and absolutism - and a little vulnerability. But that is the trade-off. It is the same with Guardiola and he was right in predicting that this fixture would be the sternest test his team had faced.

Untouchable

So there will be no new 'Invincibles' even if City still appear untouchable. Arsenal's record of 2003-04 remains, which is cold comfort for them as this arresting result opened up the gap between the top four and sixth-placed Arsenal to a daunting eight points.

There was salt in that open wound for Arsenal with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain - who left for £35 million last summer - the stand-out performer for Liverpool with a tremendously positive performance, setting the tone as he opened the scoring and never relented.

Liverpool's Roberto Firmino is chased by Manchester City's Kyle Walker. Photo: Getty Images
Liverpool's Roberto Firmino is chased by Manchester City's Kyle Walker. Photo: Getty Images

There was yet more delight for Liverpool in that this came just a week after they had sold Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona for £142million. It was, as Klopp later said, a "big statement" and one delivered without their record signing with £75million centre-half Virgil Van Dijk - not deemed fit enough with tight hamstrings.

"We went on the rampage a bit," Oxlade-Chamberlain said and it was delicious for them that Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah joined him on the score-sheet.

Pressing from another planet, Klopp called it, and it was. Out-of-this-world. And it had to be. There was, the beaming manager reasoned, no "alternative" to beat City and he would probably have it no other way with the tone set when Firmino nipped the ball away from Fabian Delph to find Oxlade-Chamberlain.

He drove at the City penalty area, brushing off Fernandinho, and it was Oxlade-Chamberlain's directness that caught City out as Nicolas Otamendi was slow to react before a powerful, right-footed shot was drilled across Ederson and into the net. It was hard, low and moving away from the goalkeeper. A superb strike.

Liverpool's Emre Can challenges Manchester City's Ilkay Gundogan. Photo: Getty Images
Liverpool's Emre Can challenges Manchester City's Ilkay Gundogan. Photo: Getty Images

City were knocked out of their stride. Delph had come in but was clearly not fit and was substituted after he buckled in making a tackle, with Guardiola later stating he would be "out for a while" with a fresh knee injury.

But this is City and they drew level when Kyle Walker switched play from right to left with a wonderful cross-field ball that found Leroy Sane, who chested it down cleverly to catch out Joe Gomez. Sane sprinted into the area, shifted the ball to his left, beating Joel Matip, and Gomez, and struck a fierce shot that tore past Loris Karius at his near post.

Could the goalkeeper have done better? Or was he simply beaten by the power? It appeared both, which, given Klopp had selected him ahead of Simon Mignolet, and suggested the German would have the opportunity to stake his claim as first-choice, re-opened that particular debate.

Would that be the story? It seemed possible as City took a grip and an Otamendi header cannoned back off the crossbar, but then, after Ederson had been forced into two sharp saves, it was the Brazilian goalkeeper who was beaten, with Oxlade-Chamberlain sliding a pass through to Firmino who was far too strong for John Stones, easing the defender out the way and deftly chipping the ball. It sailed beyond Ederson.

Manchester City's Ederson collects the ball from the back of the net after Sadio Mane's goal. Photo: Getty Images
Manchester City's Ederson collects the ball from the back of the net after Sadio Mane's goal. Photo: Getty Images

Liverpool were rampant. Mane curled the ball against the outside of the post and Salah appeared set to sprint clear, only for Otamendi to block, with the forward still pushing his pass across goal. It was collected by Mane who, with Stones standing off, blasted a precise, rising shot to beat Ederson. Anfield erupted.

It did so again when Ederson rushed from goal to cut out Salah's through ball intended for Mane but only sent his clearance straight to Salah who had the confidence and ability to strike his shot into the net from fully 35 yards.

City were shell shocked but they are champions-elect and showed it. Few other teams would have hit back in the way they did with Bernardo Silva - who had replaced Raheem Sterling, withdrawn to the delight of Liverpool fans - sweeping home after the ball broke to him.

Surely it was too late? City poured forward again with Sergio Aguero - who had struggled - chipping in a cross that was chested down by Ilkay Gundogan who stabbed the ball past Karius.

Home nerves were fraying and there was even a sense of panic as City won a final free-kick. But it came to nothing. "It was a joy to watch," Klopp said. It was. And that was testimony to City as well.

© Daily Telegraph, London

Irish Independent

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