Anfield, Liverpool – Wow! There’s really nothing like a European night at Anfield is there? The eyes of the world were drawn to the city of Liverpool, as every football fan wanted to catch a glimpse of what was set to be the standout tie of the Champions League quarterfinal.
An all English clash was upon us, as the Premier League Champions elect made the short but daunting trip to Merseyside for the 1st leg. And what an eventful trip it turned out to be.
The night got off to an unfortunate start, with a small sect of Liverpool fans feeling the need to welcome the visiting bus with bottles and beer cans. The damage done to the vehicle was so severe that a replacement bus was called to take the travelling players home.
Everything that happened in between though, was all Liverpool. The electric atmosphere that started outside the ground, hours before kick-off was carried seamlessly into the stadium.
The famous Anfield crowd was in raucous mood for this match, and only one team was able to live with it. Three goals from the hosts in the opening 31 minutes was enough, as Manchester City were left stunned.
A resolute defensive display in the 2nd half ensured that an away goal wasn’t given up, and The Reds leave themselves with the perfect result heading into leg 2. Here are the three key talking points after Liverpool overcame Manchester City by three goals to nil.
1 – Supreme at the Back
As soon as the draw was made, and we knew that these two sides would be playing each other; much of the discussion involved how both sides would give up plenty of goals, because scoring was the only thing in their DNA.
And when people said these things, they were pretty much just talking about Liverpool. Implying that The Reds can’t keep anyone out, but they can score against anyone.
How shocking then, must the manner of Liverpool’s defending on Wednesday night have been.
Manchester City weren’t even afforded a shot on target, and no one could have predicted that.
Heading into the match, it was made known that Virgil Van Dijk and Dejan Lovren were the only senior centre halves currently fit and available. Young Trent Alexander-Arnold was also the only available right back. These factors made it seem as though the script had already begun writing itself.
Many fans were left rather anxious with Trent’s place in the line-up for this clash. Each of his 2 appearances before this one saw him given an extremely tough time by Zaha and Rashford respectively. Making the thought of him lining up against Leroy Sané a worrying one.
However, if that aforementioned pair of games showed how much the youngster still has to learn, then Wednesday night gave us a glimpse of how special a player he can become for this football club.
He was absolutely marvellous from the first whistle to the last. He marshalled Sané, read danger, intercepted dangerous passes, made crucial clearances, won tackles, and had a symbiotic relationship with the Anfield faithful.
His home crowd loved every second of their local lad’s performance. None more so than when he was gesturing for them to keep the support going in stoppage time, in a fashion that was truly Gerrard-esque.
2 – Ruthless in the Attack
If Liverpool were going to be successful in this clash, they would have needed to be their usual brilliant attacking selves, and then some. It sounds funny, but with all the praise that this team has received for its offensive capabilities this season, this was arguably its most clinical display.
They would have known that punishing City’s mistakes would be critical, and what better player for such a task than Mohamed Salah? The Egyptian buried his side’s first chance of the game after a swift counterattack. The goal marked his 38th of the campaign, and sent the home crowd into a frenzy.
It had only been 12 minutes, but the air already had the feel of the scintillating win in January. Leroy Sané broke shortly after and wasted a very presentable opportunity to put his side level; and Oxlade-Chamberlain was there to show him how it was done in the 21st minute.
Receiving the ball in midfield after James Milner won it off Gundogan, the Englishman took two touches to set himself up and a third to strike a rocket into Ederson’s goal. His goal the last time these sides met was good, but this was truly special.
The ball was struck with a ferocity that matched the tempo of the match, and the Brazilian was hapless in goal.
A third was added just nine minutes later as Sadio Mané headed in from a delightful Salah cross. It was hard to believe what was happening, a feeling probably best encapsulated by Firmino’s face as the team celebrated the goal.
The faces of the opposition on the other hand had now transcended disbelief and were now firmly in the humiliation category. Manchester City were well and truly blitzed.
3 – One Foot in the Semis
Who would have thought that Liverpool would be able to say this after the 1st leg? Most supporters just wanted something to hold onto for the trip to the Etihad, with a 1-0 victory sounding ideal.
They were drawn to play against one of the greatest teams the Premier League has ever seen, what more could fans ask their team to do?
This special club doesn’t like expectations though. We’re now sitting halfway through the tie and the contest is almost wrapped up.
City need at least 3 goals in the return leg to even stand a chance of progressing, and that works perfectly into Liverpool’s hands.
City’s approach will inevitably force them to overcommit to the attack (even slightly, and Jurgen Klopp has built his team to counter-attack at pace. The potency of this attack will end up depending on the fitness of Mohamed Salah.
The Egyptian was substituted early in the 2nd half for what seemed to be an issue with his groin. It’s unclear just how serious it is at this moment in time, but his return is obviously critical.
Liverpool are still heavy favourites to progress, even without the forward. However, his brilliance on the pitch would make them all the more capable of grabbing an away goal. Which in turn would require City to score 5, and which surely would book his team’s place in the final four.