Big picture remains rosy for Reds in pole position despite Man City defeat
Liverpool verdict - Big picture remains rosy for Reds in pole position despite Man City defeat
James Pearce believes Liverpool should be proud of their efforts despite unlucky defeat to Man City at the Etihad
By James Pearce
23:10, 3 JAN 2019
No need for angry recriminations, no need to feel disheartened.
Liverpool's proud unbeaten record bit the dust at the Etihad but the bigger picture remains incredibly rosy.
Take a look at the Premier League table. Jurgen Klopp's side are four points clear at the summit - a position of genuine strength with 17 games remaining.
Rewind a month to a time when Liverpool were still playing catch-up on Manchester City and enjoying that kind of cushion would have been viewed as a glorious scenario.
This is no time for panic or self-doubt. The Reds are still in the box seat.
They won't be The Invincibles, Pep Guardiola's City put paid to that talk. However, there was nothing here to dent the belief that the current crop are capable of delivering the big prize come May.
City celebrated like they had won the title. The champions knew the importance of halting the remarkable momentum the Reds had built up since August.
This was a high quality showdown between two wonderfully gifted teams which could easily have gone either way.
Liverpool enjoyed some good fortune en route to a record-breaking first half of the campaign from Riyad Mahrez's penalty miss to Jordan Pickford's embarrassing late blunder in the derby.
It was a tale of fine margins going their way but on this occasion Lady Luck refused to smile on them.
John Stones was 11millimetres away from giving the Reds a comedy own goal in the first half and then Vincent Kompany somehow escaped a red card for a shocking lunge on Mohamed Salah.
City cashed in with Sergio Aguero firing them in front but Liverpool rallied in the second half and deservedly levelled through Roberto Firmino's header.
The contest was on a knife-edge but City struck the decisive blow as Leroy Sane capitalised on some uncharacteristically slack defending from Klopp's side. On a night when Dejan Lovren struggled, the injured Joe Gomez was sorely missed.
It was the first time Liverpool have conceded more than once in a league game since the trip to West Brom in April.
By the end they looked shattered. A fourth game in the space of 13 days had taken its toll.
A year ago Liverpool inflicted a first league defeat of the season on City, who quickly recovered and went on to clinch the Premier League crown in style. Now Klopp's challenge is to ensure that the Reds respond in similar fashion.
The manager had opted for solidity and experience by recalling Jordan Henderson and James Milner in midfield. Fabinho and Xherdan Shaqiri made way as the Reds reverted to a 4-3-3 formation.
Klopp had warned his players to be ready for a “City thunderstorm” and his forecast proved spot on as the hosts flew out of the traps.
Liverpool looked nervous as they endured a torrid opening spell. They caused problems for themselves by repeatedly conceding possession cheaply.
Sadio Mane, Alisson Becker and Milner all made sloppy mistakes in quick succession as City hunted in packs. Klopp stood on the touchline demanding more composure.
It was fiercely competitive and played at a brutal speed. The impressive Fernandinho showed why the hosts simply weren't the same force without him over the festive period as he flew into tackles and his pin-point distribution kept on asking questions.
Slowly, the Reds settled and started to utilise the space in behind City's backline. They went agonisingly close to taking the lead.
It was a slick, incisive move which showcased the brilliance of Klopp's front three.
Salah and Firmino exchanged passes before the Egyptian slid Mane through. His low strike cannoned off the post and in the panic that followed Stones' attempted clearance hit Ederson and bobbled goalwards.
As Salah closed in, a goal looked certain but somehow Stones hooked it away. Replays showed it was less than half an inch from crossing the line.
Liverpool had a foothold in the contest and they continued to grow in confidence.
The outstanding Andy Robertson dealt expertly with the threat of Raheem Sterling. City kept on feeding the former Reds winger but the Scottish left-back remained rock-solid throughout.
When Sterling fed David Silva in a dangerous area, Virgil van Dijk was alert to make the block.
City got lucky for a second time when Kompany got away with a yellow card just past the half hour mark.
In his desperation to stop Salah latching on to Stones' misplaced pass, the City skipper made an ugly two-footed lunge. It was reckless and out of control – a red card offence. However, referee Anthony Taylor failed in his duty and Kompany breathed a sigh of relief.
Five minutes before the interval Liverpool were behind. After Van Dijk nodded clear, Bernardo Silva darted past Gini Wijnaldum and fed Aguero at the near post.
Lovren was on his heels and too slow to react. Aguero took a touch to steady himself and from the tightest of angles lashed high past Alisson at his near post.
