Liverpool blow Man City away to seize control of quarter-final
Pep Guardiola’s side fail to register shot on target at Anfield
Sadio Mane head in Liverpool’s vital thrid goal at Anfield. Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty
Liverpool 3 Manchester City 0
For Liverpool it was one of those nights when perhaps they reminded themselves why the banners fluttering on the Kop included one carrying the message “European royalty”. All three of their goals were scored at that end. They swept Manchester City away during a first-half blitz and will go into the second leg in such a position of strength it is difficult to see how Pep Guardiola’s side can possibly save themselves.
Difficult, though not impossible – and Jürgen Klopp will no doubt point out that Liverpool have already lost 5-0 at the Etihad Stadium this season. Yet it would be an extraordinary feat of escapology if Guardiola’s team can find a way back from this position. One goal for Klopp’s team in the second leg would mean City need five again and, judging by the way they defended here, Liverpool should be optimistic of adding to their total when they head down the M62 next Tuesday.
What a thrilling night this was for Klopp’s men and such a crashing disappointment for the team that, lest it be forgotten, is 18 points ahead of them at the top of the Premier League. Liverpool refused to be cowed.
Even when Liverpool raced into a two-goal lead, with only 20 minutes played, it did not seem to enter their minds that it might make sense in that kind of position to slow the game down. A more streetwise side – not least some of the great Liverpool sides who have won this competition – might have tried to take the sting out of the occasion. Not Klopp’s team, though. Why put on the handbrake when everyone was having so much fun? Then a ball clipped in from the right and Sadio Mané headed in their third goal, with half an hour on the clock, and Liverpool still went searching for more. To hell with conservatism – this was the modern Liverpool: high on confidence, with a front three who could trouble any defence, let alone one with these kind of holes.
For City that opening 30 minutes was a calamity and the strangest part is that for long spells of it they had passed the ball more elegantly than their opponents. Kevin De Bruyne, in particular, moved the ball beautifully and, though it did not last long, the Liverpool fans must have been alarmed by the way their opponents kept possession during the opening exchanges.
Yet City did the same when they lost here 4-3 in January. It all looks very pretty but, ultimately, it does not count for a great deal when they can defend this generously.
Klopp’s view was that the only way to take on the Premier League champions-in-waiting is to attack with pace and adventure, pin back the full-backs and hope, perhaps, to catch Vincent Kompany and Nicolás Otamendi having a poor evening. After that, he needed his own players to be ruthless and he got all of that during that blitz of Liverpool goals from the 12th minute onwards.
Oxlade-Chamberlain certainly chose a good night to produce the outstanding moment of his Liverpool career to date. He struck his shot with the kind of power that might have reminded Liverpool fans of a certain generation about the way Terry McDermott used to drive through the middle and let fly from 25 yards. It was a tremendous finish but the chance would never have even presented itself were it not for James Milner dispossessing Ilkay Gündogan inside his own half. Gündogan was caught on the ball and that little snapshot felt typical of how the first half ran away the team in blue.
Guardiola had left out Raheem Sterling to involve Gündogan, with De Bruyne starting in a more withdrawn role than usual, and Gabriel Jesus having to make do without the support in attack he might usually receive. Guardiola was entitled to think Sterling has played poorly on his previous returns to Anfield but perhaps City’s manager might have been better off sticking with his usual tactics. Jesus looked isolated at times, especially with Leroy Sané clinging to the left, and it was not a surprise when De Bruyne switched to a more attacking right-sided position in the second half.
Sterling was brought on in the 56th minute, meaning De Bruyne then took up the No 10 role, and Salah’s withdrawal with an injury four minutes earlier also had an impact on how the rest of the second half took shape.
For the first time, Liverpool started to look like a team whose priority was to ensure they kept a clean sheet rather one trying to extend their lead. They had, after all, shown their counterattacking qualities for the opening goal when Milner’s pass sent Salah racing through the inside-right channel. Salah’s pass gave Roberto Firmino the first chance and, when the ball came back off Ederson, Kyle Walker could not untangle his feet.
Firmino had Salah to his left and the Egyptian turned in his 38th goal of the season.
City still had the entire second half to reduce the arrears with the vital away goal but that, perhaps, was the most surprising part. Lorius Karius, Liverpool’s goalkeeper, hardly had a save to make.