Liverpool’s start to 2019 opened with a 2-1 defeat to Man City, but it was a performance which failed to dent the confidence of our title challenge.
It was a meeting decided by the finest of margins, with the intervention of the post and goal-line technology denying Liverpool the opener prior to Sergio Aguero’s thunderous finish at the near post, which handed the hosts the lead heading into the break.
Roberto Firmino levelled the scores midway through the second term, only for City’s Leroy Sane to see his effort hit the post and roll in to end Liverpool’s unbeaten streak.
It leaves the Reds with a four-point buffer ahead of a favourable run of league fixtures following the FA Cup clash with Wolves on Monday.
Breaking down the positives and negatives from the game and assessing the confidence levels of a successful title challenge were Brian Irvine (@btirvine), Jonathan Higgins (@Jhiggins3) and This Is Anfield’s Matt Ladson (@mattladson).
Brian: First of all I’d say it was a superb game of football and one neutrals would have surely enjoyed.
From an LFC perspective I don’t think we’ll have many tougher games; we were hard done-by especially with some goal-line heroics.
The team was well drilled for the most part and handled City adeptly, aside from the odd individual lapse.
The overall performance would have won lesser games but City had the edge and resolve on this occasion of course.
Gini Wijnaldum the standout Red for me, albeit from a small pool of candidates; he got through a boatload of work and was always looking to be involved.
Jonathan: Andy Robertson proved yet again why he is the best left-back in the country. He was phenomenal and pocketed Raheem Sterling, pretty much winning every one-on-one he faced against him.
Virgil Van Dijk was simply immense again also, his performance is even more remarkable when you consider the performance of his defensive partner—see the bad, below.
Fabinho, although limited to a substitute appearance, deserves a mention, his aggression and positive forward nature in possession turned the game in Liverpool’s favour.
Up until in his introduction, Liverpool’s had been far too passive in both their tackling and possession of the football in the second half.
The character shown to create the equaliser has to be admired. On another day if the football gods had aligned with our paths we could have gone on to secure a victory.
Once the red haze from the frustration of the result descends you can appreciate being top of the table, with a four-point lead, having faced City twice…isn’t a bad place to be.
Matt: Like Brian says, I wish I had been a neutral because that was a superb football match.
Klopp’s introduction of Fabinho and change in formation just before the hour was probably the most pleasing aspect for me. We looked completely different from that point on and controlled the game.
City’s winner is completely against the run of play, we were the ones in command. The full backs played higher up due to the double pivot in midfield and City weren’t able to get near us.
Fair enough, it didn’t work in terms of the result, but it showed that we do have the belief even against such a difficult opponent.
Brian: We lost! Tactically, we were lacking in creativity until Fabinho‘s introduction in being able to pull some strings from deep when it seemed the intricate play seen in the first half began to take a back seat.
Perhaps he should have started but it’s easy to say that now. The result aside, I don’t think there are too many negatives to take from the game.
Let’s not lose sight of how good City are; small margins cost Liverpool but those should be viewed with a clear head with lessons being learned. It’s what all the great sides have done and what I fully expect this squad to do.
Jonathan: It’s hard to avoid the elephant in the room.
Dejan Lovren put in one the worst individual performances I have seen in a long time, and such a night for it to happen.
The writing was on the wall once he received a yellow card on 20 minutes; thereafter he struggled in all aspects of the game, particularly in possession.
His decision to play a long, straight ball, deep into the box from deep with his bad foot tells you everything you need to know about his performance.
Gave me flashbacks to the horrors of his wild attempt at goal in the last minute of 2015 FA Cup semi-final tie against Aston Villa at Wembley.
Jurgen Klopp picked what many call his tried and trusted midfield for tonight’s game. The fact that two of the three were replaced probably tells you everything you need to know.
While he worked his socks off Jordan Henderson struggled to gain any authority in the midfield battle.
It may sound silly but Liverpool didn’t get the run of the green over the course of the 90; the goal technology decision, how the ball avoided Salah on the way out, the Kompany tackle, the Sane goal going in off the post, etc.
Small, little, bad things that make the result even more frustrating.
Matt: The lads above have mentioned most things so I’ll mention the City fans. Honestly, they’re a strange bunch: they call for every single challenge to be a foul. Maybe it’s because their manager acts like a two-year-old when decisions don’t go his way.
As for that midfield, I keep saying that surely that’s the last time we see it, but now surely it is and we keep with 4-2-3-1 for the remainder of the campaign.
…and fine margins can decide titles; How confident are you that Liverpool can go the distance?
Brian: I still believe we’re fully capable of lifting the title in May barring an injury crisis or catastrophe of mettle.
We’ve shown this season that this is a side more than capable of managing their way professionally through fixtures—an aspect severely lacking in years past.
Liverpool have a better run-in on paper than City and while the four-point lead remains, the majority of pressure will be at the Etihad. Maybe even a rejuvenated Man Utd may lend bittersweet favour come March!
All being said I think it could go down to the wire.
Given Liverpool’s consistency in the first half of the season, a slender lead could prove insurmountable if Klopp’s men can keep the chasing pack at arm’s length. Let’s hope so.
Jonathan: Confidence is probably too strong a word with 17 games to go, but Liverpool are in a wonderful position.
Back in the summer, anyone associated with the club would have bitten your arm off to be top with a four-point lead, having faced City twice by January.
How we react to this setback will be a huge deciding factor. No doubt there will be more twists and turns but the dream is very much still alive.
Matt: As I mentioned above, the belief we showed in the second half and how nobody shirked the challenge has given me plenty of optimism.
Nobody hid, everybody looked well capable of playing in such a big game. We weren’t out of place. Klopp’s words pre-match about the Champions League run were certainly on display.
So while the defeat is disappointing, in some ways I feel more confident now that we can go on and maintain this level to the end of the season.
We have Gomez coming back soon, a favourable run of fixtures next, while City have seven games in January due to cup competitions and I think they’ll drop points again.