Liverpool 4 Oxlade-Chamberlain 10’, Firmino 59’, Mané 61’, Salah 66’
Manchester City 3 Sané 40’, Bernardo Silva 82’, Gündoğan 90+1’
A statement needed to be made, and in the end, it was made in Liverpool’s signature thrilling, exhilarating, nail-biting, almost exasperating fashion.
It will undoubtedly take observers several moments to gather themselves in the wake of this match, but when they do, there will be much to take away from this contest between the league’s two most prolific and free scoring teams. From Manchester City’s perspective, it will be difficult to view this as more than a speed bump in their road to the title, though there will inevitably be questions raised about mental toughness and the like.
For Liverpool, this was much more than keeping pace in the quest for a Champions League spot, though the three points are certainly very nice to have. With the squad still feeling their way forward in the post-Coutinho era, this was a chance to elicit some measure of revenge against City, while also proving to everybody (themselves included) that this side still has the firepower up front to mount a title challenge, especially if they can sort things out at the other end.
It’s not something that happens every game for Liverpool, but both sides were clearly going to give it a go from the opening whistle, not that many would expect otherwise from Pep Guardiola’s side. With Virgil van Dijk absent due to a tight hamstring, Dejan Lovren was not only recalled but also got the captain’s armband. He did not have to exhort his teammates to focus, as Liverpool began at a high tempo and with plenty of menace.
Within minutes, there was an early chance for Mané after the ball comes free under pressure - not for the first or last time today - and Firmino is able to punch it forward. It doesn’t fall neatly for Mané and the chance would go begging this time, but the template for Liverpool’s success was set. Before ten minutes had gone by, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had put the hosts ahead, pouncing on a loose ball and driving forward before finishing well past Ederson.
The early lead gave the Reds - and the Anfield faithful - a noticeable boost. Jürgen Klopp’s players continued to harry the opposition with a maniacal intensity, but would they be able to keep it up? There were signs after the first quarter of an hour that City were starting to settle, and Kevin De Bruyne in space would continue to be a terrifying proposition for much of the afternoon.
That City were unable to make more significant progress during those initial exchanges was due in no small part to Andy Robertson’s efforts. The fullback did well to neutralize first Raheem Sterling and then Sergio Aguero. He also did the thankless of work of making runs to create space for Liverpool’s forwards, while tirelessly tracking back each instance.
The visitors did, however, eventually level the score. It came courtesy of Leroy Sané, who was easily one of City’s most dangerous players on the day. Time and again, Sané pulled defenders this way and that and threatening to skip past the back line every time. He did so successfully just minutes before the interval, thanks to less-than-ideal decisionmaking from Joe Gomez on a lofted ball from Kyle Walker, and having eluded Joël Matip, unleashed an unstoppable shot past Karius at the near post.
So it ended at the half, and nobody in the stadium expected 1-1 to be the final scoreline, but who would strike first in the second half? It turned out to be Liverpool, though it was not because the visitors were sitting back. In an insane sequence, the Reds put three unanswered past the league leaders.
First, with just about an hour in the match, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s quick thinking in transition allowed him to find Roberto Firmino threatening to ghost past John Stones. With a nudge of his shoulder, the Brazilian was free with just the keeper to beat, and an elegant, precise chip put Liverpool ahead once again.
Moments after the restart, Mané found himself in an excellent position but only found the crossbar. Not to worry, as before there was time to complain about the miss, Mohamed Salah had seized upon a City error to win possession. The Egyptian laid it off for Mané, who made no mistake this time and finished well past Ederson. Salah then had the chance to profit himself, as the onrushing City keeper, trying to deny Mané, could only knock the ball to Salah, who expertly lobbed into the empty goal.
With just over twenty minutes remaining, you’d think the job was done. But this is Liverpool, and this is also Manchester City. James Milner, Adam Lallana, and Ragnar Klavan would be summoned from the bench before the final whistle, as Klopp sought to marshal some degree of stability as legs understandably grew weary.
The ever-present threat in Guardiola’s side came to the fore. Sané, predictably, was a chief instigator, bringing the ball forward with defenders in his wake. His initial shot was smothered, but the ball fell kindly for Bernardo Silva, and the lead was suddenly 4-2. It would soon be 4-3, courtesy of İlkay Gündoğan, whom Aguero found after more good work by Sané again. Anfield held its breath.
This time, there would be no late heartbreak, despite Aguero ruffling the side netting with a powerful header in the final seconds of the match. Full time, and three points, to Liverpool, who will travel to Swansea City next. Time to build some momentum, and if the Reds can do so, second place is a very achievable target.