Every game now a 'Final'

Striker Sergio Aguero is ecstatic after scoring City's opening goal against Liverpool in their Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday.
Striker Sergio Aguero is ecstatic after scoring City's opening goal against Liverpool in their Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Edgy Pep lauds 'incredible' players after City inflict Reds' first loss to reignite EPL title race

LONDON • There were moments on Thursday night when Pep Guardiola looked like a man on the edge.

He was pacing back and forth on the touchline, fretting, chewing at his nails, doing little jumps, holding his head in his hands, throwing a scarf down in frustration and finally, in the closing stages, turning to the Manchester City fans and imploring them to turn up the volume.

At times, he even made his opposite number Jurgen Klopp look calm, which takes some doing.

The 2-1 English Premier League win over leaders Liverpool was not quite a must-win game, but that was certainly how it looked and felt.

City, favourites to retain the league title just three weeks ago, played as if their lives depended on it, desperate to quell Liverpool's uprising and to reduce the deficit at the top of the table from seven points to a less daunting four.

Following this mini-revival, Guardiola knows that every game from now on is a "final".

"We knew that if we won, we would be in contention to fight for the Premier League; if we lost, it is over," the Spaniard said.

 
 

"I don't remember a league so tough. There are so many huge contenders fighting for the title. It is closer, every game is a final."

In a match that lived up to its billing played in a wonderful atmosphere at the Etihad Stadium, Sergio Aguero put City ahead with a brilliant strike and, after Roberto Firmino had equalised, Leroy Sane inflicted Liverpool's first league defeat of the season with a low shot off the post in the 72nd minute.

"Losing today, it was almost done," Guardiola reiterated.

"Ten points, with goal difference 11 points, so difficult to be honest to turn that situation, but now we are four points behind them.

"We have to fight a lot, but four points is enough to be calm and it is a good moment to congratulate and say 'thank you' to these incredible players.

"Today they show how good they are, they played against an incredible team."

GREAT JOB, GUYS

We went toe to toe with a very physical, very aggressive team and we matched them, if not more. The performance was beyond anything I've ever witnessed.

VINCENT KOMPANY, Manchester City captain, praising his men.

Widely praised for their neat, precise passing, City showed they can also roll up their sleeves on Thursday, working feverishly all over the pitch to pressurise the visitors whenever they were in possession.

"It was important we played with courage," Guardiola said, while also lauding Aguero for having scored in all seven of his home league games against Liverpool.

"We were so aggressive in our pressing, as we knew how complicated it was, and we know how incredibly fast they are when they get in behind - so dangerous.

"We created a lot of chances. Liverpool don't concede goals and we scored two."

City captain and centre-back Vincent Kompany said: "I'm absolutely buzzing with a tremendous performance. We went toe to toe with a very physical, very aggressive team and we matched them, if not more.

"The performance was beyond anything I've ever witnessed.

"It came from the gut, the 12th man is more than just the fans, it's a desire, something from within you can't describe and today it was there and we are a better team when we play with emotion."

He was, however, fortunate to escape with only a yellow card for a studs-up lunge that caught Mohamed Salah. But he said there was no intention to hurt the striker.

"I thought it was a great challenge, was it not? I got the ball, a bit of the man, I didn't try to injure him that's for sure," said the Belgian.

THE TIMES, LONDON, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2019, with the headline 'Every game now a 'Final''. Print Edition | Subscribe