Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Martin Skrtel and an own goal from Eliaqium Mangala helped the visitors thrash Manuel Pellegrini’s men, in efficient fashion at the Ethiad – with City fans leaving in their droves before the full-time whistle.
Manuel Pellegrini would certainly have been ruing a few of his team selections by the full-time whistle, as his Manchester City side were overpowered by a Liverpool team who simply wanted the three points more.
Questions were asked ahead of kick-off given some of the surprising choices that the Chilean made to the starting XI, with Eliaquim Mangala and Martin Demichelis starting in the centre of defence, as opposed to the usual pairing of Nicolas Otámendi and Vincent Kompany – which has been very solid this term.
Citizens punished for slow start
The visitors took advantage of a slow start to proceedings, as Bacary Sagna was robbed in possession by Philippe Coutinho. The midfield maestro unselfishly passed the ball across to his compatriot, Roberto Firmino, who fired a teasing low delivery into the box – which Mangala turned into his own net.
The opener was the epitome of City’s slow start to the first-half, as they struggled to maintain possession in midfield and were often overrun by Liverpool’s high intensity and overall energy in truth.
Coutinho and Firmino excellent for Reds
Coutinho and Firmino’s link-up play was a joy to watch, and they combined well to double the lead shortly after the 20-minute mark.
Firmino found himself in space down the right-han side, and performed a fantastic reverse pass into Coutinho’s feet. The 23-year-old made no mistake from eight yards out, netting his fourth goal in three appearances with composure to slot beneath a helpless Joe Hart in-between the posts.
City unable to stop Liverpool’s attacking exploits
The England number one was understandably frustrated, as were his teammates. They were, quite simply, being popped for fun – and had no answer to Liverpool’s attacking questions. Giving Coutinho and Firmino too much space and time on the ball was consequently punished to devastating effect, as the visitors’ pressure proved too much and they scored again after 32 minutes.
This time, it was Firmino on the scoresheet. Emre Can‘s stupendous backheel found the run of Coutinho in the area, and he passed the ball across to Firmino – scoring his first competitive Liverpool goal in some style.
City’s talisman pops up when needed most
Liverpool certainly wanted the victory more, but unsurprisingly, City’s best player stepped up to the plate when he was needed most.
Having just recovered from a hamstring injury, where he missed seven competitive games, Sergio Agüero gave Jürgen Klopp‘s men an un-needed headache on the stroke of half-time.
They made the mistake of giving him an inch of space from range, and from 20 yards, the talented Argentine fired home into the bottom corner with Simon Mignolet‘s sprawling dive ultimately in vain.
Time for a much-needed breather
As the half-time whistle blew, it was time for reflection for both sides. Having created an unwanted reputation for losing leads in winning positions, Liverpool supporters and players alike would have been silently hoping they had enough to secure all three points in a tough away fixture – against the Premier League leaders, after all.
City meanwhile, would have certainly been hoping for the half-time whistle for the opening 40 minute-spell. After Agüero’s goal though, they started to get themselves back into the match, slowly but surely.
As the second-half began, Pellegrini made a double substitution. Fernandinho – who really should have started – and Fabian Delph, were introduced into the action in place of Yaya Touré and Jesús Navas, who were both very quiet. Unsurprisingly, the inclusion of Fernandinho, coupled with Delph’s eager and enthuasiasm to impress, meant they managed to tighten up the midfield and restrict the amount of freedom that Coutinho and Firmino were given.
With that in mind though, chances came at a premium for the hosts. Kevin de Bruyne always had a trick or two up his sleeve, but his teasing deliveries and excellent passes were always overlooked by a lack of potency in the final third.
Raheem against his former employers
Raheem Sterling, against his former club, had enjoyed a few positive attacking spells. Got himself into good attacking positions, but was unable to create or finish anything in-and-around the final third. Agüero was their focal point in attack, but his teammates were unable to utilise his threats properly. Instead, he was always creating opportunities out of nothing for himself, and was often forced to chase possession when Liverpool attempted to slow down the tempo and frustrate their hosts.
Joe Hart, who would have been disappointed to concede – let alone four – was one of City’s better performers on a forgettable evening. He made a succession of important saves to keep the scores respectable, including an excellent stop to deny Firmino on the hour mark with his right leg.
Aguero was replaced shortly afterwards, in place of 19-year-old forward Kelechi Iheanacho. Understandable considering the circumstances, especially as he’d just recovered from a hamstring injury – there was no point risking his fitness with the result virtually confirmed.
A final blow – from an unlikely source
The three points were technically still up for grabs, but Martin Skrtel had other ideas. With time ticking and City continuing to press their visitors to try and halve the deficit even further, Liverpool benefited from a set-piece and put the game to bed in emphatic fashion.
A corner was partially cleared, or so City players thought, as the Slovakian centre-back let fly from 18-yards out. His effort arrowed into the top corner, and the hosts’ hopes of snatching a point were well and truly out of the window.