Martin King discusses five talking points from Liverpool’s 1-0 win over Manchester City.
Liverpool gave their fans the perfect New Year’s Eve party by recording a 1-0 Premier League victory over title rivals Manchester City at Anfield.
Both sides came into the match buoyed by prior successive wins, with only one point separating the Reds in second from the Sky Blues in third.
City made a decent start, putting Liverpool under early pressure but the hosts, with only their first real attacking move, would be the ones celebrating, as a left-flank cross into the box by Adam Lallana found the head of Georginio Wijnaldum, with the Dutchman beating Claudio Bravo for only his second goal in a red shirt.
Jürgen Klopp’s men then went on to exercise a great amount of authority on the rest of the first half, with the visitors only limited to tame efforts at goalkeeper Simon Mignolet’s goal.
The second half, however, saw a much better display from Man City. Pep Guardiola’s men threw bodies forward in their attempt to get back in the game, asking Liverpool’s defence a number of questions, but the Reds eventually hung on to record yet another Anfield victory over City, extending the points gap between the pair to four points whilst cutting Chelsea’s lead at the top to six.
Here are five things we learned from a massive evening on Merseyside.
Little Wijnaldum rises to big occasion
It wasn’t an overly brilliant performance by Liverpool on the night but one player who certainly stole the plaudits was Georginio Wijnaldum.
The Dutchman may have quite a low centre of gravity, as he stands at a height of 1.75 meters, but some of the Premier League’s toughest defenders will already know he is no push-over.
Wijnaldum proved that as, in the eighth minute, he rose highest of all in Man City’s box to head in Liverpool’s early goal and the midfielder would add icing to the cake with an excellent, high energy display.
With City always certain to live up to Guardiola’s possession-based style of football, Wijnaldum’s work-rate was especially key to breaking up play and initiating new attacks.
In short, he rose to the big occasion, solidifying his manager’s faith in him and once again justifying Klopp’s £25 million purchase of him from Newcastle United.
The Kop 2-0 Raheem Sterling
So often without the comfort of a front row seat or the help of a live commentator, it may be difficult for some fans to identify certain players on the pitch. If you are one of those fans then you probably had such a problem with all but one player on the Anfield turf.
Enter Raheem Sterling, the young man who switched Merseyside for Manchester for a fee of £49 million. The winger made a second return to Anfield ever since his controversial transfer to Man City in 2015 and as expected, was welcomed with boos and whistles for every touch on the ball.
Much like his last appearance in front of the Anfield faithful, Sterling was clamped down by his former teammates, with the man whom he switched clubs with, James Milner, taking a lot of credit for the way in which the 22-year-old was kept quiet for most of the game.
You would think that some type of switch was pushed on inside Klopp’s players, as everytime Sterling got on the ball, the Reds’ players reacted rather quickly to snuff out his threat, to the unrestrained delight of the Kopites.
Add to that a potential moment of the match, when Roberto Firmino produced a wicked skill to win a corner duel against the Englishman (making him look rather silly) and the Kop could easily claim a second victory over their former man.
Good day at the office for Reds defence
James Milner labelling this “our worst performance of the season” may have been a tad harsh, particularly on his fellow Liverpool defenders.
Sure, it looked an off-day for the Reds’ attackers but it is part of every football manager’s philosophy that if you can’t score, your next best thing is to not concede. The back-four of Nathaniel Clyne, Dejan Lovren, Ragnar Klavan and Milner himself made sure of that, by limiting a City side boosted by the return of Sergio Aguero to just two shots on target.
This was also backed by a confident display from ‘keeper Mignolet
You may not hear this every day but the Belgian was excellent in rarely looking untroubled, positioning himself well for each save and even doing what many Reds fans would’ve easily seen teammate Loris Karius doing now back in the summer: playing sweeper ‘keeper (against Aguero, no less).
The Anfield faithful are crying out for these sort of performances from their defence on a regular basis. That may still be a work-in-progress under Klopp but Liverpool’s spine can certainly take credit for a good day at the office, that was topped by a clean sheet.
Reds’ intensity levels drop in vital moments
Something that will surely be used as a point of criticism against Liverpool will be their sudden drop in intensity levels, seen mostly in the second half.
At 1-0 up, you wouldn’t struggle to find Reds fans putting their money on a second goal being scored to wrap things up, but instead, Klopp’s men looked more susceptible to conceding the equaliser from Man City.
There was a clear lack of urgency with the counter-press off the ball, as Liverpool rather took the rare and bold step of committing men backwards and allowing City to approach them before engaging.
On the ball, fluid, fast-paced counter-attacks were few and far between, especially as the home side delayed decisive passes and attacking moves in the final third of the pitch and given the amount of speed and quality in Klopp’s side, that was a source of frustration to the Anfield crowd, who even let the players know on one occasion.
Whether it was an in-game problem or even a tactical move by boss Klopp, Liverpool fans may not want to see it too many times in the future, given the fragility of the average Kopite.
However, who are we to chuck it in the bin if – and that’s only if – it actually works?
Real title contenders on show?
No one in red, not even the outside observer can downplay the significance of this match’s final result.
Liverpool’s victory over Manchester City not only confirmed important changes in terms of points on the Premier League table but it positioned them as league leaders Chelsea’s closest challengers, leaving newspaper reporters and television pundits worldwide to ponder on whether Klopp’s army are the only real contenders left for the Blues’ title campaign.
A realistic view suggests that, with only half of the season gone, a lot could still happen, meaning City, despite their defeat, and even Arsenal are still in with a shout. But, if Antonio Conté’s men can continue their invincible form, with Klopp’s Liverpool continually maintaining their chase by adding more points to their current tally of 43, then it may just be a two-horse race to the finish line.
Up next for the Reds is an immediate assignment away at Sunderland, one which doing well in needs not to be mentioned even once.