Manchester City blew the title race wide open by inflicting Liverpool’s first defeat of the season with an engrossing 2-1 victory at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday.
Sergio Aguero proved the scourge of Liverpool again with a clinical near-post drive – his seventh goal in seven home appearances against the Reds – at the end of a frenetic first half, which saw Sadio Mane strike the post and John Stones hook his own deflected clearance off the line with millimetres to spare.
City were simply not willing to relinquish their title without a fight, their victory reduces Liverpool’s lead at the top of the table to four points and leaves the Premier League title race delicately poised.
The highly-anticipated clash between the champions and the challengers did not disappoint. City flew out of the traps early on, setting the tone for a pulsating half, but the better chances fell for Liverpool.
Firmino slipped Mane through on goal after 18 minutes and his low strike cannoned off the post. Stones then fired his clearance into Ederson, sending the ball looping back towards goal, where the England international miraculously recovered by hooking the ball off the goal-line.
Having weathered the early City storm, Liverpool pounced on the chance to go forward again as Virgil van Dijk’s diagonal ball was brilliantly hooked back to the edge of the area by Andrew Robertson, and Mane lashed a volley straight at Ederson.
Vincent Kompany saw yellow and not red for a lunge on Mohamed Salah on the half hour, before appeals for a City penalty were waved away on 40 minutes after Aguero clashed with Van Dijk. But City sought their own retribution seconds later as the Argentine skipped away from Dejan Lovren and lashed a stunning drive past Alisson at his near post from a tight angle.
Liverpool hit back just after the hour as full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Robertson combined on opposing flanks and the left-back’s brilliant cross was nodded home by the unmarked Firmino at the back post.
The buoyant Reds threatened to add a quick-fire second but City responded in typical fashion as Raheem Sterling streaked clear, switched the play to Sane on the left and the Germany international fired the champions’ second in off the woodwork.
City could have had a third when Aguero tried and failed to round Alisson on 83 minutes, and Bernardo Silva pounced on a poor Lovren clearance late on. The Liverpool goalkeeper prevailed on both occasions but it was City left rejoicing at the end of a thrilling victory.
Pep Guardiola: “The game was a real game for both sides, we beat an incredible team. We were outstanding from the first minute. Liverpool don’t concede goals and we scored two. We are happy for this victory to reduce the gap. Everything is open. If we lose today it is almost done, it would be so difficult. But we are four points behind them and they are the leaders. We have to fight a lot, but this gives us a lot of confidence.”
Jurgen Klopp: “It was a big pressure. Very intense game. We were unlucky in our finishing moments. Unluckier than City I would say. Sane scores and the situation with Sadio when he hit the post. They had periods where they dominated the game and everybody felt the intensity. But we came back and had big chances. It is always like this. You have to score in those moments.”