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Manchester City 2, Liverpool 1: Marginally Undone

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The Reds fall to defeat for the first time in the Premier League, and City cut the gap to four points.

Manchester City v Liverpool FC - Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Man City 2 - 1 Liverpool

Man City: Agüero 41’, Sané 72’
Liverpool: Firmino 65’

In a game that felt every bit as weighty as the title decider it was billed as in advance, City got the rub of the green, handing the visitors their first loss of the campaign while inching past Tottenham and into second place.

Despite beating his hosts on three of his past four attempts, Jürgen Klopp did not show any signs of taking Manchester City lightly, opting for a hustle and control midfield consisting of Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and James Milner. The line-up suggest that Klopp did not expect to possess much of the ball, and reflected the reality that a draw would be an excellent result for the Reds.

Pep Guardiola was not willing to throw his team forwards either, and in a cagey first half only four shots were attempted in total. A few scary moments from Dejan Lovren and Alisson Becker as they were faced with the hosts’ fronline press aside, not much happened in the opening fifteen minutes.

The Reds nearly drew first blood, though, and came within 11 millimeters of taking the lead. Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah combined to glide through City’s midfield, before the Egyptian fed Sadio Mane. The Senegalese forward’s finish slid past Ederson, but came back into play off the post. A wild clearance from John Stones hit the Brazilian goalkeeper and looked to bounce across the line, but Stones hacked it clear — just past the outstretched leg of Salah — with the tiniest of margins to spare.

A minute later, Mané hit a volley straight at Ederson, and it would be another ten minutes before the hosts got their first shot in. Fernandinho hit a gorgeous ball over the top for Sterling, who cut it back to David Silva in the box, but the Spaniard’s right-footed effort was blocked by the implacable Virgil van Dijk.

A minute later, City were lucky to retain all eleven men on the pitch. Stretching to reach an overhit John Stones pass, Vincent Kompany flew in on Salah with his studs up and leg extended as the Egyptian looked to break through on goal. It was a challenge that met more than enough criteria for a dismissal, but Anthony Taylor opted for a simple caution.

The Citizens began to build up a head of steam, and five minutes from the halftime whistle, they took the lead. Pinging the ball around outside the Liverpool area, Silva found Sergio Aguero in the box, who collected, turned and blasted the ball into the roof of the net. The Argentinian’s first touch was exquisite, and his thumping strike no less impressive, but Lovren had completely lost sight of his man and could have done better.

A change in tactics and mentality was required, but with City sitting deeper to start the second half, and midfield lacking any real creative endeavour, the Reds found clear opportunities hard to come by. Raheem Sterling went down in the away box five minutes into the frame, but was rightly waved to his feet, having grabbed a hold of Andrew Robertson as he threw himself to the ground.

Trent Alexander-Arnold hit a half volley well wide from 20 yards, before Klopp brought on Fabinho for a tiring Milner. The Reds inched closer, and the hosts were forced to clear the ball off the line, after Kompany got in Ederson’s way and Firmino struck a shot on target with the goalkeeper scrambling.

Two minutes later, the visitors leveled the score. Spreading the ball around the pitch with patience and verve, Liverpool managed to stretch their opposition out, and Alexander-Arnold cut inside to serve up a sensational crossfield ball to Robertson arriving at the far post. The Scottish fullback headed the ball back across the six yard box, where Firmino lay in wait for the tap-in header.

It wouldn’t last long, however, and five minutes later, an uncharacteristic flash of naiveté saw the Reds caught in possession with half the team high up the pitch. Sterling picked up a pass from Danilo, cut inside and fed Leroy Sane, whose left-footed finish slid across Alisson and in off the far post. Another exceptional finish, and the visitors found themselves chasing the game again.

Xherdan Shaqiri replaced Mané with 15 minutes to go, and City went close to killing the game off. Following a goalmouth scramble and long clearance, Lovren headed the ball down to Sterling, who flew past Robertson and bore down on goal. Alisson was quick off his line however, and quicker still to react as the former Liverpool man tried to go round him, blocking the shot for a corner.

A minute later, Salah was played in by Henderson, but Ederson got down well do parry the Egyptian’s goal bound shot round the far post. Daniel Sturridge took to the pitch, but the Reds were unable to create any more clear cut chances against a City side that did well to pack the box.

In injury time Silva and Sterling nearly made it three, as Lovren handed the opposition the ball twice in his own box, Alisson saving from the Spaniard before Sterling fired an effort wide of the post.

While losing to your nearest rivals is never going to feel good, there should be few complaints about the Reds’ performance at the Etihad. Literal millimeters separated Liverpool from the opening goal, while the hosts can count themselves lucky to get out of the first half with Kompany still on the pitch. With the scores level and City desperately needing a win, the reigning champions were held to only two shots in 40 minutes, suggesting that the Reds’ defensive dominance has not been by accident.

Jürgen Klopp’s fighting Reds remain at the top of the table, four points clear of Guardiola’s city, and with a series of eminently winnable matches coming up, starting with a trip to Brighton next Saturday, as soon as the FA Cup clash with Wolves has been contested.