RAMPAGING REDS DUST MANCITY ASIDE 1-0 WITH PROFESSIONAL PERFORMANCE
The build-up to this game was something else – Guardiola entering “enemy territory” on our match with Stoke City to get a look from a better vantage point, plotting how he could stop the most potent attack (goal-wise) of 2016 in the Premier League while looking at how he could further take advantage of the occasional gaps and mistakes in our defensive line.
The smart money was on both teams scoring but who would take home all three points or if the points would be shared was anyone’s guess. Blue’s fans definitely hoped the Kop would be in a sharing mood to widen their lead at the top of the table after putting Stoke City to the sword earlier today in a comprehensive 4-2 win at Stamford Bridge.
There was to be no sharing of points as Reds’ midfielder, Georginio Wijnaldum’s pin-point header, that got us ahead in the first half against City, would be the decider as we moved on to keep Chelsea honest in what was a defensive masterclass by Klopp’s men.
Truth be told, Liverpool don’t usually win games this way – through defensive excellence – but to the delight of the Kop, our clean sheets are growing and with decisive, consistent wins over our rivals as well as comprehensive wins over teams we should be hammering, this Klopp side now has the most points at the halfway stage than any other Liverpool side in the Premier League era.
Last time I saw an impressive end-to-end, thriller-in-Manila type, slug fest was when Liverpool took on Zenit in the Europa League (2013), winning what was a masterpiece exhibition in attack/counter-attacking football, relentless forays behind enemy lines featuring majestic turnovers and interceptions. Today’s match was no different as the lads gave their all, giving one of the best displays showcasing our prowess in the middle of the park.
Against a pitifully one-dimension City side whose questionable tactic of third grade tiki-taka, Liverpool’s versatile, all-round game seemed to overwhelm Pep’s men despite of the visitors winning the battle for possession in the end, our back line virtually impervious as Klopp’s strategy of isolating Aguero worked wonders to keep City from registering any meaningful attempt at our goal.
It all came crumbling down for the visitors in the first eight minutes as the Reds did well to contain a probing City leading to a turnover that got the beautiful move going that got us the goal – a three pass counter attack that saw Firmino tease the ball from midfield to the left finding a surging Lallana who drove forward keeping the ball close before releasing a sublime cross that was met with an even better header from Wijnaldum, the Dutchman rising higher than the slothful Kolarov to ping Bravo’s bottom corner with his effort leaving the City keeper with no chance.
Emre Can shoring up the midfield allowed Wijnaldum to drive further forward including himself in the relentless attacks that followed, with Klopp’s men sending in long ball after long ball looking to stick it to the visibly disconcerted City center-backs.
Only imprecision prevented us from going two goals up as Firmino couldn’t control a gem of a pass from Milner which would have given him room to get us the cushion as Bravo advanced haplessly receiving the gift in Firmino’s poor touch to save his blushes. Later on, a hesitant Firmino failed to send Lallana through for another one-on-one just before half-time, his late pass forcing Lallana offside.
A remarkable first half for our defenses as our strategy clearly had City ruffled with the visitors failing to register even one attempt in the opening stanza. It took up to the 53rd minute before Guardiola’s men got a shot with Aguero signaling their intention with a low drive that got Mignolet to divert the ball away.
The Citizens began to look threatening with Silva spearheading their attacking play, the Spaniard curling his effort just wide just before the hour mark. However that was as good as it got for City whose attacking fluency fizzled out as the second half wore on.
Liverpool saw out the match comfortably, the Kop letting out a rapturous applause at the final whistle as the Reds held on to keep themselves six points adrift of Chelsea heading into the New Year.
Mignolet (7), Clyne (7), Lovren (7), Klavan (7), Milner (8), Henderson (7), Wijnaldum (8), Can (7), Lallana (7), Mane (7), Firmino (7)
Subs: Lucas (6), Origi (7)
Man of the Match