MAN CITY 4, LIVERPOOL 1
It the not just the victory, but the comprehensive manner of Manchester City’s win against Liverpool, one of their main rivals, which spoke volumes.
Pep Guardiola’s side is clearly not going to relinquish hold of the Premier League title without an almighty scrap.
This win, if albeit temporarily, reduced Arsenal’s lead at the top from eight to five points as the Gunners realise they cannot afford any slips with City in this sort of form.
City, who have now recorded seven straight wins in all competitions, also displayed character after falling behind to a Mohamed Salah goal against the run of play.
Their response was devastating as goals from Julian Alvarez, Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan and Jack Grealish turned the tide their way.
Grealish and Riyad Mahrez were unstoppable on the wings as City made light of being without 42-goal leading scorer Erling Haaland.
They proved they are far more than a one-man team and able to still score freely without the influence and presence of the Norwegian.Embed from Getty Images
City manager Pep Guardiola, who celebrated a 100th home Premier League win from128 games, said: “From minute one to minute 93, it was an almost perfect performance – even though we conceded a goal we played really well. It was one of the best performances in my seven years.
“The players knew we weren’t playing bad. One goal down and we continued to do it and had just a bit of chat at half time and were lucky to score the second goal. But then at 2-1 the game was stable.”
Guardiola praised Grealish and Alvarez, who stood in for Haaland, explaining: “I think this season is the Jack we thought could help us. He saved us from conceding a second goal, the chance for Mo Salah and Jack helped us. Riyad was exceptional too, I cannot name one player better than another they were all exceptional.”
On Alvarez, he said: “Not just the goal, the assist in the second and third. He was so clever with the ball, he’s an exceptional player.
“The club made an exceptional signing with him – he’s a world champion alongside Lionel Messi because he has something.”
Guardiola, on the title race, said: “Of course, we fight to chase Arsenal and they are not used to being in this position.
“Always in the last few years, they (Liverpool) fight to win the Premier League and all the competitions. Last season they were two games from a quadruple and now they are playing to be in the top four – it would be incredibly difficult for us as well.
“As a part of that, you have to perform the way we performed. We were so stable and stuck to the plan. All the players were magnificent.”
Liverpool, by contrast, were a poor imitation of the side which has been so dominant along with City in recent seasons.
A top-four place looks out of their reach and they now have a battle to land a place in the Europa League which is by no means a formality.
A downbeat Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp admitted too many of his players were below par.
“Three of four performances were okay, but we needed 11 players of quality to be on top of their game,” he said.
“It was super difficult and nearly impossible to come back here from a two-goal deficit. We could have made it difficult for them if we had kept to our game plan.
“The difference was massive. I am not sure we would have won today against 10 men.”
Guardiola was referring to Rodri who could have been sent off in the opening period for a second bookable offence.
Haaland didn’t make the squad as he recovers from the groin injury he picked up in City’s last match against Burnley before the international break.
He was one of six changes to Guardiola’s side since their 6-0 FA Cup win with Ederson, John Stones, Nathan Ake, Ilkay Gundogan, Jack Grealish and Manuel Akanji all starting.
Liverpool made two changes to the side that was knocked out of the Champions League by Real Madrid 17 days ago.
James Milner and Darwin Nunez dropped to the bench with Jordan Henderson and Harvey Elliott coming into the side.
City were quickest out of the blocks with Gundogan and Rodri having early chances without troubling keeper Alisson.
Mahrez then bent a free kick just past the upright after Jordan Henderson had fouled Kevin De Bruyne just outside the box.
Then against the run of play, Liverpool snatched a 17th minute lead after a counter attack.
Trent Alexander-Arnold’s long ball released Diogo Jota who raced clear and held the ball up before an intelligent lay-off to Salah who fired high into net for his 23rd goal of the season.
There was an anxious wait for a VAR check for a possible offside against Jota.
Salah had scored in all four games against City this season. The last Liverpool player to score in four different games against an opponent in a single campaign was Ian Rush, netting in five meetings with Everton in 1986-87 (including the English Super Cup).
City equalised 10 minutes later after a sweeping move ended with Grealish firing over a low cross from the left which was slotted home by Alvarez, his 13th goal of the season.
And City made a dream start to the second period taking the lead after only 53 seconds as Mahrez crossed from the right to the far post for De Bruyne to convert with a simple finish for his seventh of the season and his 100th career league goal.
Liverpool had a quick chance to equalise only for Ederson to make a big block to deny Cody Gakpo.
And City were 3-1 ahead in the 53rd minute as Liverpool capitulated.
Alvarez’s initial shot was blocked by Alexander-Arnold and the rebound fell to Gundogan who shot into the roof of the net from six yards for his fifth goal of the campaign.
It might have got even worse for Liverpool as Grealish was denied a fourth City goal by a fine fingertip save from Alisson.
Liverpool made a quadruple change, but it did not alter their fortunes as City added a fourth goal in the 74th minute.
Grealish played a return pass with De Bruyne before slotting a shot low to the left of Alisson for his fourth goal of the season.
City made their first change with eight minutes left as Rodri, who was on a booking, made way for Bernardo Silva quickly followed by a second, Cole Palmer for Grealish.