A night all Liverpool fans worldwide have been waiting for and what a night it was. Liverpool scored 3 goals in the first 31 minutes to take a 3-0 lead a lead they would hold onto until the final whistle. Liverpool’s goals were scored by Mo Salah, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Sadio Mane. The Oxlade-Chamberlain goal was an absolute scorcher from the top of the area to beat Ederson far post.
A lot of talk before the game was about how TAA would handle himself. There were a lot of nerves about him coming into this game after his performances against Crystal Palace and Manchester United where he looked like he wasn’t quite ready to be relied on against tough wingers, so knowing that he was going to have to deal with Leroy Sane who is better than what United or Palace threw at him it was something that made many of us nervous.
But sometimes in sports we see a young athlete grow up right before our eyes and that is what we may have seen from Alexander-Arnold against City.
City was paying attention to his struggles of late and from the early going you could tell that City’s strategy was going to be to play through Sane and play through him all day. Because of TAA’s performance Sane did not have the impact that Pep Guardiola had hoped he would. To me this was the biggest reason Liverpool was able to keep City off the board and a huge reason why the Reds are going to City next Tuesday with a 3-0 advantage.
Every single time TAA was asked to deal with Sane he passed each test with flying colors. You could say that he had him in his back pocket from the get go and kept him in there until the final whistle.
It was probably the best performance of his life and this was on the biggest stage, sure we’re still going to have some ups and downs, that’s what you get with young players but to do what he did in this game on this stage is enough for me to think he will be a mainstay at right back for a long time for the Reds.
Sure he had help, which we knew Jurgen Klopp would do. He had Oxlade-Chamberlain, Salah, and Lovren helping provide him cover but go back and watch how many times Sane had him one on one and he dealt with him with ease, like some cagey vet. For this performance TAA is my Man of the Match.
On the night he had 10 clearances, 7 interceptions, and 4 tackles. That’s a mammoth performance especially against a side like City.
If you look back of the chaos of those 19 minutes where Liverpool scored three goals to where Anfield was rocking so loud that the joint was probably close to literally shaking, it was absolute Bedlam, but what was Liverpool doing so well to make this City team look so ordinary.
The game plan was very similar to the home game against City back in January. Liverpool was fine with City having possession and when they did they were comfortable with dropping off, staying compact, keeping their shape and waiting for the mistake and when the mistake came Liverpool would pounce. The keeping their shape part was a huge key. It made it difficult for City to make the easy passes they rely on to get their attack going, it also led to a litany of turnovers which was a key to getting the Liverpool attack going.
The staying compact part is the key. They even got help as 3 of the big 3 dropped off to help add protection, but in a lot of ways it was the work of James Milner and Jordan Henderson who with the help of the front 3 stayed compact and made it really difficult for City to go through them, which in a lot of ways took their dangerous midfield playmakers Kevin De Bryune, David Silva, and Ilkay Gundogan out of the game. These guys were invisible, they relied on Sane to do everything.
Due to Pep Guardiola’s formation Sane was their only wide option, it was a weird formation for him. He decided against playing Raheem Sterling, instead playing Gundogan and Silva he had them set up in a 4-2-3-1 with De Bryune playing out wide versus his normal more centeralized position. This really played into Liverpool’s hands when City basically tried to play through Sane instead of De Bryune or Silva, this allowed the Reds to wait for the mistake and when the mistake happened they would pounce and pounce they did. The battering City received in the first 30 minutes was something that this team hasn’t experienced all season.
As I was just saying that Liverpool’s game plan was to stay compact, make it really difficult for City to get through them wait for the mistake and look to go quick off of the mistake and the one man that lead the way in that is Liverpool star man Mo Salah. He had the first goal and added an assist on the third goal setting up Sadio Mane.
Just like the Sane/TAA matchup was one that people were watching, they were also watching to see what Salah would be able to do with City left back Aymeric Laporte, in fact when the lineups came out there was speculation that with Laporte in may have meant that City was scared of Liverpool’s counter attack and were going to play a 3-4-2-1, but as I mentioned earlier they played 4 in the back which allowed Salah to exploit Laporte any chance he got.
If you look at the first goal, it was a turnover in the Liverpool end that led to the attack. James Milner played Salah through with a perfect ball, he then played Firmino through who got off a weak left foot shot that Ederson saved but he pushed the rebound right back out, Firmino won a battle for the ball with Kyle Walker and toe poked it to Salah who buried the opener.
The third goal was Salah again, he again had space running down the right wing, he ran at Laporte who backed off to give him space cause he knew he can’t handle Salah. Salah tried a cross that got blocked but it come right back to him, he made a bit of a move to get on his left foot and he made a beautiful pass to Mane who headed home the third Liverpool goal and it was absolute bedlam at Anfield.
Unfortunately for Salah he had to leave the game early. It was only the 53rd minute when he walked off and started talking to the trainers. Jurgen Klopp said at this point he didn’t wait for the trainers that he decided on his own he wasn’t going to take any chances with Salah and he motioned for Gini Wijnaldum who came into replace Salah.
