Liverpool stuns Manchester City in Champions League
The most highly-anticipated Champions League tie on British soil for years began with an apology.
In the lead up to the game, sections of Liverpool fans had been posting on social media to urge fellow supporters to bring “flares and flags, banners and bangers, pints and pyro” to try and scare Manchester City ahead of their match.
Amid warnings to fans that the use of pyrotechnics outside the ground could be illegal and with concerns over safety, Liverpool took the decision to re-route the team buses to Anfield.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp praised the “very positive” atmosphere generated by the hundreds of supporters lining the streets — some there up to four hours before kick-off — unaware of what had happened to Manchester City’s team bus just moments before.
Several projectiles had been launched from the crowds, one causing a window to shatter. Such was the extent of the damage, the bus was deemed undriveable and a replacement had to be sent from Manchester to pick up the players after the match.
“I really don’t understand it,” Klopp told BT Sport before the game. “There was a lot of talk about it before and we tried everything to avoid a situation like that.
“When we came through it was obviously very positive, but we didn’t know when we were on the bus what had happened before because the City bus was in front of us.
“From Liverpool FC I have to say sorry.”
Merseyside Police said although no-one on the bus was injured there were injuries to two policemen.
“This behaviour by a number of people who threw bottles, cans and pyrotechnics towards the bus is completely unacceptable and we will conduct enquiries to identify who was responsible and bring them to justice,” said Merseyside Police Match Commander Superintendent Paul White in a statement.
“We worked very closely with both clubs to ensure the safety of the public and the teams themselves, and it is disappointing to see that a number of people behaved in this appalling way.”
Pep Guardiola was visibly upset, the Manchester City manager referring to the bomb attack on Borussia Dortmund’s team bus last season.
“I want to say thank you to Jurgen for his words apologizing,” he said. “I know I didn’t expect that, we didn’t expect that. After what happened last season in Dortmund, I didn’t expect it.
“Yesterday in the press conference, people asked me about that and I thought the police would know that. Fortunately nothing happened to the players for their health.
“I know that is not Liverpool, I know the history of the club is much bigger than this.”
That atmosphere was carried into the ground, Liverpool fans beginning an unrelenting 90 minutes of noise with a spine-tingling rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
The first goal came after just 12 minutes, dramatically increasing the decibels levels inside an Anfield stadium which had been rocking well before kick-off.
Sadio Mane intercepted a stray pass on the edge of his area, before playing a through ball between two defenders to set Mohamed Salah haring down the line.
The Egyptian, in contention for the Player of the Season award in his first season back in the Premier League, freed Roberto Firmino who wriggled inside and forced a save from Ederson.
City right back Kyle Walker dawdled on the ball as the rebound fell at his feet, allowing Firmino to prod the ball into Salah’s path and Liverpool’s player of the season hammered the ball into the net.
It was somewhat against the run of play, with City dominating both possession and territory inside the opening 10 minutes but it caused the first-half momentum to shift completely.
The Liverpool fans, now in true party mood, didn’t even have to wait another 10 minutes for their side to double the lead.
James Milner, who at times seemed to be in two places at once, won possession back from Ilkay Gundogan and the ball rolled kindly into Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s path on the edge of the box.
The midfielder took one touch, before arrowing the ball into the corner — reminiscent of many a Steven Gerrard goal in front of the Kop on a Champions League night.
Guardiola’s side, which is close to winning the Premier League title, were visibly reeling.
Usually full of unshakeable confidence and swagger, his players looked lost and frightened in possession, while individual mistakes were allowing endless waves of Liverpool attacks.
And if they thought the opening 20 minutes were bad, it was about to get worse.
Salah was again at the heart of the move, floating a cross towards to far post to allow Mane a simple header to give Liverpool a scarcely believable 3-0 lead after just half an hour.
By the time the referee blew his whistle to signal the end of the half, Manchester City — who have so often blitzed opposition teams this season — hadn’t even registered a single shot on target.
Much-maligned goalkeeper Loris Karius was having arguably the most comfortable evening of his Liverpool career.
Klopp appeared to have set his side out perfectly, his forwards and midfielders hunting City players down in perfectly choreographed packs.
When out of possession, Liverpool’s often leaky and chaotic back line looked confident and assured, barely breaking a sweat when Kevin De Bruyne and Co. were bearing down on goal.
The on-pitch performance only served to further encourage those in the stands, the Liverpool players conducting the sizable orchestra in the Kop end.
Every misplaced City pass — of which there were many — was met with jubilant jeers from the home crowd, while every time Salah got in possession the murmur of excitement would intensify.
Liverpool understandably began the second half cautiously, not displaying the same gung-ho approach which had earned them such a huge lead.
An early injury to Salah, which appeared to be a groin tweak, forced Klopp into a defensive change, replacing his star forward with midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum.
It was an enforced substitution which paid dividends, as Liverpool nullified City every time it looked as though they might trouble them.
However, Guardiola will have every right to feel aggrieved after Raheem Sterling’s goal was incorrectly ruled out following an offside called against Leroy Sane on the wing.
It will be a bitter pill to swallow, in particular as it looked as though Salah was offside in the build up to Liverpool’s opening goal.
When it looked as though City may find that crucial away goal, Sterling and Gabriel Jesus contrived to tackle each other in the attacking half. If there was a moment to sum up City’s performance, it was that.
But one final ear-bursting rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from the Liverpool faithful urged their team across the line.
An underwhelming Manchester City side will need to regroup quickly ahead of next week’s second leg at the Etihad, with Guardiola’s Champions League hopes hanging by a thread.