Let’s be honest, the title defence is over.
To be frank, any chances of retaining the Premier League trophy had likely gone after the defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion on Wednesday evening. Even the most optimistic of fans, will have felt after that game that the Reds defence of the trophy was hanging by a thread. However, after the latest defeat at Anfield, it is safe to say that the task is now beyond this side considering the difference in form and confidence of the two teams.
Personally, I didn’t think Liverpool played badly. It was a tactical battle that was always going to feature an intense stare off, waiting for the other to make there move first. Klopp’s side held their own and arguably were the better side until the 70th minute, but a monumental meltdown from the Reds’ No.1 handed Guardiola his first win at Anfield on a silver platter.
The afternoon started with much needed positive news, as the return of Alisson, Fabinho and Mané from injury boosted Liverpool’s starting line-up, whilst new acquisition Ozan Kabak was given the all clear to be part of the matchday squad, finding himself on the bench for his first Premier League game.
With Klopp’s side knowing a win was required to put some pressure on the Cityzens, his game plan upon kick off revealed a new approach to taking on Manchester City at home, opting to sit back and hit them on the break. This moved away from the high intensity press approach that has proved so successful in the past for the Reds against the sky blues. However, this tactical manoeuvre was understandable considering the injuries, poor form and lack of crowd in this battle of the best fixture.
During the first half this seemed to work effectively, with the Reds seeing more and more of the ball as the half went on. Guardiola’s side were making uncharacteristic mistakes across the board as they struggled to find any joy, whilst Firmino tested the reactions of Ederson and Sadio Mané headed narrowly over from close range.
However, whenever you play top teams you know that they will get the odd chance. City found there’s just before half time. Sterling finally escaped Alexander-Arnold’s clutches and was clumsily brought down by the returning Fabinho. After missing there last two penalties against the Reds, the signs weren’t good for İlkay Gündoğan who was tasked with giving his side the lead. He failed miserably, adding to this poor statistic, as his effort was blazed over to delight of everyone inside Anfield not in blue.
This penalty represented a change in the game as each side sought to make the first telling contribution as the second period started. After his earlier penalty miss, German international Gündoğan would make amends, as he pounced on a free ball in the Liverpool box to put the league leaders in front. It was a cruel goal to concede and not what the Reds deserved, but they replied in perfect fashion ten minutes later.
After a ball in behind City’s defence, Salah was brought down clean through on goal by Rúben Dias, who luckily escaped a red card, as Michael Oliver pointed to the spot. As ever the always dependable Mohamed Salah provided the finishing touches, as he thumped home.
With Liverpool now in the box seat, City were looking for anything to get themselves a foot hole back in the game. It materialised in a 20-minute period of madness that would settle the game in the league leader’s favour.
With the Reds on top, the ball found itself at the feet of Alisson Becker. Under no initial pressure the Brazilian looked for options further afield. With pressure then applied to Liverpool’s keeper, he muffed his pass to Fabinho who cleared the ball momentarily. As the ball found its way back to the Brazilian shot stopper, he proceeded to hit it straight to Phil Foden who waltzed round the desperate dive of Andy Robertson, before teeing up İlkay Gündoğan for his second of the game.
It was a mistake that was so out of character it looked like it took the rest of the team by surprise. So, when moments later the former AS Roma keeper decided to do it again, this left many dumbfounded by what they were seeing. As Raheem Sterling took full advantage of the second mistake – nestling his header home from close range – Reds fans knew that the game, and the title, was beyond their grasp.
City took full advantage of Alisson’s now low confidence, adding gloss to the score line with a thunderous finish by Phil Foden late on. This result leaves Guardiola’s men ten points clear of Liverpool with a game in hand, whilst they lead closest rivals Manchester United by five points with a game in hand. The league is likely done and dusted, with the question when, not if, City will be crowned champions.
Once the dust settles fans will realise that the score line flatters Manchester City. This was an improved performance compared to the recent shambolic showings against Burnley and Brighton, but this won’t make anyone associated to the club feel any better. This still wasn’t good enough from a side who – since topping the table on Christmas Day – have only managed two wins since.
