After Jurgen Klopp’s side stormed out the gates to take a 3-0 lead in the first half, City fought back in the second period, scoring twice to reduce the deficit and nearly complete what would’ve been the most improbable of comebacks.
Games between arguably the two best sides in the world have always come down to the finest margins in recent years, with even the slightest advantage often spelling doom for the other.
On this occasion, City came into the match hobbled by their bruising midweek Champions League excursions against Atletico Madrid, fielding an under-strength side missing the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Kyle Walker and Ruben Dias. However, while Klopp was able to send out arguably his best XI after rotating the side on Wednesday in the Champions League, Guardiola chose to rotate through this game instead, starting backup keeper Zack Steffen and dropping the likes of Rodri and Ilkay Gundogan.
Liverpool, chasing an unprecedented quadruple, could not have cared less about the City manager’s thought process behind such a line up, sensing the opportunity to advance to a second final of the campaign.
The Reds blew their opponents away in the first half, with Ibrahima Konate proving himself the form man in front of goal by rising above the defense on a corner to head in his third goal in his last three matches across all competitions.
Man of the match, Sadio Mane then seized upon a calamitous mistake from Steffen, taking the ball off the keeper’s toes to make it 2-0 before the Senegalese volleyed home his second near halftime to finish off a brilliant team move and a sensational first half performance.
“The first half was maybe the best football we have ever played,” a breathless Klopp said speaking to BeIN Sport after the game.
“Against this opponent, this quality—because of the boys in my dressing room, we have a chance. The first half was outstanding.”
“We had the momentum in the first half. The game opened up in the second half. In the end, it makes it even more special because we didn’t beat a weak City side, they were really, really strong.”
However, a squad of City’s quality is not capable of being completely stifled, with the Premier League leaders chipping away at Liverpool’s attempts to control the second half. Jack Grealish pulled one goal back in the opening two minutes of the period, Bernado Silva bagged another in the first minute of extra time, and the Reds needed a mammoth showing from keeper Alisson to prevent an equalizer late on.
“They [City] had too many chances,” Klopp admitted.
“But the quality they have is mad. But we had our moments as well. We needed to score to make it game over and we didn’t. City tried everything and I respect that a lot.”
“This is the best situation I have ever been in, with all the hard work and all the intensity, we try to enjoy it as well.”
“City knew it could be difficult against us,” the boss continued speaking with the BBC.
“It was always close between us—but we don’t use today as a statement - we wanted to go to the final, and that is what happened.”
“I can’t talk about the quadruple - we have so many games. It’s all difficult but who cares tonight? We are over the moon.”
“We beat the best football team in the world. I am over the moon.”
What a marvelous thing, this game of football.