LIVERPOOL (AFP) – Liverpool handed Manchester City their first Premier League defeat this season as the rampant Reds won 4-3 against the shell-shocked leaders to show they can thrive without Philippe Coutinho.
City swaggered into Anfield unbeaten in the top flight in 30 matches and widely heralded as champions-elect amid talk that they could go throughout the entire league campaign without losing.
But 90 minutes later, Pep Guardiola’s side were licking their wounds after their first domestic defeat since the FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal last season. They were beaten at their own game as Jurgen Klopp’s team delivered a scintillating display that allayed fears they may struggle follow the sale of Brazil forward Coutinho to Barcelona.
In their first match following Coutinho’s exit, Liverpool were on fire from the moment Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain gave them an early lead. Leroy Sane equalised before half-time, but Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah destroyed City after the break with three goals in nine minutes.
Late goals from Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan made the final score closer than City deserved. It was a rare chastening experience this season for City, but shouldn’t prove damaging to their title bid as they remain 15 points clear of second-placed Manchester United, who host Stoke on Monday (Jan 15).
Liverpool go above Chelsea into third place after extending their unbeaten run to 18 matches in all competitions. While Coutinho’s departure ended the brief reign of Liverpool’s ‘Fab Four’, Klopp could still call on Firmino, Mane and Salah.
And on the evidence of this sublime performance, it won’t be long before they are dubbed Liverpool’s ‘holy trinity’. They quickly combined for a tone-setting break as Firmino’s lofted pass to Mane caught the City defence flat-footed, but when the ball ran to Salah, John Stones made a last-ditch block.
Liverpool fans mercilessly jeered Raheem Sterling on his return to the club he left acrimoniously in 2015. And the Kop faithful were crowing even louder when Oxlade-Chamberlain put Liverpool ahead in the ninth minute.
When Oxlade-Chamberlain took possession 45 yards from goal, he appeared to pose little threat, but City’s defenders fatally backed off. Advancing at pace, Oxlade-Chamberlain set his sights from 25 yards and unloaded a fierce drive that fizzed past City goalkeeper Ederson into the far corner.
It was only the England winger’s fourth goal following his August transfer from Arsenal and it couldn’t have been more well-timed with Coutinho’s exit having opened up a place in the team. Liverpool were rattling Guardiola’s men, pressing them relentlessly and attacking with poise and pace.
Yet City drew level with a bolt from the blue in the 40th minute. Kyle Walker’s raking diagonal pass picked out Sane on the left flank and the German showed superb skill to chest the ball past the slow-to-react Joe Gomez.
With Liverpool suddenly exposed, Sane motored into the area, showing deft footwork to open just enough space for a shot that blazed past Loris Karius’s weak attempt to save at his near post.
Sane’s second goal in his last 15 appearances should have restored City’s equilibrium and they almost took the lead soon after the interval when Nicolas Otamendi’s looping header hit the crossbar.
But Liverpool, fuelled by Emre Can’s running in midfield, refused to let City dictate the tempo and went back in front in the 59th minute. Oxlade-Chamberlain slipped a pass behind Stones, who tried to recover but was shoulder barged out of the way by Firmino as the Brazilian ran clear and chipped a fine finish over Ederson and in off the far post. City were stunned and there was worse to come three minutes later.
This time, Salah’s tenacity forced Otamendi to concede possession and the winger teed up Mane, unmarked on the edge of the area, for a ferocious shot that raced into the top corner. Losing all composure City capitulated again in the 68th minute when Ederson run out of his area to clear, but only found Salah, who clinically stroked the ball into the empty net from 35 yards.
As Liverpool finally stepped off the gas, Silva struck from close-range in the 84th minute before Gundogan’s 91st-minute effort set up an anxious finale to a remarkable game.