Liverpool crushed Manchester City 3-0 in the Champions League quarter-final first leg on Wednesday, with Mohamed Salah, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sadio Mane, all scoring in the first half. Here are three lessons from the all-English clash at Anfield:
Salah out-shines De Bruyne
Billed as a showdown between Player of the Year contenders Mohamed Salah and Kevin De Bruyne, there was no doubt who underlined their credentials for the award as the Liverpool winger ran riot. The irrepressible Salah started Liverpool’s goal spree in the 12th minute when, benefitting from a contentious decision not to flag him offside, he burst clear and set up Roberto Firmino. After City failed to clear, Salah fired home from close-range for his 38th club goal of the season. Salah was a constant menace with his pace and poise. He set up the third goal with an exquisite cross to Sadio Mane, who dissected the City defence to head past Ederson. In contrast, De Bruyne was unable to cope with Liverpool’s relentless pressing. The Belgian has been the driving force behind City’s majestic league form, but he was rendered impotent as Jurgen Klopp’s men surrounded him each time he took possession in a dangerous area. The sight of Salah coming off with an injury in the second half was a welcome moment for City and Klopp will be keeping his fingers crossed he is fit for the second leg.
Deja vu for City
City failed to learn the lessons from their 4-3 defeat at Anfield in January as they naively allowed themselves to be exposed at the back again. City boss Pep Guardiola had insisted he wouldn’t set out to defend in the first leg and some will applaud him for sticking to the formula that has carried his team to the brink of the Premier League title. But Liverpool’s ability to break at pace and with deadly efficiency makes them uniquely placed to exploit City’s soft centre and Guardiola should have taken measures to guard against that. The Reds are only side to beat City in league this term, but even they must have been amazed at how easily they scored three in the first 31 minutes. Weak in the tackle in midfield and slow to react at the back, the defining moment came when James Milner’s no-nonsense challenge set up Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s 20th minute rocket. Oxlade-Chamberlain also scored against City in January. On that occasion, Mane and Salah were among the scorers, and it was the same script as they both netted again to leave City in tatters.
City have reigned supreme in the Premier League this season, but Guardiola’s team looked shell-shocked by the hostile reception they received on one of Anfield’s more memorable European nights. Liverpool have won the European Cup on five occasions, most recently in 2005, but only on a select few occasions during those glorious campaigns were the Kop’s decibel levels as high as they were when the hosts tore into City in the first half. The frenzied atmosphere was the more acceptable face of the disturbing pre-match scenes that saw Liverpool forced to apologise after City’s team bus was badly damaged by bottle-throwing fans on the way to the stadium. Rattled by their vicious greeting, passive City produced a rare limp performance and didn’t manage a single shot on target. This is only City’s second Champions League quarter-final and they weren’t ready to match Liverpool’s intensity. Finding a way to emulate the passion on and off the field will hold the key to City’s hopes of a miraculous second leg comeback.