Clear response by Reds post-Coutinho

German midfielder Emre Can jumps into the celebration for the third Liverpool goal scored by Sadio Mane during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Manchester City.
German midfielder Emre Can jumps into the celebration for the third Liverpool goal scored by Sadio Mane during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Manchester City.PHOTO: AFP

They stave off fightback to end unbeaten City run and show they could challenge next term

LONDON • Jurgen Klopp believes Liverpool issued an "important statement" about their future without Philippe Coutinho after ending Manchester City's unbeaten run in thrilling style at Anfield on Sunday.

Liverpool scored four goals and survived a late City fightback, after goals from Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan, to inflict a first Premier League defeat on Pep Guardiola's leaders in 31 games.

The 4-3 victory arrived in Liverpool's first outing since selling Coutinho to Barcelona for £142 million (S$258 million) and Klopp admitted it was essential for his team to respond convincingly to the Brazilian's departure.

"We made the right statement," the Liverpool manager said.

"It was not that I said to the players before the game, 'It would be nice if you could win so nobody talks about Phil', but it was important for us to show it's possible to win without him."

Liverpool's front three of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah showed there is life and goals after Coutinho, all scoring in the space of nine second-half minutes after Leroy Sane cancelled out Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's opener.

  • How to beat City

  • PRESS, PRESS, PRESS

    Liverpool’s midfielders were not the only ones pressing Manchester City high up the pitch. Klopp’s high-craft power-chord football was epitomised by left-back Andrew Robertson, who sprinted up the pitch to close down Ederson – when the hosts were three goals up.

  • FORCE ERRORS

    With Liverpool players constantly harassing the visitors, City’s defenders wilted under the intense pressure. City’s makeshift left-back Fabian Delph was at fault in the buildup to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s goal while centre-back John Stones, as well as Nicolas Otamendi and goalkeeper Ederson all made mistakes in the subsequent goals conceded.

  • FINISH CLINICALLY

    Liverpool scored four goals from seven shots on target. Three goals were the result of winning the ball high up the pitch and breaking at pace.
    THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN

Yet the Reds also proved after the victory that sent them to third on 47 points that they could be City's biggest challengers next season.

Even with £75 million new boy Virgil van Dijk out with a hamstring injury, Liverpool always appeared to be the most likely team England could offer to halt City in their tracks.

Second-placed Manchester United - 15 points behind City and ahead of Liverpool on goal difference before their game against Stoke (this morning, Singapore time) - and Chelsea still have to visit City at the Etihad, while City must travel to Arsenal and Tottenham, but it felt as if Sunday was the most arduous test that remained.

In part, that was because of City's poor record at Anfield - no wins there for 15 years - but more significantly, it was because Liverpool seemed to possess all the weapons needed to do to Guardiola's team what they do to so many others.

Liverpool can press like City, can counter-attack like City, and can sweep teams aside like City. They just do not do any of it as reliably as City do. Few other teams in the Premier League - perhaps Spurs apart - have that skill set.

Klopp, desperate before kick-off to avenge the 5-0 defeat at the Etihad Stadium in September, admitted that Liverpool's adventurous display was the only way to play against Guardiola's men.

  • LIVERPOOL'S4 QUICK-FIRE GOALS

  • TIME TAKEN 6 Seconds PASSES 1

    1-0 to Liverpool: Roberto Firmino wins the ball and prods a pass to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (above), who drives into space and angles a shot past Ederson from the edge of the box.

  • TIME TAKEN 11 Seconds PASSES 2

    2-1: Oxlade-Chamberlain gets a pass from Gini Wijnaldum 0 and bursts forward before passing to Firmino. The forward holds off John Stones before chipping Ederson.

  • TIME TAKEN 7 Seconds PASSES 1

    3-1: Salah forces Otamendi into erroneously giving the ball up. The Egyptian lays the ball to Sadio Mane, who takes one touch before firing into the top corner with his left foot.

  • TIME TAKEN 5 Seconds PASSES 0

    4-1: Ederson races off his line to clear a Salah through ball, but he miskicks straight back to the Egyptian, who controls the loose ball before lobbing the stranded goalkeeper.

"You have no alternative if you want to beat City," said the German, who also saw Mane hit the post. "You could sit deep in your box and hope nothing happens, but we are Liverpool and we should try to win this way. The way we pressed in the second half was outstanding, on a different planet. It is a historical day. It may be the only game City lose this season because they are so strong."

City's Spanish manager Guardiola said: "It is our first defeat and you need to live those situations to realise what we have done so far.

"We have to be sure to win the next one and fight until the end to win the Premier League."

THE GUARDIAN, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2018, with the headline 'Clear response by Reds post-Coutinho'. Print Edition | Subscribe