Liverpool survive scare to end Manchester City's unbeaten run in Premier League
Pep Guardiola's men lose in the English top flight for the first time since April with a 4-3 defeat at Anfield
It may be of scant consolation to Pep Guardiola, but he has been proved right.
The Manchester City manager has long insisted that his side would not complete the league season unbeaten. Now they cannot.
Liverpool inflicted the leaders’ first domestic defeat since April in electric, exhilarating fashion. City were beaten 4-3 and yet almost salvaged a point after seeming blown away.
It was nevertheless a resounding endorsement of Jurgen Klopp, whose high-tempo, gegenpressing gameplan has now yielded an unrivalled five victories against Guardiola. His supremely entertaining side now share second place with Chelsea and Manchester United.
City’s defence had only been breached 13 times in the league all season. That was until Liverpool scored four times.
On days like this, they scarcely miss Philippe Coutinho and not just because, after banking £142 million (Dh716m) for Barcelona’s newest Brazilian, the man who took his place in the team scored and starred.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was outstanding. If the remaining members of the supposed Fab Four now comprise a key three, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah all struck, too.
Liverpool were without Virgil van Dijk, injury denying the £75m defender a league debut, and conceded three times, but their potency going forward meant it did not matter.
Liverpool looked for space between and behind City’s back four, trying to find gaps and isolate defenders in races the Anfield attackers usually won.
Liverpool hounded City to distraction. The leaders’ passing was less precise than usual. Sometimes they were harried into errors. Others were simply unforced.
The opening goal was a case in point. Firmino presses to great effect, as he demonstrated when he robbed Fabian Delph.
Oxlade-Chamberlain was quickest to the loose ball and showed his speed again as he darted forward. He angled a shot from 25 yards beyond Ederson. The scorer inflicted a different sort of damage on City when Delph was subsequently injured trying to challenge him and City’s left-back limped off.
City nevertheless drew level with Loris Karius failing to justify Klopp’s decision to install him as first-choice goalkeeper.
It was nonetheless a wonderful goal by Leroy Sane. He controlled Kyle Walker’s cross-field pass on his best, with Joe Gomez sucked in by the flight of the ball, and accelerated away from Joel Matip and the right-back before striking a shot of ferocious power.
Karius was nearly beaten again as Nicolas Otamendi met Sane’s corner with a header that clipped the crossbar but the pendulum soon swung the other way.
City were overwhelmed in a five-minute period when Liverpool hit the woodwork once, struck twice and forced three fine saves.
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They came first, Ederson keeping out Salah’s volley, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s near-post shot and the Egyptian’s mishit cross, which caught the bitterly cold winds.
Yet his was a damage-limitation exercise. Liverpool soon retook the lead. Oxlade-Chamberlain was again involved, guiding the ball through the inside-left channel. Firmino outmuscled John Stones and defeated Ederson with a delicate chip.
Then, a minute after Mane hit the post with a curling shot, he found the top corner with an unstoppable effort. Salah then struck in spectacular fashion, lobbing Ederson from 45 yards after the goalkeeper left his box to clear.
It proved crucial. First Bernardo Silva and then Ilkay Gundogan pulled goals back and Sergio Aguero almost levelled in injury time.
It showed City’s spirit but, after going 30 league games unbeaten, they lost.
Updated: January 14, 2018 11:01 PM