Nobody saw this result coming. Everybody knows how dangerous Liverpool’s attack is, but against City, surely not? You sensed Liverpool would edge it after the team sheet was released but dominate City? No. Not against the team who are 18 points ahead of Liverpool in the Premier League. Not the champions-elect, the team who has only lost once this season. This is why we love football. Liverpool defied everything and proved they are a major contender to lift the Champions League.
Even at half-time you didn’t think the game was over. City always come back, Liverpool are weak in defence. Not tonight they weren’t. Liverpool didn’t give them an inch. Trent Alexander-Arnold won the battle against Sane. Milner protected his defence. Lovren and Van Dijk in the centre of defence kept Jesus at bay. Karius didn’t have a shot to save. Tonight Liverpool produced their best performance.
Liverpool were clinical, and made Manchester City – who are about to win the Premier League – look like a team fighting relegation in the first half. Manchester City, the champions-elect, looked shell-shocked as they found themselves 3-0 down at half-time. Liverpool did not give them a chance. They were sensational.
The atmosphere before kick-off was electrifying with a full Anfield singing to You’ll Never Walk Alone which blared out of the tannoy which set the tone for a rip-roaring game.
Milner and Henderson in the holding midfield were on top form intercepting City’s passes and pressing their opposition high. It was thanks to that partnership that City were penned in their own half for the whole of the first half. Milner doesn’t always attract the headlines and is dubbed “boring James Milner” but he certainly wasn’t that tonight. The way he shielded the back-four was magnificent, and his passing was deadly. He found the passes that others didn’t and played a huge part in all of Liverpool’s goals.
It was in complete contrast to the City holding midfield of Fernandinho and De Bruyne. Guardiola chose to leave out Sterling and opted for a more cautious approach which was quite baffling considering their other formation has gained them 18 more points than Liverpool this season. De Bruyne may as well not be playing if he is sitting in front of his own defence and he was totally ineffectual in the first half. The decision to play him deep lasted just 40 minutes with Guardiola sending him further forward in desperation. But even in his advanced position, he couldn’t find the killer pass to get City a goal.
City’s tactic was to play cross-field balls to Sane to try to expose the young Alexander-Arnold on the right hand side, but Arnold showed the maturity of an experienced footballer and stood up to everything that Sane put his way. Pep Guardiola rarely ever gets his tactics wrong, but tonight he was hugely exposed in what was a disastrous first half performance from City.
Liverpool’s first goal came from a quick counter attack, with Milner launching a 50 yard pass to Salah who was through the City defence. He played it out to Firmino whose shot was saved, but he somehow passed it back to Salah from the rebound just before Walker was about to clear the ball. Salah had an open goal and he fired in the shot.
City nearly had an instant response after Sane sprinted from halfway towards goal after a cleared Liverpool corner. He had two options to his left and right as he approached the area, but he opted to shoot himself but he dragged it wide, in what would be City’s only real goalscoring chance of the first half.
Milner then picked up a loose ball after Firmino was challenged, as the City players circulated, Milner fired it out towards Oxlade-Chamberlain who had been shockingly left wide open in the middle of the field. Chamberlain, with tomorrow’s headlines in mind, almost broke the net as he fired in Liverpool’s second goal. City were shell-shocked.
Laporte struggled in the full-back area, and could not handle Salah’s quality. And City were exposed again. Salah got past Laporte and crossed it towards Mane who had got in between Walker and Fernandinho, he leaped up to head it into the net past Ederson.
City had to step up their level of performance, and they did. But it wasn’t enough. They had all the possession but they were sloppy and did not cause the Liverpool defence enough problems. Sane had more space towards the end of the game but the majority of his crosses were awful.
De Bruyne from a deep position found Silva yards from goal via a cross, but the ball hit Silva on the shin, had he got it under control it would almost certainly have been a goal. But nothing was going City’s way.
City’s play was too slow and it was too predictable. They did show glimpses of their quick-passing, interchanging football but it happened rarely. City were knocking on the door, but not hard enough.
They persisted in playing it to Sane, should Guardiola have tried something else? City did have the ball in the back of the net when Jesus slid in Sane’s cross at the far post, but Sane was found to be offside.
City were one of the favourites to win the Champions League, but they collapsed under the pressure and did not have a response to Liverpool’s blistering attacks.
Liverpool will go into the second leg with a huge advantage, but with Salah going off injured and Henderson suspended – after he received a yellow card – the tie is not done and dusted just yet. But Manchester City have a mountain to climb.
Van Dijk 7
Subs used: Wijnaldum 6, Solanke 7, Moreno 6
De Bruyne 6
Subs used: Sterling 5,
Xplode’s Man of the Match – James Milner