LIVERPOOL — We were treated to one of the truly great Premier League games on Sunday.
The roar from the Kop grew louder and louder in a stunning nine-minute spell in the second half as Liverpool ripped apart Manchester City and handed Pep Guardiola‘s men their first defeat of the season in the Premier League.
Games, and atmospheres, like the one we witnessed at Anfield on Sunday are what the Premier League is all about. Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, true soccer purists, were expected to tell their teams to go all-out attack and that’s exactly what they did, even if the defending was shambolic at times.
Like a great defensive duel in Serie A and a titanic tussle in La Liga, the end-to-end, pulsating nature of this game summed up what should be adored about the Premier League. This was not a defensive stalemate between top four rivals scared of losing. Both teams played their part in a mouth-watering, absorbing seven-goal thriller and both wanted to win. It was all wonderfully refreshing and lived up to the drama of recent end-to-end encounters in the PL between Chelsea and Arsenal and Arsenal and Liverpool over the festive period.
All-out attack is now becoming the go-to mode for these heavyweight encounters.
With a tight game locked at 1-1 heading into the final 30 minutes, first Roberto Firmino chipped home to put Liverpool 2-1 up. Two minutes later Sadio Mane lashed home to make it 3-1. Then Mohamed Salah scored from 40-yards out to put Liverpool out of sight. Or so they thought…
Manchester City came roaring back late on — well, more so Liverpool forgot how to defend — scoring with six minutes to go and then in the first minute of stoppage time to make it 4-3 and all of a sudden the jubilant Anfield turned into a palace of nerves. The agony and ecstasy of the Premier League was bundled up into 90 minutes of pure, exhilarating action.
Speaking after the game, Klopp hailed the play from both teams and believes this is a game we will be talking about two decades from now as his side extended their unbeaten run to 18 games in all competitions and moved up to third in the PL table.
“You can watch it as a manager or as a football fan and I prefer to do that – wow! What a game!” Klopp told the BBC. “Two teams, full throttle. This was a historical game you will talk about in 20 years because it looks like City will not lose another one this year. People watched this game all over the world and this is why – take your heart, throw it on the pitch and play like this, both teams.”
All of the talk before this game was about two blockbuster attacks going all out for the win. It’s tough to deliver that when the expectations were so high, but both teams did and their philosophy and identity is now firmly embedded.
Despite the disappointment of losing their unbeaten run of 30 Premier League games and seeing their hopes of an unbeaten season fall, Pep Guardiola saluted Liverpool as his side showcased their defensive deficiencies and succumbed to the cauldron of noise created at Anfield.
“My first words is congratulations to Liverpool for the victory. It was a good game,” Guardiola said. “They start well. We lose a lot of balls, the wide players so aggressive without the ball. After that we start to play much better. We have good chances and especially in the second half we start good. We play good until the goal from Firmino and after that we lost a bit our control for many reasons. You have to try and be stable. We lose that a little bit but we are still fighting and we found two goals so it is our first defeat. You need to live those situations to realize what we have done. Football is unpredictable. You lose today against a fantastic team. You have to be sure to win the next one and fight til the end to win the Premier League.”
Guardiola’s men hadn’t lost all season but they’ve shown signs of cracking against the likes of Crystal Palace and second-tier Bristol City in recent weeks as teams brave enough to attack them came close to ending their run.
Liverpool were brave enough, and good enough, to prevail. They tried to go toe-to-toe with City in September at the Etihad but they lost 5-0 after Sadio Mane was sent off in the first half and Guardiola’s men ruthlessly punished them. Liverpool fought fire with fire again and it was the only way they were going to win.
“You have actually non alternatives to beat City,” Klopp said. “Yes, you can win the lottery and they tackle each other and you can stand deep in your own box and hope in the end that nothing happens but that’s actually not really likely. We are Liverpool. We should not try this way. Then you don’t have a lot of alternatives. You need to be brave. You need to play football. I’m really happy about that.
“Pressing in the second half, around the goals, was on a different planet. Just outstanding. Playing football first half, against a really good organized team. If you talk about City, you always talk about how good they are out playing wise but they are brilliantly organized. Against an organized team like that, playing football in the spaces we played, with the situations we created, chances and good moments, there is no alternative to play against them. That’s why we tried it again.”
Man City will still be at least 12 points clear atop the Premier League table at the end of Week 23, and they are still the overwhelming favorites to win the Premier League title.
Liverpool may well be the best of the rest as they sit level on 47 points with second-place Manchester United who are above them only on goal difference. Despite selling Philippe Coutinho to Liverpool for $197 million, this performance showed that Klopp doesn’t need to replace him right away as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain dazzled with his opening goal and a superb all-around display.
With Virgil Van Dijk (out injured for Sunday’s game) set to shore up Liverpool’s defense, the Reds will only improve and their attack showed it can rip apart any defense in the Premier League.
Liverpool have won more points, and games, against the so-called “top six” since Klopp arrived in October 2015 and their devastating attacking display on Sunday created an incredible atmosphere at Anfield, which rivaled some of the great occasions of the past.
Klopp summed up how we all felt as his team were rewarded for their bravery.
“It was just a joy to watch,” Klopp said. “It is just a nice a commercial for Premier League football. The whole world was watching and if is somebody didn’t like football up until now then probably they will say ‘ah, that’s why you watch it all the time.’ So, I’m really happy about it.”
So was the rest of the watching world.