The match was frequently stressful, sometimes amazing, and often terrifying, but Liverpool came out on top to win three massive points against Manchester City, with a masterful midfield performance propelling the side ever closer to the top four in the Premier League.
Liverpool came out swinging fast and hard, and it was no surprise that they had early chances. The pressing was maniacal and the supporting runs in attack plentiful, and Liverpool were able to knock Manchester's back line back a step and didn't let them re-gain their balance. Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana in particular were key figures in the home side's early quality.
That quality was highlighted by the opening goal, when Lallana, Coutinho, and Raheem Sterling combined to set up Jordan Henderson outside the box to absolutely smash a shot that gave Liverpool an early lead. The build-up was gorgeous with Liverpool's attackers switching the ball around to throw City's defense off the scent as Henderson sidled his way over to an area of open space at the edge of the box. Once the ball was at his feet, he took a moment to gather himself and ... bang.
Inexplicably, though, that brilliant pressure and interchange didn't last for long. The pressure slowed down dramatically, and many of the runs that had been giving Manchester's defense fits, Vincent Kompany in particular, vanished. That gave City the chance they needed to steady themselves and get back in to the match, and Liverpool paid for it.
Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko gave Liverpool's back line fits, with Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren struggling mightily to do anything to slow the pair down. Their issues gave Simon Mignolet a case of the nerves, leading to some shaky moments as Aguero charged past Skrtel or in possession with Dzeko bearing down on him.
That overall shakiness lead to Manchester City's goal. Make no mistake, the passing that set up the chance was impressive and Aguero's patience to take that extra couple of seconds to pull more Liverpool players to him before slipping Dzeko showed just how complete a player he is. But Lovren's unwillingness to challenge Dzeko coupled with just how bad a mismatch Skrtel trying to mark Aguero is what created that goal.
Afterwards, City pretty thoroughly dominated possession, forcing Liverpool to play smart and patient, something they haven't always been good at this season. The trio of Henderson, Coutinho, and Joe Allen worked well together, though, helping Liverpool out of several jams and even creating chances against the run of play. Their quality kept the squad in the match at times that it looked like things were ready to fall apart, and later would help drive Liverpool's win.
The story of the first half - the first hour, really - wasn't the goals, but rather the chances Liverpool missed. Adam Lallana missed two glorious chances and a divine finish on a third in the first half was wasted by him not staying onside. He put the ball in the back of the next a second time after the restart, but was offside again. Raheem Sterling twice had glorious chances in front of goal, but couldn't get the ball from under his feet on the first and couldn't come down with Lallana's cross cleanly on the second.
Fortunately, Coutinho doesn't care about missing chances. Despite all the criticism of his shooting that he's had to endure the past two years, it was Coutinho getting on the end of a Sterling pass and unleashing a scorching shot that easily beat Joe Hart to the top corner, an absolutely brilliant finish that put Liverpool ahead late in the match. It was a wonderful capper to what proved to be an excellent all-around performance for Coutinho, who excelled in all phases of his game today.
From there, it was about control and containment, and the side actually did a very good job of it. Henderson and Allen shielded the back line with aplomb, harrying City's midfield to the point of frustration. Even when the ever-dangerous Wilfried Bony came on late in the match, he had a hard time finding the space he needed to operate in.
It was an excellent win for Liverpool, overcoming what could have been a demoralizing equalizing goal and going toe-to-toe with one of the elite clubs in England. City aren't an easy team to beat even if they haven't won at Anfield in a dozen years, and this can be a major building block for the rest of Liverpool's season as they look to force themselves back in to the conversation in England.