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City open up gap at the top with dominant win

The last time Manchester City won at Anfield, in May 2003, Phil Foden was about to celebrate his third birthday. Since then, the 2017/18 City side that holds virtually every Premier League record, unbeaten in 30 matches, was narrowly defeated 4-3. Even in 2011/12, when City won their first Premier League, and Liverpool recorded their joint lowest ever finish, Vincent Kompany’s opener was cancelled out within minutes by a Joleon Lescott own goal, and Mario Balotelli was sent off within 18 minutes of being subbed on.

City fans are rightly reluctant to take anything as a certainty regarding a club that put six goals past Ferguson’s United and conceded eight to Southgate’s Middlesborough, but one thing was taken for granted: you don’t win at Anfield.

It felt certain that, far from equalling English football’s longest winning streak in all competitions, City would be 3-0 down at half time, because that’s just what happens here. Yet after a cagey opening half hour, Sterling was clipped by Fabinho, still in the makeshift centre-back role, and City were awarded a penalty. Just as Riyad Mahrez had done two seasons prior, İlkay Gündoğan sent it flying over the bar, meaning City have now missed half of all their penalties this season. The half-time whistle blew, with the sense that Liverpool had been the better side in a tense opening 45 minutes. 

Gündoğan put things right on 49 minutes, smashing home a stray ball after Alisson’s low save to give his side the lead. Pep Guardiola said that he had spent no time discussing the missed penalty at half time, instead focusing on how best to nullify the threat from Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson. Whatever was said didn’t prevent a fine cross from Alexander-Arnold reaching Curtis Jones, probably Liverpool’s best performer on the night, who saw his shot just barely deflected onto the woodwork.

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In the 63rd minute, another peach of a ball from Alexander-Arnold was met by a rare mistake from Rúben Dias, who fumbled his attempt to intercept the pass before pulling back Mo Salah to concede a penalty. Dias was lucky to remain on the pitch, given that no attempt to play the ball had been made, however soft the contact. Salah followed Gündoğan’s example, blasting the ball to the top left, but under the bar this time, scoring Liverpool’s first league goal at Anfield since December 27th.

Liverpool’s high defensive line caught three City players offside from Foden’s 71st minute cross, rendering John Stones’ poached finish irrelevant, but what followed was the most uncharacteristic of performances from one of the world’s finest keepers. Alisson inexplicably began to forego a controlling touch and seek to play a ball towards the midfield, only for it to be met by a blue shirt. The first time, Phil Foden danced through the Liverpool defence to lay off Gündoğan for his second of the night, and 9th of the season. Next, Berando Silva floated the ball over to Raheem Sterling for his first goal at Anfield as a City player.

What was notable about all three goals thus far was how static Liverpool’s defence were. Fabinho and Henderson were constantly drawn into their usual position in midfield, and are clearly uncomfortable at tackling in the box, which will only have been compounded by Fabinho’s penalty concession. There was, however, nothing to be done about Foden’s 83rd minute belter to complete a thorough routing, which leaves the aggregate score of these sides’ last three meetings at 9-2.

City have now moved 10 points clear of Liverpool, who might need to stop looking up and start checking over their shoulder, given that they are now as close to the bottom half as they are to the top of the tree. It’s nothing new for a defending champion to fail to make the top four, indeed it’s happened in four of the last seven seasons. After an extraordinary few years, Klopp can be forgiven for slipping up in perfect storm of circumstances, but missing out on the Champions League is not an option.

Image: Werner100359 via Wikimedia Commons