Anfield on Wednesday night was somewhat reminiscent of May 2012, when Liverpool, then under Kenny Dalglish, crushed Chelsea in impressive fashion. That Premier League meeting came a matter of days after the two sides had faced each other at Wembley in the FA Cup final, where an Andy Carroll inspired late rally wasn’t quite enough to prevent the Blues lifting the famous old trophy. So, the parallels between that game and the one between Liverpool and Manchester City, just days after the League Cup final, are easy to make.
This match though, was about more than just revenge for Liverpool, it was 90 minutes that will be a point of frustration to both City and Liverpool. How can Liverpool be frustrated with an excellent performance that resulted in an emphatic 3-0 win over a title challenging side I hear you say? Well, the frustration will come from not putting in that kind of performance at Wembley a few days earlier and also from not being able to play more consistently at that level in the Premier League. Solving that particular conundrum is the task befalling Jürgen Klopp and will likely involve significant squad changes this summer. Mentality is as much an issue as quality at Anfield, but Klopp is the right man to set about addressing the all too prevalent fragility within so many of the players he inherited from Brendan Rodgers.
Manchester City’s frustration is an obvious one, their fading title challenge is now all but over. A hugely talented squad that looked like it was going to bulldoze this season back in autumn, now finds itself ten points behind Leicester City. The fact Manchester United are now level on points with them is a damning indictment of how badly the wheels have come off this Premier League campaign for Manuel Pellegrini. Lifting the League Cup was a nice moment for Pelligrini, who has handled himself with class and dignity since the announcement that he will be replaced by Pep Guardiola this summer. However, that trophy will be scant conciliation if their dismal Premier League form continues.
The contrast between the performances of Liverpool and City in the respective games is stark, to say the least. At Wembley, Liverpool started well but faded before half time and were hanging on during the second half. The Reds looked fatigued for a large portion of the game, with City on top, but wasteful in front of goal. The guts and determination Liverpool showed to get through extra time was admirable, even gathering momentum in the last ten minutes before the penalty shoot-out, when City appeared to have run out of steam.
Fast forward three days to Anfield and rather than be on an adrenaline high from winning the League Cup final, Manchester City were candidates for the cliché question of had they celebrated too long? This time, City were the ones looking leggy and lethargic and barely got going in this match. Rather than dwelling on Sunday’s defeat, Liverpool were fired up from it and were ‘full throttle’ from the first whistle to the last.
Anfield Index has pressing stats unique to the site and they will make very interesting reading after this match because Liverpool pressed Manchester City high up the pitch and counter pressed them in a very organised fashion. The aggression and intensity in Liverpool’s play was constant and a John Flanagan tackle on Raheem Sterling in the opening minutes was symptomatic of Liverpool’s approach, particularly from Roberto Firmino, Adam Lallana, James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Emre Can. The work each of them put in to close down, harry and hassle was immense and when they turned over possession, they used it well. It should be noted the part Divock Origi played in the game as well, his off the ball movement , coupled with his raw pace and power, caused the City defensive unit trouble all night. His willingness to sacrifice himself by moving wide occupied Nicolas Otamendi and Gael Clichy, whilst creating space for Firmino and Lallana to run into; the opening goal being a good example of it, even if it was a howler from Joe Hart to allow the daisy-cutter shot from Lallana to sneak in his near post. The second goal, a well worked move that saw Firmino thread in Milner to finish in off the post was a crushing blow for City.
Pellegrini cut an agitated figure on the City bench, his half-time substitution, replacing Raheem Sterling with Wilfied Bony had no impact, he simply had no answer to how his side could get a foothold in this contest. Liverpool’s third goal was almost a mirror image of their performance, with pressing resulting in Lallana stepping in to carry the ball and play in Firmino for a tidy first-time finish that ended the game and probably City’s title hopes too.
Whilst Pellegrini and his team had no solution to the difficulties Liverpool caused them, perhaps more importantly now, will be how do they see off the challenge for a top four spot from Manchester United behind them, let alone trying to hang on in the title race. For Liverpool, it was a night and a performance to rightly savour, but it will be frustrating for Klopp to know his team are as equally capable of a performance of this level as they of an utterly abject display. Though of differing proportions, the frustration at consistency levels for both sides will be an issue to combat over the coming weeks and months.