Liverpool blew away Manchester City with a first-half blitzkrieg at Anfield, as they battered the Premier League leaders with three goals in the opening 31 minutes of their Champions League quarter-final.
Mohamed Salah, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sadio Mane all found the net as Jurgen Klopp’s side got into the face of Pep Guardiola’s English champions-elect.
City had seemed to settle the quicker of the two sides, settling into their pass and move rhythm.
But they were stunned after 12 minutes, when a lightning-quick counter-attack saw Liverpool take a lead from which they never looked back.
After clearing a corner, the Reds broke at pace, freeing Salah over the halfway line. The Egyptian drove towards the City box and reversed a pass for Roberto Firmino, who saw a shot saved by Ederson.
But as it fell back to Kyle Walker, the England defender’s touch wasp pounced upon by Firmino, flicking the ball to Salah who fired into the roof of the net.
Eight minutes later, City were again caught in possession and found themselves 2-0 down.
Ilkay Gundogan was caught in possession some 30 yards from his own goal by James Milner, whose crunching tackled diverted the ball into Oxlade-Chamberlain, who unleashed a rasping shot past Ederson before the Brazilian had even smelt it.
Just after the half hour mark, Mo Salah’s clipped cross was headed home by Mane, to put the Kop into dreamland.
City huffed and puffed and played themselves back into the game as Liverpool’s tempo slowed, but they couldn’t find an away goal and failed to test Loris Karius at all across the 90 minutes.
Now, barring a second leg miracle in six days, Klopp will be in the Champions League semi-finals for the first time since he reached the final with Borussia Dortmund in 2013, while Liverpool will be among the final four for the first time since 2008.
Five talking points from Anfield below….
1. Sterling pays for last Anfield show – and so does Pep
Raheem Sterling has enjoyed a magnificent season, scoring 21 goals in 38 games after notching against Everton last weekend.
Sterling has been one of the standout performers in the Premier League, adding a more direct approach to his game and becoming an altogether more decisive presence in the final third.
However, the one game where Sterling really struggled this term was the Premier League encounter between the two at Anfield in January. Then, he was treated to a hostile reception and was hooked by Guardiola after 71 minutes – with City 4-1 down.
You sometimes forget that the £50million forward is only 23, given he has been playing regularly at the top level since breaking into the Liverpool XI at 17, having already got over 300 first team games for clubs and country under his belt. On that occasion, there is no doubt that he looked like a little boy lost.
Sterling has been back to his best in recent weeks, but it is that last Anfield display which was on Guardiola’s mind when he elected to play Ilkay Gundogan instead of the England star.
However, while Gundogan is an excellent, efficient passer, who reads the game well and dictates the tempo from deep-lying areas, what he certainly isn’t is a right winger, trudging up and down the touchline.
And in the opening 31 minutes of the game, Klopp’s side exploited that fact quite brilliantly, time and again switching quickly from right to left and getting Andy Robertson running free down the left; with City lop-sided and unable to impose themselves on the game, a Liverpool side full of energy and enthusiasm took full advantage.
2. Liverpool’s heavy-metal start
It is almost five years now since Klopp contrasted how he likes his sides to perform with the style Arsene Wenger prefers:“I think he likes having the ball, playing good football. It’s like an orchestra. But it’s a silent song. I prefer heavy metal.”
For Wenger then, perhaps see Guardiola now.
Klopp was clear in his pre-match praise for the Spaniard, writing in his programme notes that Guardiola and City have ‘raised the bar’ this term in the Premier League. But on a night when the Anfield air was filled with song, Pep’s Beethoven couldn’t be heard above the thunderous noise of Liverpool’s Black Sabbath/Metallica mash up.
City had perhaps settled into their rhythm the quicker of the two and actually dictated the opening 10 minutes. But from the moment the Reds broke forwards and Salah thrashed home into the roof of the net, the home side took charge and City had little answer for their effervescence during a quite incredible first half.
Both the opening two goals – from Salah and Oxlade-Chamberlain – were directly teed up by tackles: Firmino on Walker and Milner thrashing into Gundogan.
Klopp, who demands energy and intensity, probably couldn’t have been more proud.
3. Multi-functional Salah again shows his class
When Liverpool signed Salah for £37million from Roma last summer, no-one could have possibly envisaged the Egyptian having such an impact.
Look back to announcements of the Reds’ acquisition of the ex-Chelsea man, and 99 per cent will describe the 25-year-old as ‘winger’.
In the nine months since arriving at Anfield, he has proved himself to be anything but.
Rather, as Salah has grown in a red shirt, making this HIS team, has has carved out his own niche, playing from the right side but spending an increasing amount of time in the penalty area and between centre-half and full-back. And, quite simply, he is thriving.
His 12th minute finish here from eight yards was his 38th goal of the season, while his clever stood up cross for Mane’s header was a 13th assist.
He isn’t a striker, he isn’t a winger and shouldn’t be pigeon-holed as either; Whatever he is mind, he’s bloody good.
4. Alexander-Arnold impresses after recent criticism
Andy Robertson is deservedly getting a lot of credit for his performances recently, at a time when on the opposite side, in the absence of Nathaniel Clyne and Joe Gomez, youngster Trent Alexander-Arnold has come in for a little bit of criticism.
But on a night when he became the youngest Englishman to start in a Champions League quarter-final, the 19-year-old showed that he has learned from some of his recent tests.
The England Under-21 international was criticised after the Manchester United match, having struggled to contain Marcus Rashford – notably for Rashford’s opener in the defeat at Old Trafford. And similar questions were asked of his understanding of the game positionally following the win over Crystal Palace, after his role in the penalty decision which had handed the Eagles the lead.
In both of those games, the pace and movement of Rashford and Wilf Zaha had given him problems. Here, City looked to similarly exploit the Reds’with their own outstanding speed merchant, Leroy Sane.
But Alexander-Arnold showed that he had learned from those recent difficulties and put in an excellent display against the jet-heeled German winger. His positioning was spot on throughout, he didn’t dive in, read the game well and intelligently picked when to get tight and when he needed to stand off.
5. City will need their own fast start next week
The atmosphere at Anfield was electric throughout the 90 minutes and the Kop were as loud as they have been for some time.
Liverpool’s lightning quick, in-your-face start had certainly helped, not to mention the 3-0 lead.
But when the tempo of Klopp’s side dipped in the second period, they were lifted by the home support.
The Etihad, the noise it generates, has often been questioned, not just this season but in recent campaigns.
City need their fans to be right behind them and believing that they can turn this around next Tuesday in Manchester. However, Guardiola’s side will need to go with gusto and get down to their own fast start giving their supporters something to get behind.