Liverpool took a huge step towards a first league title in 30 years by beating defending champions Manchester City 3-1 at Anfield on Sunday to open up an eight-point lead at the top of the table. Two goals in the first 13 minutes from Fabinho and Mohamed Salah gave the European champions a dream start before Sadio Mane’s diving header early in the second half sealed City’s fate. Bernardo Silva pulled a late goal back, but a third defeat in eight league games leaves City down in fourth, nine points behind Liverpool, and with a mountain to climb if they are to claim a third straight league title.
“It’s nine points but there is a long way to go,” said Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp. “It’s not important. Who wants to be first in early November? It’s important to be top in May.”
City’s defensive deficiencies have been much publicised without the injured Aymeric Laporte so far this season and they crumbled as Liverpool scored with their first two attacks of the game. But the visitors were furious with some justification at the move that led to the opening goal when a dangerous foray into the Liverpool box ended with the ball striking Trent Alexander-Arnold on the arm.
Instead of City being awarded a penalty, the hosts broke down the other end and the ball fell to Fabinho on the edge of the area.
The Brazilian is not renowned for his goalscoring, but when invited to shoot by a hesitant City back line, he arrowed a strike beyond stand-in goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.
“Ask to the referees, don’t ask me,” said City boss Pep Guardiola on the controversial opener. “I would like to talk about our performance. It was one of my proudest performances as (Man City) manager.”
The visitors had more of the ball and plenty of chances even in between Liverpool’s early blitz as Raheem Sterling headed wide Kevin De Bruyne’s in-swinging free-kick.
But it was Liverpool who were ruthless as a pinpoint cross by Andy Robertson was headed home on the bounce by Salah.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a goal like it,” said Klopp of his side’s second. “It was wild, intense from the first second.
“You could sense it was really important for both teams. We scored two incredible goals, but we had to suffer in moments because of the way City played.”
– Damage done –
City went on to enjoy the better of the play in the remainder of the first half, but the damage was already done. A purposeful burst forward by Angelino saw his deflected shot come back off the post before Sergio Aguero then dragged City’s best chance of a reply before the break wide after great work by De Bruyne. Any hope of a City comeback was eliminated six minutes into the second half when Jordan Henderson’s teasing cross was met with a diving header by Mane, although Bravo could have done better to stop the ball creeping over the line.
Guardiola’s mood was not improved when another VAR check went against his side after Sterling went down in the area under pressure from Mane. City finally got the goal much of their approach play had threatened when Bernardo Silva swept home Angelino’s cross 12 minutes from time, but it was too little, too late.
“Today we showed in the most difficult stadium in the world the reason why we are champions,” said a defiant Guardiola.
“There are three teams in front of us that have more chances to win the Premier League than us, but hopefully we can sustain this mentality and try it.”
Liverpool agonisingly missed out on the title by a solitary point last season as City ended the season on a 14-match winning run to edge a titanic tussle.
Guardiola’s men will need to produce something similarly spectacular in the months to come, but after quickly making up for the disappointment of the title race by wining the Champions League last season, Liverpool look destined to go one better this time round.