Late in the game Salah returned to the bench, had a smile on his face, and made a motion to Klopp to signify that he is okay.
After the game Salah told people that he is fine, but Klopp was a little more cautious saying he will wait for the actual diagnosis and not Salah’s self diagnosis. Obviously we will all be nervous until we get official word but the preliminary news seems like it could be positive. If he has to sit Saturday to be ready for the second leg so be it.
I already talked about TAA’s role in the win, but it would be irresponsible not to mention the entire back 4 and the job they did in this match.
You don’t get clean sheets against this Manchester City team without a ridiculous performance by the back 4.
Besides the effort of TAA the other 3 were insane.
If this wasn’t the best game Dejan Lovren played in a Liverpool shirt it’s damn close. He was an absolute beast on this night. All night when he was called upon he was there to do his job. I really hope people give him credit for this performance. No player has been abused more by Liverpool fans during this tenure than Lovren has. No doubt there are times the criticism has been warranted but I have always felt that he’s much better than people think he is and now that he has Virgil van Dijk as his partner you have to acknowledge that he looks much more comfortable. He teamed up with van Dijk to really keep City from coming close to scoring. City did not record a shot on target. Who the hell thought a team would do that to them? And if someone did I am sure that no one thought it would be this Liverpool team.
van Dijk had a great night but he goes beyond his play on the field. His presence in that back 4 has made the unit much better. He’s always organizing everything out of the back, he’s such a commanding presence that in a few months this team has gone from an utter trainwreck defensively to a really solid defensive unit.
When he was asked to take care of things he does it with ease. He never loses a ball in the air and takes care of everything else that comes his way.
Lovren and van Dijk were so good that I’m not sure if Gabriel Jesus played, those two made him disappear in this game like he snitched on the mob.
Lastly, Andrew Robertson put on his normal flawless display at left back. He wasn’t asked to do a lot in the first half as Pep choose for an extra midfielder over playing Raheem Sterling, this was kind of a key as well. Not having Sterling out there allowed him to get free a little more and do his usual bombing up and down the left side.
When Guardiola brought Sterling on in the second half Robertson took care of Sterling with ease. Sterling made no impact which was all because of the play of Robertson.
If you saw this team at the beginning of the season to see how far they have come with this back 4 it really doesn’t seem like it is real life.
This unit was called upon even more in the second half. Part of it was expected you knew City was going to push for at least one goal to take home with them, Liverpool was going to drop off, and then when Salah went down a lot of their counter attack threat was gone. So, this made things a little nervy as City was on the front foot like they like to be and moving the ball all over the park, but the back 4 came up big and didn’t allow a shot on target and helped them earn the critical clean sheet.
The midfield was always going to be a key in this. If Liverpool was going to have success today the midfield was going to have to hold their own and hold their own they did.
The midfield trio of James Milner, Jordan Henderson, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain we’re terrific. Oxlade-Chamberlain provided the fireworks and drove the play through the midfield which is his strength and the open type of game against City is the perfect type of game for Alex, it’s the type of game where he can most showcase his talents.
Whole Oxlade-Chamberlain was the igniter, it was James Milner who was the rock. If it wasn’t for TAA I would have given my Man of the Match to Milner, he was all over the damn place. I seriously wonder where the hell he gets all this energy from.
On the night he had 4 clearances, 1 blocked shot, 3 interceptions, 5 tackles. He also provided an assist on Oxlade-Chamberlain’s wonder goal and started the attack on Salah’s tally with the initial ball out of the back to Salah to spring the break. Once again Milner comes up huge in a big game, no doubt he’s in the twilight of his career, he’s not the star he used to be but his role with this team in an invaluable one especially in the big games.
The other midfielder Jordan Henderson had his typical game. There was some good, but there was also some bad. He had his normal share of passes that make you shake your head, but all in all his performance was solid. He did his job of providing cover for the back 4 which in this game was his most important job, he was vital to the overall performance of the defense and without him Liverpool probably doesn’t leave Anfield with a clean sheet.
The one real negative of his performance was that he picked up a yellow card, he was the only Red coming into this game with one and now he is suspended for the second leg at Manchester City. I think it will be fine as long as Emre Can is back and all the reports coming into this game said he was close so I would expect him to be out there next Tuesday.
How big it was to get the clean sheet
As we all know Liverpool came away with a 3-0 win and the difference between winning 3-0 and 3-1 is so significant. Had City just gotten 1 goal in the second half all we would have needed to do was win 2-0 during the home leg and they would advance, but now they need a 3-0 home win just to force extra time but if Liverpool can score 1 they will be well on their way, at this point City would have to score 5 so yes the approach will probably be more defensive than usual but they will look to get that goal because one goal will make things really difficult for City.
Nights like this make all the pain and suffering our teams put us through worth it and no feeling is better in the world when your team wins a game like this and now that they’re in a really good position to advance I’m sure most of you are like me and will be walking on cloud 9 tonight.