With tough fixtures against a high-flying pair Leicester City (A) and Everton (H) up next, it is paramount that the Reds find positive results in both to consolidate a top four place, which is now Liverpool’s target for the remainder of the Premier League campaign. Minds may wander and focus on the Champions League, which is now extremely important, but achieving a spot amongst the top four mustn’t be brushed aside and should be a goal that is taken seriously.
Klopp made four changes from the side who lost to Brighton on Wednesday evening. Fabinho, Sadio Mané, Curtis Jones and Alisson took their positions in the starting line-up, as Nat Phillips, Xherdan Shaqiri, James Milner and Caoimhín Kelleher returned to the bench.
Here are my winners and losers from the game:
Curtis JonesEmbed from Getty Images
During a game that many will understandably focus on the score line, the 20-year-old academy graduate displayed so much promise as he showed his colleagues how to take the game to City during his 70-minute display. He was excellent, showing the tenacity that fans expected from a Liverpool player every time he takes the field.
His grasp of the tactical nature of the contest was second to none, as when the ball fell to him you felt he was going to be the catalyst for something special. He went close on a couple of occasions, with a long-range effort testing Ederson, whilst his second strike was inches from giving the Red’s the leveller at the time.
A decision that most fans weren’t enamoured with, was his substitution midway through the second half. With the scores level and Liverpool on the front foot, Thiago and the wonderful Jones were replaced by Shaqiri and Milner for the final 20 minutes. It was a decision that backfired as the Reds lost the control they had in the middle, resulting in a difficult final 15 minutes in this area as they chased the game.
In the biggest and most difficult game of the season, Klopp turned to the youngster from the start and he produced. He was superb and held his own amongst the world stars around him, showing he belonged. The fact that Liverpool lost something when he was removed shows the quality that the scouser holds, and will not go amiss with the manager.
Klopp will want players up for the battle in this tough run of results and this performance will only show that Jones is up for the challenge that now awaits them in the weeks ahead. With key fixtures over the next three weeks key to the Reds season, Jones being involved in all of these is a must. His chemistry with Thiago in midfield was a major positive and hopefully the pair can continue to reproduce performances like this together as Liverpool seek answers to their burning questions.
AlissonEmbed from Getty Images
This display was a difficult and highly surprising watch. There is no way of sugar coating it. He had a complete and utter nightmare that no one was expecting, least Manchester City who were the major benefactors of his dismal spell.
After 70 minutes, with the game level, Alisson had been excellent as ever with his distribution and saves. Even with City’s opening goal, he made a glorious stop to deny Phil Foden and wasn’t helped by his defenders, as Gündoğan pounced on the rebound. He was at his ever present best until two moments of complete madness shocked every footballing fan watching.
His first mistake was a combination of two appalling kicks that firstly left Fabinho with a hospital pass, before his second gifted the ball to Foden, who quickly found Gündoğan to fire home. With many bemused by his mistake; fans will have remained confident that the Reds could find there way back into the game. Unfortunately, he proceeded to make the same mistake three minutes later to kill the fixture and give Manchester City there first win at Anfield since 2003.
With his confidence now completely shattered, he was beaten for a fourth and final time by a thunderbolt of a strike by Phil Foden. On second viewing, the Brazilian will be disappointed with his attempt as he collapsed under the strike to end a dismal afternoon for the 28-year-old.
He may have cost the Reds the game today but he should not be solely blamed for what transpired. Others will look at themselves thinking they could have done better to prevent it ever getting to Alisson in the first place. Andy Robertson for example could have done better to keep Phil Foden off his left foot for the fourth goal, by showing him down the line.
For me he is still the best goalkeeper in the world. One poor game doesn’t make him a bad keeper. No shot stopper has been as perfect as he has over the last few years. Whilst many football fans around the world complain about there lack of a world class number one, Liverpool have had that since he made the move to Anfield.
He has won Liverpool many a game and is one of the main reasons why the club currently have a sixth Champions League, a Super Cup, a Club World Cup and there first Premier League title in the trophy cabinet. He will continue to win Klopp’s side games and trophies in the future and I have full faith that he will bounce back from this day off.
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