Dubai: Manchester City came to Anfield on a bitterly cold Sunday evening and the defending Premier League champions were powerless to stop a red-hot Liverpool side from racing nine points ahead of them in the title race.
Three fantastic goals by Liverpool’s Fabinho, Mo Salah and Sadio Mane helped them to a 3-1 win over City that put one hand on the Premier League trophy after only 12 games of the 38-match season.
But it was the all-round performance by every Liverpool player that made the difference. There was belief in every tackle made against a formidable attacking City side, and the resilience to repel the sky blue waves after Bernardo Silva pulled one back with 15 minutes to play spoke volumes about the team Jurgen Klopp has assembled. From goalkeeper Alisson to the front three of Salah, Mane and Roberto Firmino, to the strength and depth now available on the Anfield bench, this outfit is now looking like the real deal to claim the trophy players and fans alike crave the most.
It has been 30 years since Liverpool last won the league title — their 18th — and their wait for a 19th has endured the entire existence if the Premier League era since its rebranding in 1992.
The Anfield faithful stayed back long after the final whistle on Sunday to hail their players and sing songs of praise for the manager behind this Red Revolution — Klopp.
Even the coach could not believe the gap they have opened up over their title rivals.
“That’s crazy, nine points,” he said. “You cannot imagine that something like this can happen.”
The German added his usual brand of caution and bravado.
“Other people 100 per cent said already that from now on Liverpool can only lose it. Well that’s a very negative approach, but you can see it like this. We don’t care. But it’s not important because who wants to be first in early November? You want to be first in May.”
There are still a massive 26 games to go, and the upcoming international break can help Liverpool catch their breath. The fans can admire the league standings knowing they won’t change until at least November 23, and let the reality of their achievements so far this campaign settle in.
As for City, they occupy the unusual spot of fourth as Chelsea continued their own renaissance under hero-coach Frank Lampard to defeat Crystal Palace 2-0 to move up to second in the league on Saturday afternoon. Leicester City — fairy-tale winners of the Premier League in 2016 — later leapfrogged them with a win of their own over current crisis club Arsenal, and stir thoughts of another tilt at the title.
Back to Sunday and after the dust settled, City manager Pep Guardiola wasn’t blaming his players.
“Today we showed in the most difficult stadium right now in the world the reason why we are the champions,” Guardiola said. “One of the most proudest performances I’ve ever lived as a manager in my career in this stadium.”
Guardiola’s finger seemed to be pointing at the referee. His “thank you so much” to official Michael Oliver after the game felt far from sincere as he failed to award City a penalty with the score at 0-0. There appeared to be a clear handball from Trent Alexander-Arnold in the Liverpool area just before the Reds raced up the other end to open the scoring. VAR allowed the goal to stand, again opening the twice-weekly debate on the inconsistencies of the video replay review system.
“Ask to Mike Riley and the big bosses about that,” Guardiola said, citing the league’s head of refereeing. “Don’t ask me.”
Pep’s answer would probably be the same if you asked him how to beat Liverpool on this kind of form.