The Argentine frontman has now scored in all of his seven home Premier League appearances against the Reds.
Early in the second half Klopp cut an increasingly agitated figure as he bellowed orders from the touchline.
The Reds just couldn't get going as moves kept on breaking down. City were playing with real control and Klopp took action.
There was a change of personnel and formation as he brought on Fabinho for Milner and switched to 4-2-3-1.
Mane shifted to the right with Wijnaldum on the left and Salah central with Firmino for company in the No 10 role.
It did the trick. Liverpool started to play with much more fluency. Ederson thwarted Firmino after the striker had latched on to Kompany's clearing header.
The equaliser duly arrived on 64 minutes. Trent Alexander-Arnold cut inside off the right and whipped a beauty towards the far post.
Robertson coolly knocked it back across goal and Firmino gleefully nodded home his 10goal of the season.
The travelling Kop erupted. Liverpool had fought back from a goal down to win at the Etihad on their previous visit and they sensed that they could repeat the trick.
Suddenly, City were wobbling and the Reds were winning battles. However, with 18 minutes to go the visitors nodded off defensively and paid the price.
Sterling darted in field and found the unmarked Sane. Alexander-Arnold couldn't get across in time and Sane unleashed a low left-footer which flew in off the inside of the post.
Shaqiri and Daniel Sturridge replaced Mane and Wijnaldum as Klopp sought some late inspiration. Alisson kept Liverpool in it with two fine saves to deny Aguero and then Bernardo Silva.
Salah could have salvaged a point after bursting away from Stones but Ederson clawed it behind.
The battle had been lost but the Reds left with their heads held high. They remain in pole position.
Man City: Ederson, Danilo, Stones, Kompany (Otamendi 88), Laporte (Walker 86), Fernandinho, Silva (Gundogan 65), Sane, Bernardo, Sterling, Aguero
Not used: Muric, De Bruyne, Mahrez, Jesus
Liverpool: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson, Henderson, Wijnaldum (Sturridge 85), Milner (Fabinho 57), Firmino, Salah, Mane (Shaqiri 77).
Not used: Mignolet, Moreno, Keita, Lallana.
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Goals: Aguero 40, Firmino 64, Sane 72.
Bookings: Kompany, Laporte, Bernardo Silva, Lovren, Wijnaldum.
Man of the match: Andy Robertson. Didn't deserve to be on the losing side.
Liverpool player ratings vs Man City - Dejan Lovren poor but others impress in narrow defeat
Ian Doyle runs the rule over Liverpool's performance in narrow defeat to Man City
Alisson Becker 7
Sent an early kick out of play but, like Liverpool, settled. In reality had no chance with the opener. Saved well from Aguero late on.
Trent Alexander-Arnold 7
Targeted by City and Sane in particular during the opening quarter but started to hold his own before the break. Brilliant crossfield pass created the equaliser.
Virgil van Dijk 8
Blocked one David Silva shot first half and was solid whenever Aguero has ventured into his area. Not least when almost putting the Argentine into the crowd after the break.
Dejan Lovren 5
Took one for the team when booked for a foul on the rampaging Aguero, and then lost the City man for the opener. Another boob almost cost Liverpool a third later on. Quite poor.
Andy Robertson 9
A tough ask one-on-one against Sterling, but after an alarming start handled the former Red brilliantly. Such a good touch across goal to create Firmino's equaliser.
Jordan Henderson 7
Kept it a bit too simple in the engine room first half but began to flex himself when in a midfield two and put in some good tackles to help Liverpool gain momentum.
Gini Wijnaldum 8
Liverpool's best player by some distance in the first half. His ability to shield possession and move the ball on was crucial, and then did a fine when shifted out to the left.
James Milner 6
Worked hard across the midfield but his first touch wasn't great and didn't have much play in the final third. Subbed.
Mohamed Salah 7
Couldn't quite provide the finishing touch to Liverpool's remarkable first-half chance. Caught by Kompany who could easily have been dismissed. More involved when moved up top.
Roberto Firmino 7
Back in a central area, one or two nice touches but wasn't involved much until reverting behind Salah and was in the right place to head in the equaliser.
Sadio Mane 6
Started dismally but improved marginally. Should he have scored when instead hitting the post? Not his best evening. Subbed.
Fabinho (for Milner 57) 8
His arrival prompted the reshuffle that brought Liverpool back into the game. A fine cameo.
Xherdan Shaqiri (for Mane 77)
No late heroics this time.
Daniel Sturridge (for Wijnaldum 86)
Nor from him.
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