Epic Man City, Liverpool battle deservedly blows title race open

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MANCHESTER — As the final whistle blew at the Etihad Stadium, the roars of delight into the crisp, clear night sky proved that new life had been breathed into the Premier League title race.

The 90 minutes of action between Manchester City and Liverpool was of the highest quality and was one of the most gripping encounters in recent memory.

The atmosphere crackled throughout and it felt like a cup final. Pep Guardiola said afterwards that “it was a final for us because lose and it was almost over. Now it is tight again.” His team showed incredible hunger, something they haven’t had week in, week out this season, and outworked Liverpool to secure victory.

The pace was incredible. Players set new records for distance covered this season. Managers clashed with officials on the sidelines. The tension was palpable. So much was on the line, especially for City, that every miscue, every chance, was jeered and cheered in equal measure.

All of this happened after a gruelling set of festive fixtures over the past two weeks. It was utterly gladiatorial and was unquestionably the Premier League at its very best.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Manchester City beat Liverpool 2-1 to handle the latter their first defeat of the league season and with 17 games remaining City are now just four points behind the current leaders.

Game on for the rest of the season. And this game lived up to the hype.

These two teams are clearly the best two teams in the Premier League. Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp are master tacticians who have created winning machines. Guardiola and Klopp lavished praised on each other before this game and both teams went out to win, and could have, in an intense, beautiful battle.

“We reduce the gap, still four points is enough points to be calm but it is a good moment to congratulate and say thank you to these incredible players,” Guardiola said afterwards. “Today they show how good they are, they play against an incredible team. It was a good spectacle and both teams play to win.”

Something had to give. In the end, it was the posts at one of end the pitch which blew this title race open.

Sadio Mane‘s first half shot hit the post and was hacked off the line by John Stones. Leroy Sane’s shot hit the other post late on and pinged into the other corner of the net to hand City victory.

“Pretty intense, eh?” smiled Klopp. “It had wild moments, both teams obviously have a lot of respect for each other and yeah, we played better games but we took the intensity today and I thought at the end City had more situations where they controlled the game but we had these moments as well. Not as long or often as City, but it is an away game so that is absolutely okay. At the end you can say the post in or post out can make a massive difference.”

[ MORE: Klopp keeps faith, but pressure is building ]

This wondrously gripping game had it all.

Vincent Kompany could well have seen red in the first half for his lunging tackle on Mohamed Salah. City took the lead after a moment of brilliance from Sergio Aguero. We had Stones’ amazing clearance with a slither of the ball not over the line. Fernandinho crunching into tackles. Bernardo Silva covering every blade of grass. Amazing saves and poor decisions from both Ederson and Alisson. Late goalmouth scrambles as Liverpool pushed for a killer equalizer. Rapid City counters as they tried to seal the win.

It was the Premier League at is breathtaking, dizzying best and the best thing about a Man City win was this: we will now get to see both teams involved in massive games between now and May knowing any slip-up will render their previous efforts pointless.

The title race is well and truly on and we are all the big winners from Man City’s deserved, encapsulating win.

Three things we learned: Man City v. Liverpool

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MANCHESTER — The Premier League title race is now officially back on. The atmosphere at the Etihad Stadium was crackling in what felt like a cup final and the home team delivered.

[ MORE: Klopp keeps the faith ]

Manchester City beat Liverpool 2-1 Thursday, as Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sane moved the hosts to just four points behind leaders Liverpool who had briefly looked like grabbing a point through Roberto Firmino‘s equalizer.

In their 21st game of the 2018-19 PL campaign, Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool lost for the first time this season and Pep Guardiola and Man City will now be smelling blood in the water as they hunt down the league leaders following a crucial victory.

Here’s what we learned from a pulsating encounter.


