Advantage Liverpool as Man City taste defeat at Anfield
Philippe Coutinho scores the winner after home side surrender two-goal lead to title rivals
Steven Gerrard (left) rushes to congratulate Philippe Coutinho after the Brazilian scores what turned out to be Liverpool’s winner against Manchester City at Anfield. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Liverpool 3 Manchester City 2
These are the moments when Liverpool, to borrow a line from the kaleidoscope of banners fluttering on the Kop, are making their supporters dream. When it really mattered, when the heat of the battle was rising dangerously close to intolerable, they found something extra just as it seemed everything might be starting to unravel. They played like champions and in the next few weeks that is feasibly what they could be.
Manchester City made it clear with their second-half comeback that it might still need Liverpool to win all their last four matches. One of those games comes against Chelsea, who will be aggrieved by any suggestion that the title is all but confirmed for Anfield. Yet all the momentum is with Liverpool after this epic and brilliant match in which they still had the competitive courage to win despite seeing their 2-0 half-time lead wiped out.
What a moment it was for this club, marking the 25th anniversary for Hillsborough, when Philippe Coutinho drew back his right foot 12 minutes from the end to thump an elegant shot inside Joe Hart’s post.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers was on the pitch in a modern-day re-enactment of Brian Kidd’s famous celebration at Manchester United for the first of Alex Ferguson’s titles. This time Kidd was in the opposite dugout and, for City, it was a traumatic goal after everything that had preceded it in the second half.
They had looked like the more likely winners after Glen Johnson’s own goal had levelled the match five minutes after David Silva had initiated the comeback from James Milner’s cross.
Milner’s arrival as a substitute had changed the complexion of the match and Silva was outstanding in those moments when – for the first time – there was a sudden, damp silence to break the din.
City will look back with anguish on those chances that Silva and Edin Dzeko passed up at that stage. They will also harbour legitimate grievances about the penalties that should have been awarded in the first and second half and the referee Mark Clattenburg’s failure to show Luis Suárez a second yellow card. Jordan Henderson was sent off in stoppage time for a studs-up lunge on Samir Nasri but Suarez, already booked, really should have gone earlier for a blatant dive.
Yet Manuel Pellegrini’s side ultimately paid a heavy price for gambling on Vincent Kompany’s fitness when the knee injury he suffered in training could probably be held up as Exhibit A while trying to explain why, in the biggest match of their season, they defended with this much generosity.
Kompany, the captain and leader of this team, was still being assessed in the pre-match warm-up and was simply unable to exert his usual influence. He was at fault for all three goals and the third of them, when his sliced clearance went straight to Coutinho, was particularly harrowing because of its consequences.
All the same, Liverpool simply overwhelmed them in the first half, and it must have been galling for Pellegrini to see his team crumple in the moments when most of the damage was done.
Pellegrini had talked beforehand about the team with the “cold mind” winning the game. Yet Liverpool played as though filled with raw adrenaline and, again, Rodgers had assembled his team in a way to outfox one of their key rivals.
Raheem Sterling’s energy and directness, playing at the tip of the midfield diamond, frequently exposed the absence of a classic defence-minded player for City in front of their back four.
Sterling’s first instinct was to drive towards goal and that made him a constant menace for two centre-halves with the mobility of Martin Demichelis and a half-fit Kompany.
The tone was set after five minutes when Suarez brought down the ball, eluded Gaël Clichy with a Dalglish-esque jutting out of backside, and spotted his team-mate’s run. Sterling darted behind the City defence, then delayed, and in one movement to the right took himself away from Kompany and the oncoming goalkeeper Joe Hart to turn the ball into an exposed net.
The goal came so early it invigorated Liverpool, bringing almost unremitting pressure on the away goal. After 25 minutes, Hart’s reaction save denied Steven Gerrard when Liverpool’s captain had been left in an absurd amount of space from Coutinho’s corner. But City had not learned their lesson. A minute later Gerrard took the next corner and Martin Skrtel escaped Kompany before flashing his header into the opposite corner.
What followed was a second half of relentless drama and, for a while, there was the distinct possibility that City, inspired by Silva, could complete the recovery.
Instead, there was one mistake too many from Kompany. Coutinho’s finish was sublime and Liverpool had moved seven points ahead of their opponents, albeit having played two games more.
The din was “old Liverpool”, to use Rodgers’ phrase, and the final song carried so much importance here. “We’re going to win the league,” they sang.
LIVERPOOL : Mignolet; Johnson,Flanagan, Gerrard, Skrtel, Sakho, Coutinho (Moses 89),Henderson, Sturridge (Allen 66), Sterling (Lucas 95), Suarez. Booked: Suarez. Sent off : Henderson. S ubs not used : Jones, K Touré, Agger, Aspas
MANCHESTER CITY : Hart, Zabaleta, Clichy, Fernandinho, Kompany, Demichelis, Jesús Navas (Milner 50), Y Touré (J García 19), Dzeko (Agüero 68), Silva, Nasri. Subs not used : Pantilimon, Lescott, Negredo, Kolarov. Booked : ZaBaleta, Fernandinho, Garcia.
Referee : Mark Clattenburg