Football Features

Lethal and ‘lucky’ Liverpool latch one hand onto the Premier League title with Man City display

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 19:01, 10 November 2019

In a tumultuous afternoon of football, Liverpool beat Manchester City 3-1 at Anfield to go eight points clear atop the Premier League.

The Reds won the title showdown with the Sky Blues at Anfield to inflict a massive blow on their rivals; title chances. Mathematically of course it’s still very much in play, there’s a long way still to go and it’s not all over yet.

But whilst the fat lady isn’t quite singing just this moment, she is definitely warming up her vocals.

Eight points is one hell of a gap for a team as relentless as Liverpool to relinquish. They bagged 97 points last season, remember. Hell, they’re nine points ahead of Man City who sit back in fourth despite having the best goal difference in the division and playing the best football.

The match itself was a baffling affair where Man City were obviously superior for all but a period of 20-30 minutes or so midway through the second half, yet they never looked like they had the mental strength to climb out of the hole Liverpool had plunged them into.

Liverpool were certainly lucky at Anfield. The Reds were being rocked by Man City’s fast start, but when a blatantly obvious handball by Trent Alexander-Arnold wasn’t given, Liverpool broke up the other end of the pitch and a weak clearance led to Fabinho hammering the hosts into the lead.

It should have led to a showstopping intervention by VAR which would have seen play pulled back and Man City awarded the penalty, but the Premier League’s absurd standard for overturning a referee’s decision meant that didn’t happen, so the goal stood.

Man City were furious, and rightly so. And they had two more reasons to be furious, once as Raheem Sterling was shoved over in the box late in the second half, and then even after that Alexander-Arnold was at it again, handling a Sterling cross in a similar manner to the Moussa Sissoko incident from last season’s Champions League final that ended up winning the trophy for Liverpool.

But both times referee Michael Oliver turned Man City down and again, as always, Premier League VAR declined to intervene. It must have been infuriating to watch for Pep Guardiola (his theatrical reaction to the second handball being turned down was comedic gold) to see VAR so steadfastly refuse to get involved – especially for the first goal – which Liverpool’s Andrew Robertson admitted “changed the game.”

That’s the lucky side of Liverpool. Well, that and Ederson’s injury forcing Claudio Bravo into goal for Man City’s biggest game of the season. The Chilean was awful, making pathetic attempts to save both Fabinho and – especially – Sadio Mané’s goals (honestly, you would expect any Premier League goalkeeper to be able to save Mané’s diving header).

And it goes beyond this game as well, where Liverpool’s winner against Sheffield United was down to an absurd goalkeeping error, their winner against Leicester was an absurdly soft last-minute penalty decision, and their goals against Burnley involved absurd slices of luck.

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Here’s the thing, though, if Liverpool were merely a lucky side, then Man City would have overturned the deficit after that Fabinho goal. If Liverpool were merely a lucky side, then Sheffield United would have scored enough goals to make that blunder not matter, if Liverpool were merely a lucky side then Leicester would not have been holding onto a 1-1 draw for dear life.

Liverpool are not just lucky, Liverpool are good. Liverpool are great. Hell, Liverpool are one of the two best clubs in the world right now. The quality they possess at the sharp ends of the pitch is utterly ridiculous. Yes, they got lucky to not concede a penalty with Alexander-Arnold, but how many defensive midfielders have the quality and confidence to rocket a shot in the way Fabinho did?

More to the point, if Liverpool were just lucky then they wouldn’t have created a goal as marvellous as their second. A gorgeous crossfield pass from Alexander-Arnold to Andrew Robertson who then fired in a miraculous cross for Mohamed Salah to rise and nod home. Man City could have had Ederson and Aymeric Laporte and they still wouldn’t have stopped it. A stupendous goal that came less than 10 minutes after Fabinho’s opener and turned what was still a somewhat shaky lead for Liverpool into a rock solid state of play for Jurgen Klopp’s men.

If Liverpool were just lucky then the Man City riposte would have broken them. Guardiola’s men were relentless, Sterling in particular.

They ran at their hosts again and again, creating so many chances as Liverpool simply looked to hold on to their 2-0 (and then 3-0) lead. Yet even as Man City were dominant, they couldn’t finish their chances. They showed the effect of nerves, which is entirely understandable given the situation.

Liverpool, however, did not show the effect of nerves. Even when Bernardo Silva pulled a goal back against them, courtesy of a supreme near-post finish, Liverpool did not crumble.

They did not collapse, they did not crumble. Liverpool are a lucky side, yes, but they are also an absolutely lethal unit.

They are every inch the ‘mentality monsters’ that Klopp branded them as. They are worthy Premier League leaders and, given the sheer size of their points advantage, their one-handed grip on the league title is going to take some shifting.

Yes, for sure it’s early days, but today shows that Number 19 is on the way.

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