CITY’S OLD GUARD DELIVERS

Sergio Aguero delivered another big moment for Man City, as the Argentine has now scored in all seven of his home league games against Liverpool. Since the start of the 2011-12 season, Aguero has scored 37 Premier League goals for Man City in meetings between ‘big six’ clubs, which is 16 more than any other player. Mr. Clutch set them on their way with a wonderful finish and was a constant pest. But Aguero had help as the old guard stood tall and set the tone for the hunger and determination City showed throughout. Vincent Kompany made several crucial, well-timed tackles (aside from the lunge on Mohamed Salah in the first half). And Fernandinho was phenomenal in breaking up City’s attacks and setting up counters. When City needed them most, all three delivered colossal displays to drag them back into the title race. Leroy Sane scored a fine winner and Bernardo Silva was everywhere as he surprisingly launched into tackles, but it was the experienced trio who dug deep and inspired a wonderful City display as they overcame their defensive injuries and changes to secure a deserved victory.


LACKLUSTER LIVERPOOL NOW UNDER PRESSURE

From the first few minutes it was clear that Liverpool weren’t at the races. Alisson‘s shaky clearances out of play. Klopp screaming at Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino for their poor positioning. This wasn’t a Liverpool side in control. The only chance they had in the first half fell to Mane who hit the post and then John Stones somehow cleared, but in the second half they improved after Fabinho came on and a tactical switch saw Mohamed Salah pushed into a central position to support Firmino. Despite the latter pulling Liverpool level, they didn’t deserve to get anything from this game and now the pressure is on. Dejan Lovren switched off for City’s first goal as Aguero finished superbly, then Liverpool conceded the key goal just when they were on top as they committed too many men forward.

With their lead atop the table now down to just four points with 17 games to go, Liverpool’s nerves will be jangling. And they are now in a month where historically they’ve struggled under Klopp — they have lost 10 of the 25 games in January since his arrival — and this stat will feel Liverpool’s fans with dread.

Liverpool topped the Premier League table by seven points at the turn of the year, and no team in history has failed to win the English top-flight title with such a lead coming into the new year. Man City, and maybe Tottenham, will push Liverpool all the way this season and the title race is on.


THIS LIVED UP TO THE HYPE

Given the fact that a draw would have been a great result for Liverpool, Klopp’s defensive starting lineup was understandable. But it handed the initiative to Man City. A midfield three of James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum just didn’t work and handed City’s trio of Fernandinho, David Silva and Bernardo Silva the advantage in midfield. Guardiola was bold with his selection of Sane ands Sterling and he got his tactics spot on. Klopp didn’t and only when he introduced Fabinho did Liverpool have any control in this game. This game lived up to the hype in so many ways. City’s fans created a great atmosphere. Both sets of players launched themselves into tackles and there were huge saves, big misses and high levels of drama as Guardiola and Klopp went wild on the sidelines. This had it all and it was a wonderful advertisement for everything that is good about the Premier League.

Stars and duds from Man City 2-1 Liverpool

(AP Photo/Jon Super)
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Great saves, hard tackles, jangly nerves, and pretty goals combined to help Liverpool’s visit to Manchester City live up to expectations at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday.

[ RECAP: Man City 2-1 Liverpool ]

Who were the stars of the show, and who didn’t bring their A, B, or C game? See below.

STARS

Sergio Aguero — If his run and finish on the goal was the only thing he did on the day, he’d be a star of this one. Aguero met Bernardo Silva‘s pass and seized the yard given to him by Dejan Lovren, smashing into the goal. But it wasn’t the only thing he did, as Aguero’s run into the box on the winner forced Trent Alexander-Arnold to follow him and give Sane space to score. He couldn’t beat Alisson a second time and also needlessly gave away stoppage time possession with a foolish 60-yard bid, but all will be forgiven (except maybe by Pep Guardiola).

Fernandinho — From Moment No. 1, the Brazilian enforcer was stuck into tackles and playing on the right side of the line by the thinnest of margins. Jurgen Klopp put three industrious shopminders in the center of the park to Man City’s one until Fabinho was introduced in the 57th. The one won.

Trent Alexander-Arnold — Unsure he’ll ever be a strong defender, but that wasn’t his job in the second half as the marauding right-sided player led the attack on several occasions. His pinpoint cross to Andrew Robertson set up Firmino for the equalizer, and he was left out to lunch on Man City’s second goal.

Just missed the list: Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva, Fabinho, Ederson, Alisson Becker.

