The debate over which of Liverpool or Manchester City is superior at full strength will go on for some time, but the Reds are starting to make the irresistible case for owning the better team.
Liverpool’s hunt for four major trophies is still on with a 3-2 FA Cup semi-final victory at Wembley on Saturday thanks to Liverpool’s greater strength from deep. Manchester City undoubtedly endured the tougher commitment in the Champions League quarter-finals last week – Liverpool had the luxury of a two-goal advantage ahead of their return leg at home to Benfica while the Pep Guardiola was heading to Atletico Madrid with their equality firmly in play — and City couldn’t hide their scars.
Pep Guardiola made seven changes for Saturday’s game to try and freshen up his squad, having opted to fly from Madrid straight to London on Thursday and train at Millwall on Friday to make up for any fatigue. Yet City were a shadow of their former selves, unable to cope with Liverpool’s intensity from the kick-off and further undermine their display with a host of individual errors.
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Ibrahima Konate headed in Andy Robertson’s corner in the ninth minute – his third consecutive goalscoring game – as Nathan Ake and Gabriel Jesus made a mess defending a routine set-piece. Zack Steffen tried unsuccessfully to replicate Ederson’s composure when those two teams met six days earlier. Ederson was almost closed with the ball at his feet on the goal line by Diogo Jota to play an occasional pass to lessen the danger. Steffen, however, tucked the ball under his feet following a simple back pass from John Stones and Sadio Mane pounced, tackling City’s substitute goalkeeper and putting the ball into the net in one motion .
When Mane fired home a third on the stroke of half – the product of a lavish move that involved Trent Alexander-Arnold beating the City press with a superb cross pass to Luis Diaz and a wonderful pass decisive Thiago Alcantara – – City watched on their feet.
Klopp described their previous encounter as a boxing match and if it fell into that category as well, he was at risk of being stopped given City’s lack of competitiveness. There was, curiously, no change from City at the break. Jack Grealish fired after good work from Jesus less than two minutes into the second period. Liverpool goalkeeper Riyad Mahrez for Gabriel.
Mahrez had time to register an assist, collect Phil Foden’s pass and get to the line to shoot. Alisson saved but Raheem Sterling lost good chances in injury time, but it was hard to escape the conclusion that something had to change earlier in the play.
Afterwards, Guardiola explained how stretched his squad was, saying only Kevin De Bruyne had four stitches in his right foot yesterday.
When asked if Liverpool have a superior team, Guardiola replied: “At the moment, yes. That’s what it is with the season we have. We play a lot of games and we don’t have a very long team. When everyone is fit, it’s fine but we have a few injuries and academy players on the bench.”
Klopp also made seven changes from Wednesday’s game against Benfica, but they were largely due to restore his key players including Mohamed Salah, Mane and Virgil van Dijk. But Konate and Luis Diaz – surely one of the best January signings of recent years – are not regular starters who have made significant contributions here, Klopp described Konate’s third goal in as many games as “very useful “in the context of continuing to successfully navigate a punishing schedule.
“We have to try to find line-ups and formations to be as recovered as possible in every game, but you also need rhythm,” Klopp said. “I think the first half was one of the best we’ve ever played. We did everything right, we scored at the right times, we played an amazing game in the first half , I absolutely loved every second of it.
“The second half started with the goal for Man City and then it opened up – City’s quality is insane and you could see it was a much more open game.
“We respect the quality of City so much and it’s so hard to win against them. But because we have these boys in our dressing room, we have a chance.”
Although Liverpool seem to be managing this period slightly better – reaching both the FA Cup and Carabao Cup finals for the third season in their history, no other club have achieved this domestic cup feat more than twice – Klopp has played down any talk of also lifting the Premier League and Champions League trophies to possibly achieve the historic quadruple.
“The quadruple talk, I can’t believe it,” he said. “This win means we have another game and then we have to play Aston Villa in midweek, they still have to move a game.
“I don’t think we have a full week free before the last matchday – everything is difficult, but who cares?
“We came here and we wanted to go to the final. We knew the problems, but to qualify for this final makes the quadruple even more difficult – it’s the only way to do it, but it also makes it more difficult, so it’s a strange situation.
“But we’re thrilled, we’ve beaten the strongest football team in the world and it’s a pretty special moment.”
City hold a one-point lead in the Premier League and could yet face Liverpool in an all-English tag team Champions League final next month (should the two teams overtake Real Madrid and Villarreal, respectively). Few would support recovering City, but Liverpool have set a marker here that they are more than ready for the fight.