Liverpool became the first team to beat Manchester City in the Premier League this season in their first fixture since Philippe Coutinho’s departure
“When I think about the game on Sunday, I cannot forget the first we played against them,” Jurgen Klopp had admitted in the build-up to the Premier League’s most exhilarating fixture.
“We have to pay back, in a football way. We have such a strong group here, they are on fire.”
Liverpool acceded to their manager’s demand in an authoritative manner. This time around, there was no red card to skew matters as Liverpool avenged their 5-0 defeat at the hands of Manchester City in the reverse match, in which Sadio Mane was sent off.
Ahead of the showdown, the Senegal international emphasised that his team-mates had the ability “to beat anyone.”
And in a bitterly cold afternoon at Anfield, the hosts proved as much as they removed the cloak of invincibility from the league leaders.
This was the fixture Philippe Coutinho – now Barcelona’s record signing following his £142 million transfer last weekend – most thrived in and the question of how Liverpool would cope without their virtuoso understandably formed a sizeable part of the pre-match narrative.
The Brazilian contributed 20 goals in as many games this season for the Reds prior to his switch, and it was perhaps fitting that the player who took his place in the XI at Anfield – the only one who said the club have to “just move on” – was the scorer of the opener against the leaders.
Oxlade-Chamberlain displayed a combination of power, pace and precision to hurt City nine minutes in. Roberto Firmino controlled a long Loris Karius goalkick, which fell into the path of the England international. He drove forward, dusting off Fernandinho in the process, planting a low, right-footed cracker past Ederson.
It was yet another example of Oxlade-Chamberlain’s strengths marrying far better with Liverpool’s blueprint than it ever did at Arsenal. And with RB Leipzig announcing just hours before kick off that they will not sanction Naby Keita’s early release, his dynamism in the middle was doubly important.
Liverpool were aggressive, giving the visitors no peace in the opening half, and deserved to hold the advantage.
A near-perfect showing in the first half was blighted with a succession of errors five minutes before the break. Joe Gomez misjudged Kyle Walker’s crossfield pass, which Leroy Sane controlled before cutting in to beat the right-back and Joel Matip before drilling beyond Karius at the near post.
The keeper stuck his forehead on the turf in the knowledge that he should have done better – it was a robust strike from the German winger, but had the positioning of his hands been correct, he’d have thwarted the hit.
Thankfully for Karius – now Liverpool’s first-choice over Simon Mignolet “if he is able to perform” according to Klopp, the equaliser did not galvanise City.
After the break, the Merseysiders were just as brave and biting – not allowing Guardiola’s charges to get anywhere close to comfort mode.
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When Firmino chipped in after holding off John Stones and meeting Oxlade-Chamberlain’s throughball on 59 minutes, it was still a tight, testing encounter.
By the time 70 minutes were up, City were on the canvas – bloodied – as Mane fired home a rocket into the top corner and Salah punished a poor clearance from Ederson by lofting an effort over the out-of-position Brazilian.
Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan converted late on, but it was too little, too late as Liverpool showed that not only is there life after Coutinho but also that City are not unbeatable.