The wait may be over. The wait for that moment that marks the start of Manchester City tearing through the rest of the Premier League at the business end of the season and laying waste everything that stands in their path. This emphatic, brilliant 4-1 victory over Liverpool felt like the beginning of something. Put it this way: Arsenal had better hold their nerve at the top because City are coming.
It is tempting to talk just about how good Jack Grealish was, about how he saved a certain goal with a lung-bursting defensive run in the first half and then, a minute or two later, tortured the Liverpool defence with the slide-rule pass that set up City’s equaliser for Julian Alvarez, about how he was the man of the match.
Grealish was as good as he has ever been for City – he got the fourth goal 15 minutes from time that put the game out of reach as well – but it still feels wrong to single him out. City were that good against the team that ran them so close for the title last season. They demolished Liverpool in the second half and all without their injured leading scorer Erling Haaland.
It may seem flippant to ask whether Haaland will get straight back into the team but it shouldn’t be. City are often superb with Haaland in the starting eleven and, as he sat watching from a private box at the Etihad, he saw a team playing beautifully without him, a team that was at its fluid, fluent, assured, untouchable best.
The rampaging win put City five points behind Arsenal with 10 games left to play. If they can beat Liverpool as comfortably as this, it is not inconceivable that they will win all 10 of those games. They have done it before, after all. One of them is against Arsenal, of course, at the Eithad on Wednesday April 26 and if City play like this, the league leaders will find it hard to repel them.
Manchester City produced a stunning performance to comfortably beat rivals Liverpool 4-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday
Jack Grealish had a huge part to play for City at both ends of the field and deservedly got his goal which wrapped up the win
The victory could prove crucial for Pep Guardiola’s side, with title rivals Arsenal still to face a difficult trip away to Anfield
So Grealish was brilliant. So was Alvarez. He looked every inch the World Cup winner he is. He scored City’s first and played a crucial part in their second. He held the ball up superbly, led the line, brought others into play and seemed to liberate Kevin de Bruyne and Grealish to excel creatively.
If Grealish tormented Liverpool down the City left, Riyad Mahrez did the same down the City right. Mahrez, who has a first touch that glues the ball to his foot, played like a magician, twisting and turning, asking questions of the Liverpool defence every minute of the game.
De Bruyne was back to his formidable best, too, creating, scoring, drawing sharp intakes of breath with some of his passing. City were, quite simply, a joy to watch.
Liverpool, who now face games against Chelsea and Arsenal in quick succession, stayed with City in the first half but the way they struggled in the second half was sobering.
This is the side that matched City every step of the way last season and lost the title by a single point to them. But they are much diminished. It is as if the gargantuan effort of the battle with City last season sapped them of the energy for the fight this season. City, though, march on.
Liverpool were heralded as kingmakers when they arrived at the Etihad, the team that could hand the title to Arsenal with a victory against their old foes, but while everyone was trying to work out what formation City were playing – John Stones and Rodri played in front of a back three – Guardiola’s side made the better start.
Mohamed Salah gave Liverpool the lead after 17 minutes as the Reds looked effective on the counter attack in the first-half
Salah celebrates with team-mates after giving Liverpool the early advantage at the Etihad Stadium against the run of play
Liverpool’s lead lasted just ten minutes as Erling Haaland’s replacement Julian Alvarez tapped home after some brilliant play
Jack Grealish made a vital interception to stop a potential Liverpool second as he blocked a cross by Salah to Diogo Jota
Alvarez celebrates with his Man City team-mates after scoring his 13th goal in what is his first season for the club
Alisson saved a hooked volley from Ilkay Gundogan and Rodri, last seen complaining about how ‘rubbish’ the Scotland team that beat Spain was, saw his effort from outside the box plucked out of the air by the Liverpool keeper.
