Comment: A massive victory against Man City
Liverpool signed off 2016 with a massive 1-0 victory against Man City to aid their title aspirations and dent Pep Guardiola's
It had been billed as an attacking exhibition; the fireworks to precede the big bangs to follow on a milder than usual New Year’s Eve night.
Pep Guardiola had labelled Jurgen Klopp as perhaps the best manager in the world at creating problems for the opposition in the final third, and as the Premier League’s most formidable forward line met the team with the most goals on their travels, the equation spelt a nightmare for the two men between the sticks.
When Liverpool scored inside 10 minutes, it gave further credence to that theory - especially fitted with the explosive recent history of their fixtures against Manchester City.
But Gini Wijnaldum’s header proved to be the decisive moment of the match, with defensive doggedness and diligence providing the platform for the Reds to end 2016 in triumph and as Chelsea’s closest challengers.
"City are a good side, a really good side," Klopp said afterwards. "It was clear we needed to be very compact today because if you are not compact against City then you don’t have to play.
"We did well, I cannot remember a lot of chances for City, which is maybe the biggest compliment for my team."
Jurgen Klopp hailed a deserved win
The visitors joined Antonio Conte’s charges - as well as Arsenal, Tottenham, defending champions Leicester City and Manchester United - in failing to take maximum points off Liverpool this season.
And Guardiola found himself on the long list of managers wondering just what the formula is to foil the Merseysiders. City had disrupted the Reds’ usual fluidity, not allowing them the freedom to create, yet the hosts still forced a win.
Klopp had predicted pre-match that it would take "defending at the highest level" for a positive result to be achieved in the encounter.
In keeping with his thinking that Liverpool would need an extra layer of protection, the 49-year-old restored midfielder Emre Can to the first XI in place of Divock Origi, with Adam Lallana operating in a more advanced role.
While promoting greater security in the centre of the park, it also meant Roberto Firmino operated as the focal point to apply pressure out of possession to City’s rearguard.
The German had stayed in his seat early on while Guardiola surveyed the action by shuffling across his technical area. Eight minutes in, however, Klopp could no longer remain rooted as Firmino cleverly picked out Lallana, who in his more attacking position was able to whip in a cross courtesy of Pablo Zabaleta’s passiveness.
The England international sliced his stellar delivery in between the full-back and Raheem Sterling, with Wijnaldum expertly reading and meeting the ball. City had four players in the box before the midfielder arrived to head past Claudio Bravo, all of them watching despairingly.
"We spoke about coming here and playing with courage," Guardiola reflected post-match at a ground where his team have not won in the league since May 2003. "I know Manchester City's history here, but we started well.
"Then after the first time they arrived, we conceded a goal - good cross, good header. We had a lot of people there, but it happened."
Guardiola thinks there are plenty of reasons to be positive
The goal aside, the first 45 minutes belonged to Liverpool. They were more threatening in the final third, while crucially restricting the influence of Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero.
Bravo had more touches than the striker by the interval - the Argentine ending the game with zero in the opposition box - while Sterling was kept on his heels by James Milner, who was superior in their tussle from left-back.
Man City did not have a single shot on target in the first half, and while they did well to close down passing lanes and force Liverpool into rushed decisions, their ambitions in the final third were not pronounced enough to cause any concern.
Liverpool’s talk at the break would have no doubt touched on the fact that while they were authoritative, they would have enjoyed a more comfortable advantage if they added incisiveness.
"The problem we had tonight was that we were not as good as we could have been in our own possession," admitted Klopp.
"We created a few moments, we scored a wonderful goal, we had our counter-attacks, that’s pretty normal that you have situations like this, but then we passed too late or too early or not in the right direction."
But it was City who were in the ascendancy in second half, even after Nathaniel Clyne surrendered a glorious chance to make it 2-0 after being left unmarked by De Bruyne in the area.
David Silva went close with a curler after cutting in from the right with Aguero’s shot from distance not troubling Simon Mignolet in the moments prior.
"The second half, they started better than us," Guardiola offered. "But after the first 10 minutes the game changed a little bit, it was more aggressive.
"We created a few more chances in front, but really in the last few minutes nothing happened."
City tried to morph into the expansive, dangerous team they often are, but couldn't produce clear-cut chances and offered Liverpool opportunities to counter.
Many of those were wasted through chaotic play when more clarity was required, while captain Jordan Henderson had to be replaced after feeling pain in his heel.
Vincent Kompany watched proceedings from the away end, where a blue flare went off with nothing to celebrate. As the minutes ticked on, it became apparent that the Reds would not relinquish the game.
Guardiola remarked afterwards that City, now 10 points behind Chelsea, can only focus on the next match. Klopp, though, can look upwards.
Liverpool’s development in 2016, during which they’ve scored 87 goals, has been staggering. That there is scope for further enhancement to match their ambition should unsettle their rivals.
It promises to be a most happy new year indeed.
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