“THANK YOU SO MUCH! THANK YOU SO MUCH!”
Pep Guardiola’s gargantuan sarcasm when he greeted referee Michael Oliver and his officials at full-time certainly matched the magnitude of a ferocious and frenetic Anfield encounter.
The Manchester City manager had long been in a righteous funk at missed chances and rejected penalty appeals as Liverpool closed out a 3-1 victory that puts them eight points clear at the top of the Premier League.
That’s right, eight. Not nine. They’re nine points clear of fourth-placed City.
Guardiola probably reached the midway point of his tether as early as the sixth minute. Trent Alexander-Arnold handled in the Liverpool box – the fact Bernardo Silva inadvertently did so just beforehand probably saving the England right-back in the final VAR analysis – and Liverpool played to the whistle to a greater extent than their opponents.
Ilkay Gundogan’s clearance was as wretched as Fabinho’s strike from outside the box was magnificent.
City picked themselves up off an all-too familiar Merseyside canvas and got back on the front foot. Kevin De Bruyne’s deliveries were not to their usual standard but Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero both probably should have scored from them. City’s two world-class attacking figureheads are still yet to find the net on this ground.
The 13th minute brought a brutally brilliant second, displaying one the key facets of Liverpool’s triumph. Alexander-Arnold toiled under Sterling’s examination at times, but his cross-field pass to fellow full-back Andy Robertson was glorious.
Those diagonal balls tested City’s makeshift defence all day and Robertson’s cross found Mohamed Salah lurking between career midfielder Fernandinho and greenhorn left-back Angelino to head gleefully home.
— Trent Alexander-Arnold (@trentaa98) November 10, 2019
Guardiola repeated how proud he was of his team’s performance after the match and, even if this was primarily a was to avoid an FA ban by giving his own take on Oliver’s efforts, it was understandable.
City continued to plug away, Angelino often to the fore in tandem with Sterling down the left and prodding a typically immaculate De Bruyne pass against the post.
But they were vulnerable in the transition as they chased the game and this is Klopp’s domain. As in the riotous 4-3 win over City in January last year, Georginio Wijnaldum was magnificent – an indomitable cocktail of power and intelligence, as deft as he was destructive.
Then there was Jordan Henderson, who will surely see this season as a failure if he does not lift the league title Liverpool supporters have pined for over an interminable three decades.
Shifted to the right flank after the break, Henderson’s cross for Sadio Mane’s third made sure of victory and City’s persistent threats during the final half hour, when Bernardo Silva pulled a goal back, were notable for coming after James Milner replaced his captain.
Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain might sit on the bench as more technically astute footballers than Henderson, but they will never exceed his worth to Klopp’s cause.
Guardiola was left to lament “the boxes” in his post-match interview following Liverpool’s clinical clinic. It was something he pondered often during his first season in charge of City, before back-to-back titles, 198 points, five major trophies and all that.
Another relic of that time, Claudio Bravo, was back. The veteran Chile international was helpless when beaten by Liverpool’s first two shots on target – even if Klopp’s admission that he encouraged his players to shoot from distance felt telling – but his reaction to Henderson’s teasing 51st-minute delivery was atrocious.
A bump in the road, but the journey has a long way to go yet…
— Manchester City (@ManCity) November 10, 2019
Selecting such a strong side to face Atalanta in midweek, losing Ederson in the process, damaged City’s chances. As did the decision not to reinforce at centre-back after Vincent Kompany’s departure, while rushing back Rodri to protect a patched-up backline he is yet to show he can adequately screen since signing from Atletico Madrid was another questionable move.
Calls made before this weekend went a long way to sealing Guardiola’s fate as City’s wait for an Anfield win goes on. Liverpool’s relentlessness is magnified by the fact his side have slipped slightly and significantly from the peerless heights of the past two seasons.
All it takes is a few mis-steps in these circumstances, so maybe this title race isn’t over. But if City do make it three in a row, Guardiola should be bellowing thanks all over again. Liverpool faltering decisively from this position would amount to delivering gift-wrapped glory to Manchester.
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