Below-par Liverpool pegged back by Manchester City as title race heats up

Liverpool slumped to their first defeat of the season as they were beaten 2-1 by Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, who cut the Reds’lead at the top of the table down to four points.

Goals from Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sané either side of Roberto Firmino’s equaliser clinched all three points for City in what was an enthralling game of football.

A frantic first half saw tackles flying in everywhere, fast football and plenty of pulsating action that was difficult not to watch.

The sides looked very evenly matched for the most part, with City having more of the ball but not hurting Liverpool with it.

Yet it was Liverpool who went close to breaking the deadlock. A superb flowing move involving many Liverpool players taking part in intricate, one-touch football before Salah slid Mané through one-on-one with Ederson, only for the Senegalese to hit the post.

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John Stones’ attempted clearance then ricocheted off Ederson and came within just 1.12cm of crossing the line.

Mané went close with a stinging volley shortly afterwards, before Liverpool had a strong appeal for a red card turned down.

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City captain, Vincent Kompany, lunged in at Mo Salah in the air and out of control and clipped the Egyptian, but referee Anthony Taylor only brandished a yellow.

The game then seemed fairly even until the 40th minute, when Sergio Aguero escaped Dejan Lovren in the Liverpool box before unleashing a rocket into Alisson’s near top corner.

The Croatian defender, who has regularly talked up his own abilities, was caught napping and flat-footed, allowing Aguero to find the space to unleash his shot and score his seventh goal in seven games at The Etihad against Liverpool.

The second half followed a similar pattern, with both sides standing toe-to-toe with each other, trading blows readily and testing each other almost constantly.

Liverpool introduced Fabinho in place of James Milner early in the second half, and the Brazilian perhaps showed his manager why he should have been in from the start with a feisty performance.

He played his part in Liverpool’s equaliser, winning the ball back and setting Liverpool on the attack before Trent Alexander-Arnold played an exquisite cross over the City defence to Robertson, whose deft chip across the six yard box gave Firmino the simplest if headers to level things up.

From here, Liverpool looked threatening and caused City problems, before Sané scored what was to be the decisive goal. He broke away quickly down the left and fired a shot across Alisson, similar to that of the effort of Sadio Mané which hit the post in the first half.

Like Mané’s shot, Sané’s also hit the post, but the margins in this game were fine and worked in City’s favour, as the young German’s shot rolled into the back of the net.

From here, Liverpool huffed and puffed but didn’t create too many clear cut chances, while Robertson and van Dijk made superb tackles and Alisson a world class one-on-one save to deny Aguero at the other end.

In the final 10 minutes, both sides went close again. Wijnaldum had a shot scrambled off the line by John Stones after a corner, while Salah latched onto a brilliant through ball from Henderson to fire across Ederson, who made a brilliant fingertip save to deny the Egyptian.

Lovren made another sloppy error to allow Bernado Silva to pick his pocket in the Liverpool box, only for Alisson to deny the Portugal international’s fierce drive before former Liverpool man Raheem Sterling fixed wide.

On the whole, Liverpool were not quite up to it at the Etihad, and failed to create too many clear-cut opportunities. It was a rare off day in what has so far been a season of unparalleled brilliance, and will serve as a timely reminder to Klopp and his team to keep their feet on the ground, and keep striving for better.

The performance raised a few questions, namely over the ability of Dejan Lovren who was culpable for the opening goal, and why Fabinho – who quite clearly improved Liverpool’s game when he was introduced in the second half – was not in the starting line up.

An argument could also be made for leaving the introduction of Xherdan Shaqiri until after the 70-minute mark as Liverpool looked devoid of ideas to carve City open at times.

However disappointing the result is, Liverpool remain at the top of the league with a four point cushion separating them from City and with things still very much in their own hands.

While it is upsetting to lose the unbeaten status, Klopp must remind his players that the same trophy is awarded at the end of the season if you finish top being invincible or if you lose a few games.

Liverpool remain in the driving seat, but this game will certainly test their resolve going forward in what looks set to be a thrilling title race.

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