Liverpool took an enormous step toward claiming their first-ever Premier League title on Sunday, blitzing Manchester City early en route to a 3-1 victory over the reigning English champions.
The Reds now hold an eight-point lead atop the table, with Pep Guardiola’s side an additional point back after a frenetic – and contentious – affair at Anfield.
Here are three things we learned from an enthralling encounter between arguably the two best teams in Europe right now.
Liverpool full-backs burn City’s press
There has been no shortage of praise for Liverpool’s dynamic full-back duo over the past year. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson deserve every ounce of it, too.
Their attacking contributions once again proved crucial, as the celebrated pair linked up in superb fashion to create Mohamed Salah’s 13th-minute goal header, which held up as the winning tally.
Guardiola’s high-pressing side often suffocates the opposition, creating turnovers in dangerous areas before striking quickly the other way. Liverpool, though, possessed the perfect antidote.
With City’s players hounding the ball in bunches in central areas, Alexander-Arnold broke the press with one perfect cross-field pass – using his “weaker” left foot, no less – to Robertson, who immediately found himself in acres of space to carry the ball forward and drop a dime to Salah.
Because of that support from their buccaneering full-backs, Liverpool’s vaunted attacking trio could stay high up the pitch, pinning City’s defenders deep and leaving Alexander-Arnold and Robertson with time and space to deliver what are quickly becoming trademark assists.
Another refereeing controversy
Because of course.
Guardiola was incensed over a pair of handball decisions involving Alexander-Arnold that went against his side. The ball struck the Englishman’s arm inside the penalty area after it ricocheted off a pair of players, only for referee Michael Oliver to allow play to continue.
Liverpool raced down the other way and were celebrating a goal shortly thereafter.
With Raheem Sterling intently waiting behind him for a tap-in, it could certainly be argued that Alexander-Arnold denied City a clear scoring opportunity by blocking the ball with an outstretched arm, inadvertent though it may have been.
But replays showed the ball actually bounced off Bernardo Silva’s arm before hitting his Liverpool counterpart. Under the convoluted handball rules, that would’ve erased any potential goal that City may have scored from the sequence.
It’s all a mess.
Changes intended to add clarity to the handball rule have only served to muddy the waters, and VAR’s involvement is creating more problems than it’s solving.
Guardiola lost his mind after another Alexander-Arnold handball went uncalled in the second half, though that one would have been incredibly harsh had it been whistled. Though he was unwilling to address the officiating after the match, Guardiola’s sarcastic (read: petty) post-match handshake with Oliver and his crew said everything we need to know about his feelings on the debatable decisions of the day.
Injuries take a toll on City
Even Manchester City, with all their obscene riches, struggled to cope with a spate of injuries that came to the fore on Sunday.
There was immediate consternation when Ederson suffered a muscular injury midweek, and for good reason: His replacement Claudio Bravo isn’t a very good goalkeeper.
The Chilean couldn’t do anything about the first two Liverpool goals, but his wandering indecisiveness did help Sadio Mane head home the Reds’ final marker of the game.
Aymeric Laporte’s long-term knee injury, meanwhile, has proved crippling, as it’s forced midfield anchor Fernandinho into central defense. The Brazilian is perfectly capable of doing the job, but losing his bite in the center of the pitch loomed large again on Sunday.
Ilkay Gundogan is a serviceable option against the likes of Norwich City – no offense, Canaries – but asking him to cope with Liverpool’s high-octane approach simply isn’t viable, and it showed at Anfield.
The German’s meek giveaway teed up Fabinho’s opener, and Gundogan was largely a passenger while City struggled to handle the Reds’ quickness as they whipped the ball around the pitch.
Still wildly talented up front, City created their share of opportunities, finishing the day with 18 attempts. Raheem Sterling looked menacing every time he touched the ball, but that wasn’t enough to compensate for the aforementioned issues.
“The way we played was incredible, I’m so proud of my players – away from home against the best team in Europe … with the injuries that we had in the squad the way we played was awesome,” Guardiola said post-match, surely doing some damage control.
Perhaps things would’ve been different had City been able to field their full complement of stars, but you’ll have a tough time finding sympathy for a side that’s spent a small fortune building one of the deepest squads ever assembled.