While matters bubbled over on the touchline, with both Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola providing prime technical area pantomime at times, on the pitch intensity and discipline were the key components to Liverpool’s victory over Man City.
Bit-by-bit Liverpool are reacquainting themselves with what they are good at. After a 32-minute, six-goal blitz at Ibrox, we now have the feelgood factor of a victory at home to the defending Premier League champions.
Those 32 minutes in Glasgow were all about collective expression and reconnecting with the love of finding a pathway to goal, with the bonus of some instances of individual reawakening.
He wasn’t alone in this respect, but suddenly, the real Mohamed Salah was back in the room, and all was well again. If Mo has a spring in his step, we all have a spring in our step. It was as if he had taken note of Bobby Firmino’s ebullient mood and finally decided that he wanted in on the fun too. His central role against Man City played even further into this.
In the second half, we were able to reach out for the win thanks to a first half of prudence, a foundation that at times resembled the peak-Benitez years, rather than eye-of-the-storm-Klopp.
When out of possession – as Liverpool were 63 percent of this game – they were marvellously compact, with both James Milner and Andy Robertson doing quite compelling impressions of textbook full-backs, while Klopp’s much-maligned midfield sat deep, constricting space with a formation that could almost have been classed as a 4-3.5-2.5.
A fantastic discipline was at play which restricted Man City to pot-shots and half chances. Yes, Alisson was called upon to make saves but not one of them truly stretched him, as the focused Virgil van Dijk and the wonderful Joe Gomez ensured that space in front of goal was at a premium.
What Liverpool managed to do was cut off the lungs of Guardiola’s side. Despite the pre-match fears over his inclusion, Milner largely had the measure of Phil Foden, Erling Haaland was impressively marginalised, and in perpetual rotation, Fabinho, Thiago, and Harvey Elliott employed a magnificent midfield strangulation on an ineffectual Kevin De Bruyne. Occasionally, Diogo Jota was also part of these duties and City’s afternoon increased in frustration.
A mad few minutes then ensued before the hour had elapsed where Salah broke through only to see his excellent effort tipped wide of the post by Ederson, this being ‘rewarded’ with a goal kick, and followed by Foden forcing the ball into the Liverpool net, except via fouls by Haaland on Fabinho and the Liverpool goalkeeper.
Before serious breath could be drawn, Jota was heading just wide with the Monday morning headlines at his mercy. All the while, bedlam was constantly erupting on the touchline.
Taylor and WWE
Then came the moment. Alisson to Salah, a magical turn, a second run on goal and the ball this time dispatched. It was sheer pandemonium in the stands.
Throughout, Anthony Taylor remained at the centre of events.
Away from the Punch and Judy of him being a Manc referee, he had set his stall out early to let play flow as much as possible, something that was initially pleasing when partway into the first half Foden went to ground in a clear attempt to garner a free-kick in what would have been a dangerous position down the left-hand-side, only to be left to his own devices until he opted to return to active play.
Taylor, however, eventually seemed to forget what sport he was officiating, as he turned a repeatedly blind eye to the type of challenges that you’d expect to see in a WWE ring, with one on Salah late in the game setting in motion the events that led to Klopp being brandished a red card.
As eventful a 1-0 as you’re likely to see, Van Dijk denied Haaland beneath the Liverpool crossbar, Darwin Nunez should have played Salah in for a potential second, and Jota worryingly departed the pitch on a stretcher.
There were even a few toys being thrown from sky blue prams on Anfield Road on the way out, to which stern words and actions were dispensed. During the game – and reportedly down on the away section concourse – there was an all too predictable lack of class from the visiting supporters.
Beaten and bowed, Guardiola and his players walked away from Anfield with the comfort of an easy set of fixtures to lead them up to the World Cup-themed winter break, yet there are question marks on the horizon for them.
Haaland is undeniably a beast of a player, but he has been airdropped into a team that have been used to sharing the goals around. Last season they had seven players clock up double figures in terms of goals, and that will not happen this time around, given the former Borussia Dortmund hitman absorbs so much light.
Currently, only Foden is also chipping in with significant numbers for City. They are four points behind Arsenal for a reason. There is going to be an opportunity for somebody in the Premier League this season.
For Liverpool, it is now all about building on the positivity of this result, with no more sideways or backward steps.
Despite Sunday, that might still be easier said than done.