(Telegraph)-Where has this Liverpool been all season? After Manchester City had what would have been the opening goal ruled out following a Var check, Pep Guardiola turned to the Main Stand, as Liverpool fans gloated, and howled in frustration: “This is Anfield”. Yes, it is. And it is Liverpool’s home and it is where their defiance shines brightest and most ferociously.
City were furious Phil Foden’s strike from a tight angle was cancelled out and there was further anger as it was alleged coins were thrown at Guardiola by Liverpool fans that provoked his reaction.
That was not the end of it. For two managerial titans, who are so respectful of each other before games, who hugged warmly before kick-off, there is an extraordinarily sharp rivalry. And so, with five minutes to go, Jurgen Klopp was sent off by referee Anthony Taylor after yet more castigating of the officials – he had already been in the face of assistant referee Gary Beswick, forcing him to step onto the pitch to escape after Foden’s effort hit the net.
There was skill as well as spite. Huge amounts of skill in what was a modern classic – it is a fixture that sets new heights – with great saves, missed chances and a relentless power to the football as Mohamed Salah won the battle of the centre-forwards against Erling Haaland, who drew a rare blank, and scored the only goal.
It meant City suffered their first defeat of the season, Liverpool revived their campaign and Arsenal have a four-point lead at the top of the Premier League table. The only negative for Liverpool, beyond Klopp’s dismissal, was an injury to Diogo Jota who went off on a stretcher in the dying seconds.
As that final whistle blew, Liverpool players – including 36-year-old James Milner who excelled at right-back – dropped to their knees. They may have only lifted themselves up to eighth but this was as emphatic a statement as it gets that they will fight all the way and can refire their season.
Salah was the driving force; the catalyst; the talisman. He was used in his preferred position, as a central striker, and relished it with the wily Roberto Firmino behind him. After Salah’s quickfire midweek hat-trick in the Champions League away to Rangers the Egyptian was irrepressible. He was also the calmest person in the stadium after scoring.
His goal summed up Liverpool’s sharpness with goalkeeper Alisson claiming an assist as he collected an over-hit free-kick and was alert to what was on. And so he delivered a precise, flat goal-kick after spotting that Salah was on half-way with only Joao Cancelo up against him.
Salah was smart, using his body, turning Cancelo and suddenly finding himself through on goal before running on and calmly steering the ball beyond Ederson. There had been a similar incident earlier in the second-half with the goalkeeper brilliantly finger-tipping Salah’s effort around the post but this time he was beaten.
After that the atmosphere became even more febrile; even more bone-jarring. The noise was incredible; the pace was relentless; the challenges unforgiving with Klopp hailing his make-shift defence where Joe Gomez, back as a central defender, also impressed and Haaland just could not beat Alisson.
But, really, where has this Liverpool been? This was the Liverpool we have been used to in recent campaigns, who have gone toe-to-toe with City, and who have pushed them all the way and beaten them more often than anyone else. But, then again, if they could not get up for this game, if they could not capitalise on this cauldron of defiance then hope was lost.
But, gloriously for them, they did just that while so good are City that even in the face of it they will wonder how they lost. So high was the quality of the passing and forward play that both teams would have scored a hatful against virtually any other opponent. Instead, somehow, we had just the one goal.
Liverpool threw themselves at City like red-shirted banshees. City responded by cutting through precisely, time and again, and there were wonderful, flowing attacks from both.
In the first-half the best chances came from headers. Jota’s was easily saved by Ederson while, really, Haaland should have scored when he was wonderfully picked out by Kevin de Bruyne only to plant the ball straight at Alisson. Earlier he had headed over; Andrew Robertson had fired over and back and forth it went.
In the second-half it became even more wild; even more open and there had to be a goal. After Ederson denied Salah – even though a goal-kick was given – Haaland tussled with Fabinho. It looked 50:50 and play carried on with Haaland also challenging Alisson who spilled the ball as City swept through with Foden finishing.
All hell broke loose. Staff from both dug-outs ran around and eventually Taylor was called over to the pitchside monitor and ruled the goal out. As the Liverpool fans celebrated their team countered with Salah picking out Jota. With only Ederson to beat, he headed over before, at the other end, Alisson denied Haaland, pushing away his low shot.
Something had to give and just as it looked like City were firmly in the ascendancy – and maybe they over-committed because of that – they were caught out and conceded. Still there was time for City but despite all their pressure the best two chances fell to Liverpool. Neither was taken. But they held on anyway while there will be repercussions beyond the result.