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    Manchester City 1-4 Liverpool Match Report

    Liverpool produced one of the most impressive performances in the club's history as they ruthlessly outclassed a below-par Manchester City side at the Etihad Stadium to further illustrate the improvements they have made under Jurgen Klopp. The German's team stormed into a 3-0 lead in a first-half that they dominated and showed no mercy on their opponents when they rounded of the win through Martin Skrtel with nine minutes remaining.

    Goals by Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino added to Eliaquim Mangala's early own goal to put Liverpool seemingly out of sight in the contest after only 32 minutes. It was a first-half in which they defended from the front, were devastating on the counter-attack and were clinical in front of goal. Not even a Sergio Aguero goal a minute before half-time could rally a Manchester City side that looked a shadow of its normal self without its captain and inspirational leader Vincent Kompany.

    It was the perfect away performance from Liverpool and a masterclass in the high-pressing game that denied City the chance to build-up possession without them being hunted down in packs all over the pitch. The success in repeatedly winning back the ball allowed Liverpool the counter-attacking platform that ultimately exposed weaknesses in the City defence in a manor that few teams have achieved so far this season.

    Klopp opted to pick the same team that won 3-1 at Stamford Bridge in what, prior to Saturday, had been the most impressive performance since the German replaced Brendan Rodgers in the Anfield hotseat. Fit-again Daniel Sturridge had to be satisfied with a place on the bench, with "false number 9" Roberto Firmino being preferred to the more traditional "number 9" in Christian Benteke. This allowed Liverpool to effectively have an extra man in possession when Firmino dropped back into midfield and prevented a repeat of the club's previous trip to Manchester this season, when Benteke had cut an isolated figure up front at Old Trafford.

    Liverpool set out their intentions early on, with Philippe Coutinho hunting down Bacary Sagna to win his side possession before setting up an attack that pitted three Liverpool attackers against three City defenders. Coutinho exploited the space that Sagna had vacated and found the overlapping run of Firmino, whose cross was turned into his own net by a flat-footed Mangala. It was the perfect start for the away side and set the tone for the afternoon, in terms of the way Liverpool intended to go about their business as well highlighting the deficiencies that were evident in the City defence throughout the match.

    It wasn't long before Liverpool were doubling their lead and this time it was Firmino who was the architect in winning back possession. The former Hoffenheim forward intercepted a Martin Demichelis header, intended for Mangala, before winning the subsequent race for the ball with Aleksandar Kolarov. Firmino delivered an inch-perfect cross for Coutinho, who found space in-behind both Sagna and Mangala, to slot home from 10 yards and give his side a two-goal lead after only 23 minutes.

    City had no answer to the vibrancy and ingenuity that the visitors displayed on the counter-attack and were unable to stop Liverpool taking a three-goal lead five minutes later. This time it was Martin Skrtel who beat Raheem Sterling to the ball, inside his own half, with James Milner winning the duel with Fernando for the second ball to help Liverpool seize possession once again. The move ended when Coutinho played a one-two with Emre Can before crossing for Firmino to tap into an open net.

    Liverpool were starting to open up the City defence at ease and holes began to regularly appear in between both Demichelis and Mangala, who were deputising in the absence of Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi. The Reds nearly took a four-goal lead when Fernando gave the ball straight to Coutinho, who threaded a ball through to Firmino to put the Brazilian one-on-one with Joe Hart. On this occasion, the England keeper made a sprawling save from eight yards to deny Firmino from making the scoreline even more embarrassing for the home side.

    The link-up play between Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino was at times mesmerising to watch and the two combined once again to come within a whisker of giving Liverpool a 4-0 lead. Coutinho flicked the ball out to Lallana on the left wing, whose eventual cross was expertly controlled by the Brazilian on the edge of the penalty area. Coutinho flicked the ball over the head of Mangala to Firmino, whose left-footed effort went just inches wide of Hart's right-hand post. The decision to drop Benteke to the bench and recall Firmino, who had not produced his best form for the club until Saturday, seemed an inspired one.

    Just as it looked like Liverpool would take a three-goal lead into the break, City finally responded and gave Jurgen Klopp's side something to chew on during the half-time break. The goal spoke more about the individual brilliance of Aguero rather than a collective team effort as he collected the ball midway inside his own half, went past Lucas Leiva before curling a low effort into the right-hand corner past the despairing dive of Mignolet. It gave City a route back into the game that they had scarcely deserved.

