Liverpool 3 Man City 2: Three talking points
Liverpool 3 Man City 2: Three talking points as Philippe Coutinho nets a late winner at Anfield
South Americans shine
Much of the pre-match coverage has focused on the attacking talents of both sides, with a combined total of 174 goals between them this season, and the talismanic figures that lead them – Luis Suarez and Sergio Aguero. With a record of notching a strike every 87 minutes, the Uruguayan was lauded as the individual who could decide the outcome, both of this game and the tug-of-war for the title. The stage was seemingly set for Suarez to spearhead a charge for a first title since 1990 but it was his Brazilian teammate Phillipe Coutinho who would make the vital contribution. Coutinho is a typical Samba Boy with outstanding flair and pace, and has helped to form an effective midfield triumvirate. During the 90 minutes, the 21-year-old demonstrated an ability to run tirelessly all over the pitch, tracking back to assist his full-backs and adding an extra threat going forward. The latter would prove to be the undoing of Manchester City as the youngster latched onto Vincent Kompany’s scuffed clearance and fired a confident finish beyond the despairing dive of Joe Hart with 78 minutes played. Needing just two more to equal the record Premier League tally of 31 goals – set by Alan Shearer in 1996/97 and Cristiano Ronaldo in 2007/2008 – Suarez endured a frustrating afternoon. He did illustrate his less-heralded ability to set up others by laying on a perfect pass for Raheem Sterling’s opener, bringing up a dozen assists in the process. In his pre-match media conference, City boss Manuel Pellegrini insisted that he wouldn’t want to swap him for Aguero, who has netted 26 times in an injury-hit campaign. After being introduced in the 68th minute in place of Edin Dzeko, the Argentine’s influence would prove limited, although he came within a whisker of providing a second goal for David Silva. Despite being on the losing side, another man who produced a good display was Fernandinho. The City midfielder is the polar opposite of the typical player who comes off the Brazilian production line, with a tough tackling approach. He acts as a crucial foil for Yaya Toure and a shield in front of the back four. Statistics show how vital he as the holding midfielder has won possession 155 times, as well as making 58 interceptions and successfully completing 78 per cent of tackles made. He was given the freedom to get forward more often in this fixture though and he nearly made an important contributon in first half stoppage-time, but Simon Mignolet produced a good save.
Gerrard makes his mark
In an emotionally charged atmosphere ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, Steven Gerrard led by example in a vital win. With 26 minutes gone, he was denied a 14th goal of the season and a rare headed goal by the acrobatics of visiting keeper Hart. His contribution wouldn’t end there though as just moments later, Gerrard’s pinpoint delivery proved to be the catalyst to double their advantage as Martin Skrtel nodded home at the near post. That assist was the 33-year-old’s eighth from a dead-ball situation in the 2013/14 season, and helped to extend the Reds’ winning sequence to ten. Much has been made of the adjustment to playing deeper in the midfield trio and being asked to adopt a role that is increasingly becoming popular with modern football managers – the anchoring quarterback. This new position has harnessed Gerrard’s natural passing range and allowed him to dictate the play further, with his colleagues taking on the burden of extra running. His effectiveness in this role is illustrated perfectly by statistics as he has created 57 chances, with seven of these being classed as clear cut (an average of one every 43 minutes), as well as completing 86% of attempted passes. One trait that is constant is the skipper’s ability to step up at crucial times and seal victories against the likes of West Ham, Manchester United and Fulham. On a big day for the fans, it is only fitting that a figure who embodies the spirit of the city helped to pay the perfect tribute to the 96 fans that never returned home.
Rodgers wins the tactical battle
Billed as a potential title decider, Liverpool and City lived up to those expectations, but the bragging rights belonged to Brendan Rodgers. Looking to add silverware to his CV and increase an ever-expanding list of admirers, the Northern Irishman held the advantage against his Chilean counterpart, Pellegrini. During the 90 minutes, Rodgers’ side demonstrated a pacey and fluid forward-thinking style to trouble the visitors. The confidence amongst the attacking unit was clear to see as Sterling and Coutinho produced standout displays. Coupled with a relentless desire to regain possession by pressing their opponents in a manner reminiscent of Barcelona during the Pep Guardiola era, the home manager seemingly struck the perfect balance. It was their weakness at the back that nearly led to their downfall though as City put on an impressive display in the second half, with David Silva proving influential, with a goal and an assist. A key decision at the heart of the turnaround was the introduction of James Milner in place of Jesus Navas, as this allowed Silva to move to a wing position and torment Glen Johnson. The Reds showed determination to push on once again, as Coutinho punished a weak clearance from the normally reliable Vincent Kompany to notch the winning goal. A victory for the Red side of Merseyside in this vital encounter put them seven points clear of their opponents and ensured the visitors’ woeful record at this venue continued.
Incredibly the Citizens have only managed five draws and 11 defeats in their 17 trips to Anfield since 1992, with an average points haul of 0.5.
The last time that the Blue side of Manchester emerged triumphant was in May 2003 when former Red Nicolas Anelka notched the winner in a 2-1 success.
While the result could prove to have an impact on the destination of the title, there are likely to be more twists and turns to come in another enthralling chapter in the short history of the Premier League.