DUDS

Danilo — Lost track of the ball on Alexander-Arnold’s cross to Robertson like a little leaguer outfielder back tracking his first deep fly ball. For a man playing as a defensive upgrade to Kyle Walker, he’s there to avoid mistakes. He didn’t.

Dejan Lovren — Caught flat-footed by Aguero on City’s opening goal, he also was one of the reasons Trent Alexander-Arnold was cooked by Leroy Sane for the second. Not too good.

Just missed the list: Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum.

Title hopes alive! Man City upends Liverpool

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  • Liverpool millimeters from 1-0 lead (video)
  • Aguero puts Man City ahead
  • Firmino ties it, 64′
  • Sane registers winner 8 mins later

What a game, and it may have just kept the Premier League title race open for business.

Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sane scored for reigning champions Manchester City, who ended Liverpool’s unbeaten Premier League season with a 2-1 win at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

The win brings City back into second place, four points back of Liverpool.

Roberto Firmino scored the Reds’ lone goal.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The tackles and fouls came hard and fast, with Man City’s Fernandinho plowing into Sadio Mane and Jordan Henderson putting a foot into ex-Liverpool man Raheem Sterling.

Liverpool thought it had gone ahead after an incredible team play found Mohamed Salah putting Mane on goal, but the Senegalese player’s shot hit the post and City’s harried clearance was saved from own goal status by John Stones at the line.

How close was it? Both teams seemed to stall in progression as referee Anthony Taylor looked at his watch.

Dejan Lovren then went in the books with a professional foul to get in the way of a Sergio Aguero break. David Silva oversaw the free kick, but his lofted ball to Aguero found the Argentine offside.

Sterling cued up David Silva for a shot inside the Liverpool box, but the Spaniard needed an extra touch and saw his effort blocked by the Reds defense.

It was Aguero who would dent the scoreboard, racing to the corner flag for a celebratory kick moments after he thought he’d won a penalty off Virgil Van Dijk.

Bernardo Silva played Aguero’s near post run perfectly, and the Argentine had a yard from Lovren to blast past a slow-to-react-at-close-range Alisson Becker. 1-0, City.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

City pushed for a second goal at the start of the second half, but Liverpool’s defenders proved stout.

Sterling saw a penalty appeal denied in the 52nd minute, as Anthony Taylor waved away the claim after Andrew Robertson blocked the Man City man from getting to his cutback.

Trent Alexander-Arnold was more adventurous as the game wore on, and blasted a shot into the outside of the goal.

A City error set Roberto Firmino up for an equalizer bid, but Vincent Kompany cleared the 63rd minute danger.

Firmino got the leveler within a minute, Alexander-Arnold crossing to fellow full back Robertson. The Scottish left back nodded across goal, and Firmino met the chance with his head for an easy-enough finish.

City went back ahead with a sensational finish by Sane, who took a pass from Sterling and carved out some room inside the 18 to drive a low pass off the far post and home. The angle was his only avenue into the goal.

Alisson bailed out his backs when Aguero was played 1v1 with him in the 83rd minute. And Ederson came close to meeting the quality of that stop with a flick of Salah’s bid to level the score in the 84th.

Bernardo Silva took the ball off Lovren and forced Alisson into another save, and Sterling rocketed his chance for a first goal against his former mates wide of the goal.

WATCH: Man City’s John Stones saves John Stones from conceding own goal

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You know the old cliche of a team having it “all to do” when it’s down a couple of goals or more at halftime?

We’ve got a new turn of the phrase, because John Stones had it all to do in the 18th minute at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday.

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A beautiful bit of team play from Liverpool saw denied a goal by the thinnest of margins and the Goal Decision System.

Mohamed Salah played Sadio Mane on goal, and Stones was second-best and had to watch the Senegalese striker beat Ederson but not the goal post.

Stones then found the bounding ball but lashed his clearance off the hands of a sliding Ederson.

He’d have more work to do, racing back to the goal line and clearing the ball just off the line in a move which would’ve caused palpitations in the steadiest of tickers.

The small margin could’ve seen City down 1-0, but instead half time saw the opposite score line.

Bernardo Silva played Aguero’s near post run perfectly, and the Argentine had a yard from Lovren to blast past a slow-to-react-at-close-range Alisson Becker. 1-0, City.