Liverpool moved nine points clear of Manchester City – and eight ahead of Leicester – at the top of the Premier League with a vital victory over the champions at Anfield.
They struck twice by the 13th minute with Fabinho’s first goal in 11 months followed by Mohamed Salah’s header.
It was an explosive start by the Reds, but hinged on more controversy involving the video assistant referee.
As Sergio Aguero appealed for penalty with the ball striking Trent Alexander-Arnold’s arm at one end, the hosts broke and Mane’s cross was cleared into the path of Fabinho who smashed a 25-yard shot past Claudio Bravo.
Referee Michael Oliver referred back to VAR, but the goal stood.
Bravo, replacing the injured Ederson for his first league start in 18 months, was soon beaten again. This time Salah pounced on a left-wing cross from Andy Robertson, steering his header into the corner, although certain replays suggested at the time he may have just been offside.
City were stunned, having started well and missed opportunities through Raheem Sterling and Aguero.
Angelino had a shot deflected onto the post, but Pep Guardiola’s side were punished for their profligacy.
Mane squeezed a header past Bravo in the 51st minute, before Bernardo Silva’s consolation with a low drive.
RUTHLESS REDS ARE SHARP SHOOTERS
Ruthless, clinical, a class apart. If it’s possible to put aside VAR debates for a second, you must take in Liverpool’s performance, review their first two goals and see why they look to be heading for their first top-flight title since 1990.
This is a side with belief and bravado.
The breath-taking speed in which they turned defence to attack for their goals reflects the quality in their ranks – and Fabinho’s powerful finish for the opener was not too shabby either.
The second followed another brilliant break down the left, led by the rampaging Andy Robertson, to set up Salah.
This, ultimately, proved the difference between the two sides.
Liverpool were sure and sharper where it mattered most, a cut above up front.
Even with Mane’s goal it was a case of a striker in the right place at the right time and blessed with supreme confidence.
When you go back to the 90s and Liverpool’s dominance, they had players such as John Barnes, Ian Rush, Peter Beardsley and Kenny Dalglish leading a hungry attack. The similarities are now evident in this side.
City had two early chances, via Kevin De Bruyne free-kicks, but Sterling and Aguero put them wide.
They have never scored in City colours at Anfield and Aguero was particularly wasteful. Scowling with every missed opportunity, these are the games where the Argentine cannot afford to miss – or go missing.
Gabriel Jesus is pushing Aguero for his starting spot and maybe it is time to give the young Brazilian an extended run or Guardiola should be in the market for another striker next summer.
CITY NEED TO PLAY TO STRENGTHS
Hindsight is a glorious thing, but how Pep Guardiola must wish he could start over with his plans for this game.
With the City defence under scrutiny, especially with the 36-year-old Bravo replacing Ederson in goal, his selection prompted more pressure on them.
Angelino at left back instead of Benjamin Mendy was a surprise even if there are doubts over the Frenchman’s fitness, but to ask Rodri to face the best team in England after a near three-week absence and a couple of training sessions was unnecessary.
His opposing number Fabinho was fresher and far stronger.
The suggestion was City would have three centre-backs including Kyle Walker, pushing Fernandinho into midfield when required, and use wing backs to counter Liverpool’s attacking threat and provide a platform for their own.
This tactic might well have served them much better as the hosts created panic with every forward ball.
Until Aymeric Laporte returns, attack is arguably their best asset. City need to play to their strengths, not set up to stop the opposition.
IT’S VAR FROM PERFECT AS SYSTEM NEEDS URGENT FIX
And so too VAR. From Roberto Firmino’s armpit to John Lundstram’s toe, there will be a showreel of the bloopers, rather than benefits of the video replays, this season.
Two decisions at Anfield could well decide the Premier League title. They should not, but probably will as City will argue the case as they suffered a massive blow to their hopes.
Twice they went in Liverpool’s favour. Yet, given the horrendous recent decisions from the officials with the monitors, they could have gone the other way.
The handball rule has caused so much uncertainty and unhappiness. Based on previous incidents, City may have felt Alexander-Arnold was fortunate not to concede a penalty when Aguero’s shot struck his arm, via Bernardo’s arm, before the Reds broke and Fabinho scored.
And City argued Salah was a touch offside when Robertson crossed for him to score the second. There was no VAR check for that by referee Michael Oliver, but wasn’t he supposed to be told about close calls like this?
City’s protests may sound like sour grapes, but the VAR system needs fixing. It is a joke, a mess and sheer madness that there is such a lack of clarity every week, regardless of it being right or wrong.
Liverpool’s victory should not be marred in this manner.
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