Quality over controversy as Liverpool deliver mental blow to Man City

Handballs, offsides and VAR led the narrative after the game, but the fact is that Liverpool outplayed Man City on their way to a 3-1 win.


On Sunday, Liverpool were everything.

This result has been brooding since that unjust loss at Eastlands last January, and there was always going to be a heavy price to pay for Pep Guardiola and his team eventually.

 

First, the Conspiracy Theories

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, November 10, 2019: Manchester City's Sergio Agüero complains to referee Michael Oliver after Liverpool's opening goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 3-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Yes, there was a shout that City could have had a penalty—although two handballs is never realistically going to equal a penalty, when conspiratorial push comes to common-sense shove—when instead Fabinho was emphatically putting us 1-0 up.

What a goal though, eh?

Some wonderful nuisance-making from Mohamed Salah meant that the ball was hastily prodded to Fabinho, who lashed it home with a vague sense of stylish disdain.

Not bad for a player who isn’t renowned for his goals.

Jurgen Klopp wasn’t alone in feeling cheated out of a natural stasis of immediate and delirious celebration by a VAR check, so when Salah added the second goal a short time later the inhabitants of Anfield opted for near-spontaneous combustion.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, November 10, 2019: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah (#11) celebrates scoring the first goal with team-mates during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 3-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Yet another wondrous goal, yet more creation from our playmaking full-backs. That pass from Trent Alexander-Arnold was a work of pure art, that cross from Andy Robertson millimetre perfect.

It is not often during a goal scored by Salah that his contribution isn’t even in the top two of most important elements in its creation.

Normally when full-backs form partnerships it is with the midfielder that operates in front of them.

I can’t think of one other example in football history where a right-back and left-back have formed a partnership in the manner Alexander-Arnold and Robertson have.

Throw into this mix a playmaking goalkeeper in Alisson and the coolest centre-back currently walking the face of the planet in Virgil van Dijk, and it is simultaneously stunning that they create the chances and openings that they do, while finding it impossible to keep a clean sheet.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, November 10, 2019: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah (R) and Manchester City's Raheem Sterling during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

On Sunday at Anfield, Liverpool were in a bullish mood.

This wasn’t a win that was embraced as if a trophy came with the occasion, as has been the case in the past, this was instead a victory that was embraced in a joyous but matter-of-fact way.

We exuded an air not of arrogance, but one of certainty. We won this game because we should do so.

We won this game because right now there is no better team in the world than Liverpool FC.

Joel Matip’s absence aside, our back five and forward three speak entirely for themselves, yet the midfield is always open to conjecture.

 

Midfield Mastery

Liverpool's Fabinho (right) celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game during the Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool. (PA Images)

Fabinho is universally accepted as an indispensable component, yet question marks are often placed against the names of Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is rising again and there is a player of immense purpose lurking within Naby Keita, yet the Fabinho, Henderson and Wijnaldum combination plays these massive games for a good reason.

Henderson is always metronomic against City. That cross for the third goal was the cross of the season so far.

If Alexander-Arnold or Robertson were making that cross then murals would be painted in celebration and t-shirts would be printed. Our least convincing period of the game came after Henderson departed the pitch.

Wijnaldum, meanwhile, possesses the power to disorientate opposing midfields, as there are at least three versions of him.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, November 10, 2019: Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

First you have the defensive version, the version that breaks up play and feeds those in space to wreak havoc further forward.

Then you have the box-to-box version that carries the ball and finds the diagonal pass, or links with the marauding full-backs.

And finally there is the attacking midfielder, that version of him that wins improbable Champions League semi-final comebacks in early May.

The thing with Wijnaldum is that he is arguably the most undefinable midfielder in the Premier League.

As a supporter, you don’t know which version of Wijnaldum that Klopp will field, and if we don’t know then neither does the manager in the opposing technical area.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, November 10, 2019: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson hands over the captain's armband to James Milner as he is substituted during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Don’t fall into the trap of seeing our midfield as the weak link. It is a far stronger department than either friend or foe is willing or capable of giving credit for.

Given the attempted mind games of Guardiola during the week, it was entirely predictable that Sadio Mane added the third.

Even when the City manager’s comments were passed into the public domain, the thought that flashed across my mind was that he was only making the outcome worse for himself.

 

Admissions About Guardiola

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, November 10, 2019: Manchester City's head coach Pep Guardiola reacts during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Guardiola is poked at as a figure of fun, but let’s be honest about it: it is because we know he is the only man that can stand toe-to-toe with us.

I have the upmost respect for the man, a man that was once photographed in Augusta, watching golf at the Masters, with a JFT96 badge on his shirt.

Yes, Guardiola struggles with the concept of defeat, he can be ungracious and gracious within the very same sentence, but at Liverpool we are a better team because he is the man that is pushing us to attain the levels of output that we do.

Walking away from the ground after the game one distraught City supporter suggested that his team should have had four penalties. Four.

He also whined about the treatment of Raheem Sterling, although it was complaints about the “kicking” Sterling had received rather than the booing that seemed to bother him.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, November 10, 2019: Manchester City's Raheem Sterling points after hitting out at Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I’m pretty sure this angst-infused City supporter choked on his own invective when I voiced the opinion that Sterling had been lucky not to be sent off.

Yes, there was a great deal of possession and movement from City, but there was also a great deal of self-flattery too.

Alisson made saves, but none of which seriously extended him. Guardiola’s side were vulnerable every time we went forward, whereas the Liverpool defence—a defence that once again contained Dejan Lovren—coped with most of what was thrown at it.

Sterling was continually booed every time he touched the ball, something I’m never going to condemn, yet also something I’m never going to join in with.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, November 10, 2019: Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold (L) and Manchester City's Raheem Sterling during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

He was City’s brightest player, without managing to put an effort on target, or create a chance of substance for any of his team-mates.

Sterling’s running battles with Alexander-Arnold and, towards the end, Joe Gomez were massively entertaining.

For a man who is universally said to have improved immeasurably under Guardiola, Sterling probably wouldn’t get in our best XI.

 

Fatigued Rivals

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, November 10, 2019: Manchester City's Raheem Sterling (L) and Liverpool's Joe Gomez at the final whistle after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 3-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

To me, City seem mentally fatigued and they have an uncompromising fixture list to return to after the international break.

By the time they kick a ball in anger again, we could feasibly be 12 points ahead of them, and that ball in anger will be kicked against a rapidly improving Chelsea.

For our part, the Premier League has not been won with this result, but the sense that it is an unavoidable outcome continues to grow.

To Selhurst Park we will travel next, and nothing less than no let-up in our utter relentlessness will suffice.

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