Mahrez curled a free kick narrowly wide but then, just as City seemed to be stepping up the pressure, Liverpool scored. Trent Alexander-Arnold played a ball forward to Diogo Jota over the top of the City defence in the 17th minute, Jota held it up and held it up and then laid the ball invitingly into the path of Salah. Salah ran on to it and his first time shot curled unerringly into the corner of the City net.
City should have equalised four minutes later when they worked the ball from left to right across the face of the Liverpool area and Alvarez flicked the ball on to Mahrez. Mahrez had time and space to measure his shot but he lifted his fierce left-foot drive over the bar. On the touchline, Guardiola turned away in despair, raising his hands to the heavens.
Midway through the half, the ground rose to acclaim an unaccustomed sight. Liverpool launched a lightning counter-attack when Harvey Elliott’s volleyed pass put Salah clear on the half way line. Salah set off for goal but when he tried to square the ball to give Jota a tap-in, it was intercepted by the one City player who had sprinted back to save his team; Grealish.
A minute later, Grealish displayed the side of the game for which he is more renowned. Mahrez cut in from the City right and played the ball to Gundogan who moved it on to Grealish. Grealish looked up and slid a superb ball into the middle for Alvarez who dispatched it confidently past Alisson from close range. Alvarez ran straight to Grealish to acknowledge his end-to-end heroics. In his private box, Haaland celebrated boisterously with friends.
Rodri, who was contributing a rather industrial display for one so concerned with the aesthetics of the game, was booked for pulling back Jota and then, soon afterwards, was lucky to escape a red when he bundled over Cody Gakpo. Liverpool protested bitterly to referee Simon Hooper about his leniency, crowding the official, but Rodri escaped.
The game heated up. Alexander-Arnold caught Grealish on the side of his head with his boot as the two fell over each other and Grealish rolled on the ground in pain. Now Grealish complained about Hooper’s leniency. Alexander-Arnold and Grealish clashed again at the other end. Then Jordan Henderson and Manuel Akanji were spoken to after a particularly animated exchange of views.
It was a heated first-half and Liverpool players were unhappy that Simon Hooper didn’t show Rodri a second yellow card
Man City didn’t have to wait long in the second-half with Kevin De Bruyne making the most out of some poor defending
German midfielder Ilkay Gundogan then gave City a two-goal cushion just seven minutes after De Bruyne gave City the lead
Liverpool players seemed to lose belief as their early second-half errors saw Man City pull out a healthy gap over the Reds
Jurgen Klopp made four changes with over 20 minutes to go with Salah one of the players to be hooked off by the Reds boss
Fifty-three seconds after half time, City were ahead. Alvarez swept a pass across field to Mahrez on the right and he measured his cross to De Bruyne in the middle perfectly. The ball swung just far enough away from Alisson to elude his grasp and De Bruyne stretched out his left foot and guided the ball into the empty net. Liverpool had been caught cold. Klopp looked livid.
Seven minutes later, City extended their lead. Mahrez jinked into the box and when a shot from Alvarez was blocked in the six-yard box by Alexander-Arnold, Gundogan seized on the rebound. He delayed his shot for a split-second to commit Alexander-Arnold and then clipped his shot past him and into the corner of the net beyond Alisson.
City were rampant now. They were bewitching to watch. If Liverpool could match them last season, City have accelerated away from them this season. Alisson saved brilliantly from a shot from Grealish that was bending into the far corner but he was powerless 15 minutes from the end when De Bruyne played the ball into the path of Grealish and the England forward slid in to guide the ball past the goalkeeper.
When Grealish was substituted just before the end, Guardiola wrapped him in a bear hug and clapped him on the back over and over again. It was a statement performance from Grealish. It was a statement performance from City. If Arsenal were not looking over their shoulders before this match, they will be now.
The changes made no different as Grealish deservedly got his goal just minutes later to wrap up the three points for the hosts
Guardiola hugs Grealish who got a standing ovation from the City fans as he was substituted in the final minutes of the game
The Premier League’s top scorer Haaland had to sit on and watch the action from the stands because of his injury
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