Liverpool rode the Anfield crowd to a dramatic 3-2 victory over Manchester City, recovering from a gut punch own goal equalizer to capture the win.
The atmosphere brought goosebumps as Liverpool once again walked onto the pitch to harmonious song, and then the place transitioned to absolute silence during the moment taken for the 96. The fans came fired up and the players matched their intensity, but despite the home field advantage it was difficult to predict how the match would play out.
Brendan Rodgers started a risky but extremely potent lineup, with both Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling in the first eleven. Meanwhile, Manuel Pelligrini started Jesus Navas over James Milner, allowing Liverpool to control the midfield easily through an abundance of centralized playmakers. The Reds started well, buoyed by their supporters, and stunned City with a 6th minute opening goal. Sterling latched onto a defense-spliting through ball from Luis Suarez, and then had the composure to feign a pass to the left before calmly curling his shot around the right side of Joe Hart.
Liverpool kept up the pressure, and almost found a second goal when Sterling swerved a cross onto the path of Daniel Sturridge who disappointingly hit wide. Sturridge was off for the majority of the match and after picking up a late knock, it wouldn't surprise me if he's rested by Rodgers next weekend.
Matters worsened for under siege City in the 19th minute when Yaya Toure was forced off with a groin injury following an errant shot. He's one of the best midfielders in the world, and the step down to his replacement Javi Garcia had to be a massive blow to City's confidence. However, if there's one weakness in Toure's game it's that he often neglects his defensive responsibilities, so the insertion of Garcia actually slowed Liverpool's attack a little bit.
Nevertheless, Liverpool took a two goal lead through a 26th minute corner, as Martin Skrtel flicked in his seventh goal of the season following a delivery from Steven Gerrard. Skrtel's header came moments after Hart miraculously saved an open header from Gerrard on the previous corner, and the two chances asked questions about City's set piece defending, which you'd expect to be solid considering the size of Vincent Kompany and Martin Demichelis. It was hard to believe what we were witnessing, the cohesive Reds crumbling City's title ambitions and dignity, still hungry for more.
But City were never going to roll over. Fernandinho forced Mignolet to make a spectacular save after a volley in first half stoppage time, providing a glimmer of positivity for City to hang onto going into the break. Manuel Pelligrini brought Milner on in the 50th minute, which gave City more control of the midfield and turned the game on its head. Immediately, Liverpool's midfield seemed weary, perhaps because of the excessive energy spent to ensure the fast start, and David Silva started to tear the Reds apart.
Four minutes later, with the pressure already mounting on Liverpool despite their advantage, Suarez could have been shown a second yellow (he picked the first up in the 5th minute) when he dove to the ground right outside of the City box. Mark Clattenburg didn't think the play warranted a second booking though, and Suarez was let off the hook.
City finally broke through Liverpool's scrambling defense in the 57th minute. Fernandinho slipped Milner into an advantageous position down the right flank, and Milner centered to Silva who poked the ball into the corner of the net. Suddenly there was a sinking feeling where jubilation had danced moments before. You could feel the title slipping as City brimmed with confidence, rushing at Liverpool's box as the Reds defended frantically. There was little surprise when the equalizer came - a David Silva cross accidentally deflected past Mignolet by Glen Johnson - and it felt like City were destined for a winner if something wasn't changed soon.
The alteration came in the form of Joe Allen, who was brought on to replace Sturridge. While City continued to push up the field, the addition of Allen in the midfield brought Liverpool back into the match, and they began to counter attack meaningfully once again.
What do you want in a football match? A 2-2 scoreline, title in the balance, Anfield in full voice, palpable tension paralyzing sleepless fans? That's what we saw today before Liverpool took their leap - a 16 minute stretch of equal heavyweight sides going end to end for all the marbles.
And then Kompany shanked his clearance right to Coutinho at the edge of the box, and the Brazilian who'd struggled all season with his shooting smashed a one timer past Hart to give Liverpool the decisive 3-2 lead. Rodgers, normally reserved in his celebrations leapt up and down like the rest of the stadium while Gerrard raced to hug Coutinho with unbridled emotion.
Back in control, Liverpool fended off City's repeated advances. When the board read five minutes of added time, there was a collective groan around the pitch - childishly excited at the scoreline but nervous until the last whistle; the Liverpool way. In an unfortunate turn of events, Jordan Henderson saw straight red for a silly tackle, and you have to feel sorry for him considering all he's given to the club this season only for him to miss three of the final four matches. But not even that could put a damper on the joyous feeling that the final whistle brought. Liverpool now control the title race with four matches to go.
|Shots (On Target)||10(4)||13(5)|
-This was quite the chess match between managers, as Pelligrini adjusted well at half time but Rodgers one upped him with the introduction of Allen.
-Mignolet came up huge today.
-Surprisingly, Aguero was essentially a non factor. He came on right when we were most vulnerable and I thought that he'd break our back, but credit to Sakho and Skrtel for muting him.
-The post match show of emotions from Gerrard demonstrates how much this means to him and the fans. What an absolute legend.
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