Liverpool might’ve not needed this, but Jurgen Klopp clearly knew what it would mean to put down a marker against a Manchester City side that’s proven an indomitable head-to-head obstacle for nearly two-plus seasons.
A nearly full-strength Reds, clearly as depleted in energy as their Wembley Stadium opponents, celebrated loudly on the pitch after holding on to beat Man City 3-2 in an FA Cup semifinal on Saturday.
This was a really weird game, nowhere near the level or intensity of last weekend’s gangbusters 2-2 draw between Manchester City and Liverpool in the Premier League but still giving us volumes to dissect in earnest.
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Maybe because it was the fourth-straight brutal match with plenty of cross-continent travel thrown-in, but a weakened Man City made atypical errors and backup goalkeeper Zack Steffen — yes, of USMNT fame — was very, very poor as Liverpool was better across the board and rode a three-goal halftime lead to their 3-2 win.
Ibrahima Konate bossed the Man City box to score off a corner and Sadio Mane feasted on a Steffen error before scoring another and leaving little question as to who was heading to the final for a date with either Crystal Palace or Chelsea.
Jack Grealish scored early in the second half for City in his latest standout performance, while Bernardo Silva scored late to set up a short-lived but grandstand finish.
Stats, analysis, player ratings, and more from Man City vs Liverpool, below, as we propose Saturday as the day we learned that Liverpool is genuinely looking at aaaalllll the trophies the same while Man City only has eyes for two.
Man City vs Liverpool final score, stats
Man City 2, Liverpool 3
Scorers: Konate (9′), Mane (17′, 45′), Grealish (47′), Silva (90’+1)
Shot attempts: Man City 10, Liverpool 11
Shots on goal: Man City 6, Liverpool 7
Possession: Man City 49, Liverpool 51
Three Four things we learned from Man City vs Liverpool
1. Pep Guardiola really cares about the Premier League as much as the UCL: Pep Guardiola had a chance to look across from him to the team that’s become his most-recent Real Madrid or Borussia Dortmund, and go for an eternal flex: If City could take a team as historically strong as Liverpool, keep them in the PL title rearview and then beat them Saturday, leaving them out of the FA Cup and in the Premier League backseat to boot all in the same fortnight? Especially with a potential European Cup to stage between the era’s two best teams still to come? Flexxxxx.
Instead, Guardiola kept Kevin De Bruyne in a “break in case of emergency” case and only twice fumbled with the latch. He continued Ruben Dias’ renewal despite the Portuguese being read for a place on the bench. And he rested Aymeric Laporte, Ilkay Gundogan, Riyad Mahrez, and Rodri, only using one sub — Mahrez — off the bench in getting his men ready for…. Brighton.
We’ve long known how badly he wants to bring the European Cup to Man City, but we shouldn’t forget that this Catalan man holds the utmost respect for the long haul of a domestic season crown and what it takes to get there.
Man City tried to win, obviously. No one is debating that. But in retrospect it’s easy to say that one of these teams’ managers cared more for what it would mean to win this match: It wasn’t the guy in charge of the Premier League leaders. City can go into any match the rest of the way and know a win is possible if not probable. They’ve knocked their next UEFA Champions League opponents Real Madrid out of the same competition in recent memory and City entered Saturday with a five-match unbeaten run against Liverpool (should they and the Reds reach the final). In fact, you could make a stretch of an argument — and this probably goes too many layers deep — that Guardiola chose this slightly-weakened side because a full-strength loss could hurt his season’s goals more than a full-strength win could benefit them. And if City did manage to get a win over Liverpool on Saturday with this unit? Well, picture Pep hanging on the rim a la Prince in “Chappelle’s Show,” deadpanning, “Game, blouses.”
Grealish gets a goal back for City! 👏 pic.twitter.com/30hVhZUKdY
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) April 16, 2022
2. Jurgen Klopp knew what his players needed, went for (and got) his first trip to FA Cup Final: Depending how highly you rate Joel Matip and Diogo Jota — or if you think either is clearly better than Ibrahima Konate and Luis Diaz, respectively — then Klopp threw something very close to his best XI at Man City. Jordan Henderson has his backers but the Thiago Alcantara, Fabinho, Naby Keita midfield when humming is just the perfect picture of a Klopp midfield.
Yet for every manager who preaches depth and taking every competition as it comes — remember the League Cup / Club World Cup escapades versus Villa of a season ago? — look at his Saturday lineup again. Now read it considering that Liverpool just played two UEFA Champions League matches sandwiched around a must-win Premier League bout with Man City. And that it has two huge Premier League rivalry matches this week (Man United and Everton). You didn’t see Caoimhin Kelleher, Joe Gomez, Curtis Jones, and James Milner.
This is a man who knows he’s locked with Pep Guardiola’s City in a trophy- and point-counting duel for the ages, and a man who knows his side had won just once in nine tries against a club threatening to claim “dad” status on him. This on the surface wasn’t a must-win for Klopp’s living legends, but… now that it’s happened… doesn’t it feel like it actually was?
3. Zack Steffen might not be at Man City next year: For all that said above, Man City is probably in extra time at-worst if the USMNT goalkeeper doesn’t have another FA Cup howler. And the American was clearly shaken deep into stoppage, even as Man City chased a last-gasp comeback. We’ve seen Steffen look incredible at Fortuna Dusseldorf and, obviously, Columbus, but this Zack Steffen — even acknowledging his injury issues — is not fit to start World Cup games ahead of Matt Turner and Ethan Horvath, both who may be in the Premier League next season (one as a starter). Pep backed Steffen after the game, but we’re not sure the American will have another chance between the sticks until the preseason comes and the transfer market along with it.
MANE CATCHES ZACK STEFFEN SLEEPING 🤯 pic.twitter.com/X7GYqHqB04
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) April 16, 2022
4. Mohamed Salah deserves a break: The Egyptian is one of the best players in the world, but he hasn’t been the same since the Africa Cup of Nations (and later the World Cup qualifying playoffs). Salah has still be industrious and electric, in love with the game and playing on a level most players don’t reach more than a few stretches of their careers, but his finishing has been off. He looks like a man who has been carrying the hopes of a nation on his back for months, maybe years, and could use a nap but won’t allow himself one. Honestly, there’s a world where today is one he’s rested just out of what’s to come. Maybe he wouldn’t let it happen, but a sharp Mohamed Salah scores three today. This isn’t a sharp Mo Salah.
Man of the Match: Thiago Alcantara — Maybe if this man stays healthy, Liverpool’s the team in the PL catbird seat. Full marks to Grealish, Mane, Joao Cancelo, Alisson Becker, and Konate.
Man City player ratings (out of 10)
Steffen (4); Zinchenko (5), Ake (4.5), Stones (6), Cancelo (7), Foden (5), Fernandinho (5.5), Bernardo Silva (7), Sterling (6.5), Grealish (7.5), G. Jesus (6). Subs: Mahrez (7.5)
Liverpool player ratings (out of 10)
Alisson (7.5); Alexander-Arnold (7.5), Konate (7.5), Van Dijk (7), Robertson (6.5), Keita (7), Fabinho (6.5), Alcantara (8), Salah (5.5), Mane (8.5), Diaz (7.5). Subs: Henderson (6), Firmino (N/A), Jota (N/A), Jones (N/A)
KONATE HEADS IT HOME TO PUT LIVERPOOL 1-0 UP OVER CITY 🔥 pic.twitter.com/Pc3NvlLTGW
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) April 16, 2022