Phillippe Coutinho scored his second wonder goal in seven days as Liverpool stretched their unbeaten run in the Premier League to 11 matches with a 2-1 win over Manchester City at Anfield on Sunday.
Eleven months ago, the corresponding fixture last season was a battle between two teams slugging it out for the title.
Even back then, it was the Brazilian Coutinho’s strike that decided a humdinger at Anfield as City fought back from two goals down, only to concede the winner with 12 minutes to go.
The situation in terms of the league table wasn’t so similar prior to the start of Sunday’s game.
Liverpool were in sixth position and involved in the scrap for Champions League football with Arsenal, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton, while City were still in the title race, but five points behind leaders Chelsea.
With Chelsea involved in the Capital One Cup final, Manuel Pellegrini’s side had a golden chance to close the gap to two points, but it was Liverpool who showed the urgency and intensity to win throughout the game.
The Reds had the first chance of the game in the eighth minute when Adam Lallana drove a straight low shot into the hands of Joe Hart. A minute later, the former Southampton forward found the back of the net from a much tighter angle, only to be ruled offside.
Anfield did not have to wait long for the first goal though. In the 11th minute, a clumsy defensive error from the Sky Blues skipper Vincent Kompany in the middle of the park led to Liverpool breaking ahead with Coutinho and Rahim Sterling.
As the duo broke forward exchanging passes and bypassing defenders, Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson ambled in unnoticed to the edge of the box and used the run of Coutinho to position himself perfectly for a bender.
When the ball landed at his feet, he made no mistake as he curled it past the outstretched hands of Hart and into the top-right netting.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) March 1, 2015
A couple of minutes later, City almost equalised as Sergio Aguero received a delicious cross in the box, but his resulting left-footer rattled the post.
It would turn out to be one of the rare moments when City really threatened their opposition’s goal. For a side fighting to retain their title, their effort throughout the 90 minutes could best be described as strolling along.
Thus, it would be perceived as completely against the run of play when City got their equaliser in the 26th minute, and it was a wonderfully crafted team goal involving David Silva, Aguero and Edin Dzeko, who scored.
— Manchester City FC (@MCFC) March 1, 2015
Aguero’s clever forward pass to Dzeko and the resulting finish showed what City are capable of when fluent, but Tuesday’s defeat to Barcelona in the Champions League seemed to have had an effect on their confidence.
Liverpool, who were themselves kicked out of the Europa League on Thursday, however, did not allow the goal to deflate them and continued to be greedy for possession. They chased City’s players like a pack of wild dogs every time they lost the ball.
Lallana had another great chance to put his team ahead in the 35th minute after he made a lovely run to receive Lazar Markovic’s pass in the box, but could only shoot wide of the post.
The 26-year-old then had another goal disallowed after the break as the hosts started the second period with the same tenacity to retake the lead.
Lallana and Coutinho, playing on either side of Brendan Rodgers’s attacking trident, caused ample problems for the visitors’ defence.
Kompany, ever the robust and assured figure at the heart of City’s backline, was often found out of position trying to risibly get to the ball and left his partner Eliaquim Mangala to clean up behind him.
Coutinho was, as he has been many times this season, Liverpool’s best player on the pitch. He was at the heart of almost every attacking play made by his team and left City’s defence woozy with his lightning-quick moves.
It was only apt that the 22-year-old got the winner in the 76th minute with a goal that eclipsed his effort against Southampton last week.
Cutting inside from the left flank, he curled a shot with his right boot from 25 yards that had enough pace and bend on it to leave Hart clasping for thin air for the second time in the match.
— Premier League (@premierleague) March 1, 2015
Liverpool almost had a third goal three minutes from full-time when it was Yaya Toure’s turn to make a defensive error.
Substitute Daniel Sturridge should have punished Toure’s carelessness, but could only shoot wide.
It was only City’s second defeat of the season and it was by all means a deserved one against a side that had won just two of their last 12 league meetings prior to Sunday.
The win stretched Liverpool’s unbeaten run to 11 games and pushed them into fifth on the table, but just two points behind third-placed Manchester United.
City, meanwhile, were left to rue what could have been a two-point gap between them and Chelsea had they produced their destructive A-game.
Featured image courtesy: Dean Jones (Creative Commons)