When Philippe Coutinho curled in the winner with 15 minutes to go, history repeated itself at Anfield today in more ways than one.
Coutinho once again stunned Manchester City with a winner late in the match to peg back their title hopes. Not only was the bit of brilliance a repeat of last year when he knocked off the Citizens late, but it was a repeat of the first half, when Jordan Henderson lit up Anfield with the opener just 11 minutes in. Coutinho’s winner was almost a carbon copy of Henderson’s lovely goal, as City saw red twice.
The game got off to a roaring start. Manchester City started better of the two, overwhelming the Liverpool third on a number of occasions, but Liverpool had the better early chances. Adam Lallana had a pair of opportunities inside 10 minutes, a breakaway through the central defenders that he put straight at Joe Hart under pressure, and a goal on a tight angle ruled out for the offside flag.
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Those sprung Liverpool to life, and they’d cash in after just 11 mintues. Philippe Coutinho, who set up both Lallana chances, won the ball off Vincent Kompany in the midfield and started the attack. The ball came to Henderson at the top corner of the box, and after taking a moment to collect himself, he touched once towards the top of the key before unleashing a powerful curling effort that gave Joe Hart no chance and set Anfield alight.
Manchester City nearly had an immediate response. David Silva popped a long ball that caught out the Liverpool back line, over the heads of Martin Skrtel and Emre Can right at the feet of Sergio Aguero, but his shot from the edge of the box clanged the post and came rocketing back out.
They didn’t score on that occasion, but the visitors worked passing lanes and quick touches to look for an equalizer, and they’d find it before the half-hour mark. Silva found space in the middle of the Liverpool third, and he hit Aguero who cut into the middle. Dzeko snuck behind Skrtel who had stepped forward, and Aguero carved up the Liverpool defense with a pass before his strike partner finished it off from close range.
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Lallana had one more half-chance which he couldn’t complete, and the teams went to halftime level. Straight after the break, City started brightly again, and Aguero headed just over the bar less than a minute in. Liverpool had its chances too in the opening stages of the second half, with Lallana finding Sterling with a cross bang in front of goal but under pressure the young striker couldn’t convert. Lallana had another goal ruled out for offsides on 54 minutes, with Skrtel just off on a free kick.
It was clear Liverpool was gaining steam, and while it took a few tries, they finally broke through for another lead. Coutinho, as he did last year, and as Henderson had done in the first half, ripped a curling strike from outside the box to take the lead and give the visitors nightmares.
Both sides then rang the changes, most notably Kolo Toure coming on for the first time ever in a competitive match against his brother Yaya. Daniel Sturridge came on as well, and had a chance with three minutes left in regulation but put it wide. That would do it, as Liverpool picked up a huge three points, moving level with Arsenal (for now) on points, back in fifth on goal differential. Manchester City remains five points adrift of Chelsea, who will now have a game in hand as they focus on the League Cup final this weekend.
Liverpool: Mignolet, Can, Skrtel, Lovren, Henderson, Allen, Moreno (Toure 73′), Markovic (Sturridge 76′), Lallana, Coutinho, Sterling.
Goals – Henderson 11′, Coutinho 75′
Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Mangala, Kompany, Kolarov, Fernandinho (Bony 78′), Toure, Silva, Nasri (Lampard 83′), Dzeko (Milner 58′), Aguero.
Goals – Dzeko 25′