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Manchester City get a break as Alisson howlers cost fading Liverpool
Pep Guardiola’s team ended a poor run of results at Anfield with a 4-1 win.
Liverpool’s Premier League title defence appears to have ended at the feet of Alisson Becker as two awful errors by the goalkeeper gifted Manchester City a 4-1 victory at Anfield.
With the match evenly-poised at 1-1 with 17 minutes remaining the Brazil international’s errant passing presented the leaders with two goals – including Raheem Sterling’s first at Anfield since leaving in 2015.
Alisson was back in the team after missing the midweek defeat to Brighton because of illness – and he will be sick when he watches back his part in City’s first victory on this ground since 2003 and only their second in 34 visits.
Mohamed Salah’s 63rd-minute penalty – ending a home goal drought nine minutes short of seven hours – had cancelled out the opener from Ilkay Gundogan, who redeemed himself after missing from the spot in the first half.
Alisson then scuffed a pass straight to Phil Foden, who drove forward and crossed for Gundogan to make it nine goals in his last 11 league matches.
Worse was to follow as the Brazilian then repeated the error even closer to goal with Bernardo Silva teeing up Sterling to nod home his 100th goal for Pep Guardiola, before Foden completed the scoring.
Victory extended City’s winning run to 14 matches and left Liverpool 10 points behind having played one match more and even in this season of surprises a comeback from that position seems unlikely.
It meant Gundogan’s penalty miss late in the first half – City’s third this season and their third in four attempts in this fixture – and Guardiola kicking a bucket in frustration were distant memories.
City have now equalled the all-time winning run by an English top-flight side across all competitions set by Preston (ending in 1892) and Arsenal (ending in 1987).
What began as a highly-tactical battle by two highly-drilled teams was ultimately settled by individual errors.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp, who suggested earlier in the week that City had benefited from a two-week break over Christmas due to the coronavirus pandemic, brought back Alisson, Fabinho and Sadio Mane, while Guardiola opted to go without a recognised centre-forward, dropping Gabriel Jesus to the bench with Foden handed the false nine role.
It was an intriguing decision considering Liverpool were playing midfielders Fabinho and Jordan Henderson in a makeshift central defence but the City manager was more concerned with winning the midfield battle.
That was where most of the match was played but early on it was the hustle and bustle of press and counter-press with City’s outstanding defender Ruben Dias the most obvious victim, once giving the ball straight to Salah and then also passing it straight out of play.
Mane should have done better with his header after Trent Alexander-Arnold had weaved himself some space on the right while Roberto Firmino’s volley was tipped over.
The first run of any purpose from Sterling, stationed out on the left, won the penalty as he skipped past Alexander-Arnold and caught the trailing leg of Fabinho – only for Gundogan to blaze the spot-kick into the empty Kop.
The German made up for his failure five minutes after the break when he rifled home from close range after another Sterling incursion into Liverpool’s penalty area allowed Foden a shot which Alisson could only parry.
Curtis Jones saw a shot deflected wide but with City in the ascendency it appeared Liverpool were drifting out of the game, seemingly clinging on at times.
However, they won a penalty of their own when Dias lost possession on the edge of his own area and brought down Salah, who picked himself up to succeed from the spot where Gundogan had failed.
It was the Egyptian’s 22nd goal of the season, only one fewer than he managed in the whole of the previous campaign.
John Stones had a goal ruled out for offside before the hosts twice shot themselves in the foot from the boot of the usually reliable Alisson, with Foden cutting in from the right to apply the coup de grace with seven minutes remaining.
Not only did it inflict the heaviest home defeat of Klopp’s reign but it also meant it is the first time since since 1963 Liverpool have lost three successive home league matches.