Will anybody stop Manchester City now? It feels less likely after they extended their winning run in the Premier League to a perfect ten matches a nd put daylight between themselves and their nearest challengers, Manchester United.
It was a day when Ilkay Gündogan could recover from a first-half penalty miss to score twice, Raheem Sterling found the net at Anfield for the first time since swapping Liverpool for City in 2015 and Phil Foden confirmed his team’s supremacy with a late thunderbolt.
One thing did feel certain as City enjoyed only their second league win here in 30 visits – Liverpool’s grip on the title that they won so impressively last season is over. They were left lagging 10 points behind City, having played a game more, and this was an occasion when a backline that has been subjected to so much adversity this season fell apart.
Unusually it was Alisson, back in the line-up after illness, whose mistakes were the most glaring; the ones that tilted an all-action second-half away from his team. Twice, the Brazilian miscued passes straight to a sky blue shirt and twice he was punished severely as City opened up a 3-1 lead.
The Liverpool goalkeeper had got away with a bit of dallying outside his area on 73 minutes but when the ball came back to him on the second phase, he shanked a pass straight to Foden, who raced around Jordan Henderson to cut back for Gündogan. Moments later, Alisson could only jab a pass to Bernardo Silva and when he crossed, Sterling was all alone at the far post to head into the empty net.
Foden’s spectacular finish, lashed high past Alisson, sent Liverpool spinning to a third straight league defeat at Anfield for the first time since 1963 and had City in dreamland. It is now 14 straight wins for them in all competitions and only two top-flight clubs have ever done that – Preston in 1892 and Arsenal in 1987.
It had been difficult to overstate the importance of victory for Liverpool and, equally, how deeply they would have to dig for it. Jürgen Klopp described his team as mentally fatigued and unable to run properly after last Wednesday’s home loss to Brighton and he was not giving them a prayer of the title.
They did shade the first half, which was a slow burner, to put it mildly – the emphasis being on whether a victory in a one-on-one could lead to a seam being unpicked higher up the field. The home team raised the intensity after the midway point, getting on to the front foot and slinging a few dangerous balls into the box.
They had a big chance that Sadio Mané wasted and a moment of quality from Roberto Firmino on 29 minutes, a first-time cracker from outside the area after he had run on to a Rúben Dias clearance that forced Ederson into a smart tip over. Mané could be angry at himself. He had got into position to meet Curtis Jones’s cross only to head too high.
City could get little going as an attacking force before the interval. Guardiola had started Foden as a false nine against Klopp’s all-midfield central defensive pairing of Fabinho and Henderson and too often City’s final action was loose.
The penalty was their only real first-half moment of note and it followed a slicing run into the area by Sterling, whose step-over took him inside Fabinho. The Liverpool defender checked his run slightly and there was contact but the award still felt a little soft. Liverpool’s complaints melted away as Gündogan’s kick sailed high.
Who wanted to win this game? Where were the fireworks? Well, they came in the 47th minute – literally – with a display set off, presumably by Liverpool fans, behind the Kop. They banged high into the evening sky but it was City who blew the game open shortly after they had died down.
As he had done for the penalty, the impressive Sterling skated past Trent Alexander-Arnold but this time he slid a pass into Foden who, with Liverpool’s defenders ball-watching, unloaded a quick, low shot. Alisson saved but Gündogan, who has become more of a penalty area presence this season, was on hand to crash the rebound home.
Liverpool did not let their heads drop, with Jones getting the better of João Cancelo before going close with a low curler. John Stones was able to deflect it past the far post and he celebrated with a clenched fist. The equaliser followed a rare slip by Dias. He misjudged a bouncing ball to allow Mohamed Salah in on goal and he reacted by grabbing at him. Salah felt the contact and down he went and, if it felt soft again, it was just another modern penalty. Salah blasted the spot-kick high into the net.
But back came City. Stones had a goal correctly ruled out for offside after a free-kick routine – Foden’s cross was a peach – and, when Alisson erred for the first time, the die was cast.