    Liverpool still remained a threat in the early stages of the second half and the ease in which they were able to cut through the home side's defence showed no signs of abating. Roberto Firmino had a chance to put the match out of City's sight when he found himself one-on-one with Joe Hart but the City keeper did well to close down the space and save the effort with his feet from eight yards out. It was Adam Lallana whose decoy run took two City defenders out of the game and created the space for Firmino, who was unlucky not to have increased the away side's lead.

    City did eventually start to increase the pressure as the match headed beyond the hour mark, with Sergio Aguero coming close with an effort just inside the penalty area that was well saved by Mignolet. The chance came about from a back pass by James Milner that was intended for Mignolet but was intercepted by Raheem Sterling, who was playing against Liverpool for the first time since his £49 million move in the summer. Sterling set up Aguero, whose dummy took him past Alberto Moreno but Mignolet denied him at full-stretch.

    Having weathered the City storm at times during the second half, Liverpool were always a threat on the counter-attack and it was once again the away side's high-pressing which led to the goal that rubber-stamped their emphatic victory. Lallana dispossessed Kevin De Bruyne in his own half, and set up Jordon Ibe on the right-wing with acres of space vacated in front of him. The England Under-21 international played a pass to fellow substitute Christian Benteke, who found himself one-on-one with Joe Hart. Although Hart once again closed down the space to make a save at full-stretch, he couldn't deny the visitors from extending their lead from the resulting corner.

    Lallana's outswinging corner was won in the air by Benteke, whose header fell nicely to Martin Skrtel. The Slovak defender rifled the ball from just inside the penalty area, past the dive of Joe Hart to give Liverpool the emphatic victory that their overall performance so richly deserved. Skrtel's strike was jubilantly greeted by Jurgen Klopp, who cut an excitable figure on the touchline throughout the afternoon and hugged two members of his coaching staff when celebrating the goal.

    Klopp said after the match that the performance felt "perfect". Coutinho proved once again that he is a world class talent when at the top of his form and the way he combined with Firmino throughout the afternoon made Liverpool unplayable at times. Firmino has struggled throughout the first three months of the season but the Liverpool fans finally saw the talent that convinced Brendan Rodgers to splash out £29 million in the summer on his services. 

    When Daniel Sturridge finally makes his return to the Liverpool team, it will be interesting to see if Klopp changes the formation that has made his side so successful in the past two away matches or whether he stays faithful to it. There is also the question of whether Roberto Firmino will be preferred to Christian Benteke in the long-term or whether Adam Lallana's place in the side is more vulnerable than the Brazilian's if Benteke is the preferred option. Lallana is also beginning to show the form that he showed in his days at Southampton before his £25 million move to Anfield in 2014.

    After the win over Chelsea a fortnight ago, Klopp laughed off the suggestion that his team could win the title as "crazy". Having beaten both of last season's top-two sides away from home in the space of three weeks, he may have to revisit his side's objectives for this season. The win narrows the gap between themselves and City to six points, with 25 matches remaining. If the Reds are able to replicate their away form at Anfield, where they are yet to win in the league under Klopp, they could yet put together a run that sees them challenge for the title.

    For City, it was a torrid afternoon. They never recovered from a slow start and were outplayed throughout most of the match. Manuel Pellegrini's team will point to the absence of Vincent Kompany as the main reason for their poor showing, although the decision to drop Nicolas Otamendi to the bench seemed to weaken their defence even further. Sergio Aguero's return to the first-team, and the scoresheet, will be seen as one of the day's few positives, as well as the form of Joe Hart, who denied Liverpool a number of times throughout the match.

    When the likes of Pablo Zabaleta, David Silva, Gael Clichy and Kompany return to the side, they will become much more of a force than they were against Liverpool. Next up for City in the Premier League is a home match against Southampton on Saturday, which comes three days after their Champions League trip to Turin to face Juventus. Liverpool are next in action on Thursday in the Europa League, where they face Bordeaux at Anfield, before returning to Premier League duties on Sunday at home to struggling Swansea City.
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    Item Reviewed: Manchester City 1-4 Liverpool Match Report Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Richard Tufft
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