31 Dec Liverpool in the title mix
Jurgen Klopp won the battle of managerial masterminds at Anfield as Liverpool’s 1-0 victory put a dent in Manchester City’s title aspirations.
Georginio Wijnaldum’s eighth-minute goal proved enough to beat Pep Guardiola’s side and ensure the Reds’ maintained the six-point deficit on leaders Chelsea, whom City now trail by 10 points.
A fourth defeat of the season ended the visitors’ mini-revival which had seen them win the last three after a wobble earlier in the month.
For two teams who like to dominate possession there were a lot of loose balls flying around midfield and while the predicted goal-fest between the Premier League’s leading two scorers did not materialise it was a fascinating encounter stage-managed by two of the world’s top coaches.
Klopp was first to show his hand and comfortably won the opening 45 minutes. Guardiola gained a reaction from his side after the break but failed to conjure a goal – or even a decent scoring opportunity – out of his expensively-assembled side.
City’s top scorer Sergio Aguero, back after a four-match suspension, barely had a kick until he registered their first shot on target in the 54th minute.
The visitors were stifled by Liverpool’s incessant pressing and harrying with makeshift left-back James Milner epitomising the team ethic with a complete shut-out job on former Reds winger Raheem Sterling, eight years his junior.
Liverpool’s goal, in the eighth minute, typified their approach. Aleksandar Kolarov lost possession in opposition territory with Wijnaldum moving the ball to Roberto Firmino whose outside-of-the-foot pass to Adam Lallana was matched by an equally tasty cross from the midfielder.
Wijnaldum, who had raced 60 yards, comfortably out-jumped Kolarov to power a header past Claudio Bravo.
Lallana, a player reborn under Klopp, continues to be the man around whom this team revolves and no midfielder in Europe has been as involved with seven goals and seven assists.
Liverpool’s control in midfield, something which would have alarmed but not surprised Guardiola, allowed Emre Can to curl a shot wide before Firmino, for once, was fractionally off with his timing after Yaya Toure was robbed of possession and Lallana had just strayed into an offside position as he threatened to run through one-on-one with Bravo.
Momentum swung City’s way after the break as they began to dominate the centre ground but even with David Silva, who whipped a shot past the post, seeing more of the ball they could still not either free up Aguero or create much in the way of chances.
Nevertheless anxiety spread around Anfield but City – watched by captain Vincent Kompany in with the away fans – could not capitalise with another unconvincing performance on the road which poses yet more questions for which Guardiola has yet to find answers for.