Wow. Just wow.
Liverpool took a big step towards a potential Champions League semi final place with a brilliant 3-0 victory over all-but Premier League champions Manchester City at Anfield on Wednesday evening. Goals from Mohamed Salah, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sadio Mane all in the first half and a shutout from the defence in the second half means that Liverpool are probably favourites to go through after next weeks 2nd leg.
It has been, since the draw was made weeks ago, one of the most anticipated games in the last 10 years of Liverpool Football Club’s history. The build up was dominated by stories of Salah vs De Bruyne (on the pitch and in the Player of the Year race), bus welcomes, attacking football and atmosphere. I personally don’t think I’ve been as nervous for a game in more than 10 years.
There was plenty of evidence (try a whole Premier League season’s worth) saying that City should be winning this tie. But there was always the factor of Anfield European nights to take into consideration when trying to predict a result like this.
The bus welcome that the Liverpool fans provided was…probably distasteful but it seemed to work as the City team that we saw tonight was a shadow of the City team that is on course to win the Premier League this weekend.
The noise at the start of the game from the ‘Allez Allez Allez’s to the ‘booooo’s seemed to unsettle Guardiola’s team as all the early pressure was provided by the team in Red.
The pressure finally paid off when Salah, who was probably offside, managed to work the ball into the box for Roberto Firmino to have a chance. The ball ricocheted back out to Kyle Walker who fluffed his lines, allowing Firmino to get a foot in and prod the ball to Mo Salah. The Egyptian didn’t need a second try as he finished past Ederson in goal.
- up in 12 minutes, a dream start for Jurgen Klopp’s team.
The atmosphere just got louder and louder after the goal and the pressure from Liverpool got higher and higher. City barely managed to get out of their own half. It wasn’t long before the pressure broke Pep’s team once again.
This time it wasn’t so much a team move as it was a moment of magic from one Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The England midfielder picked up the ball 30 yards out, took two touches forward and belted the ball into the left side of the net.
Ederson had no chance. City had no chance. Liverpool were 2-0 up and in absolute dreamland. I was in dreamland, I think this was when my voice started to go.
The third goal was from a Salah cross after Aymeric Laporte, playing at left back for some reason, showed him onto his favoured left foot twice in the space of 15 seconds. Liverpool’s top scorer made him pay for that mistake as he lofted a brilliant cross into the danger area where Sadio Mane was ready to power a header down into the ground and past Ederson once again.
3-0. Half time. I don’t think any Liverpool fan predicted it would go quite this well quite so quickly.
There was still the niggling feeling in the back of my mind that we would concede and when that happened more City goals would almost certainly follow. The second half started with City going on the attack and stayed that way all throughout.
But we didn’t crack. We stood firm. We defended like we were a team with one of the best defences in the Premier League. Maybe we are.
Consider this. Manchester City had not gone an entire game without having a shot on target since October 2016. That particular record was broken today. Loris Karius in the Liverpool net did not have one save to make. Not one. Virgil van Dijk and Dejan Lovren, standing in for the ‘out-for-the-season’ Joel Matip, were a brick wall in the face of formidable opposition in the form of Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Ilkay Gundogan, Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane. Lovren did an interview a few days ago and I am gobsmacked that it hasn’t come back to bite us. He had a very good game, as did VVD.
But the real stars of the show were the two Liverpool full backs. Trent Alexander-Arnold in particular had faced the label of ‘weak-link’ against the in-form Leroy Sane but he was probably my Man of the Match. He was everywhere we needed him to be and more, making all the tackles we needed him to make and more. Andy Robertson was equally as impressive on the other side but we’ve come to expect that by now, watching Trent was a treat. There was a point towards the end, when Liverpool were desperately trying to stop them scoring an away goal, that he did a Steven Gerrard and started waving his arms and rallying the troops. He’s scouse and if he isn’t captain by the time he’s 23 I’ll eat my hat.
We stopped them scoring an away goal and we go into the second leg 3-0 up. One goal from us at the Etihad means City need to score 5 to go through. We will be without Jordan Henderson however who was brilliant today due to the yellow card he received in the second half. There will also be an anxious wait on the condition of Mo Salah who seemed to feel some pain in his groin and was taken off almost immediately. Hopefully that was purely precautionary with the Merseyside Derby against Everton at Goodison on Saturday. If he missed that and made the 2nd leg on Tuesday I think we could deal with that. We need him badly though, our lack of attacking presence in the second half showed that.
Another amazing European night at Anfield all things said and done. We’ve waited long enough for another one in the Champions League. See you on Saturday for the derby, up the Reds!