9 minutes of mayhem end City’s bid to be the ‘Invincibles’
LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — Manchester City’s quest to be the latest “Invincibles” of English soccer ended thanks to nine minutes of mayhem on Sunday.
Hounded and harassed by Liverpool’s high press inside a raucous Anfield, City fell apart through a series of defensive mistakes and went from being level at 1-1 after 59 minutes to trailing 4-1 in the 68th minute.
City defender Kyle Walker rubbed his face in disbelief. Pep Guardiola, City’s manager, looked at the ground in shock.
City recovered admirably to lose 4-3 but its five-month, 22-match unbeaten start to the league is over. Arsenal’s undefeated Premier League season in 2003-04 won’t be emulated for at least another year. Preston was the other team to go through a top-flight season unbeaten, in 1888-89.
“We lost a little bit of our control,” Guardiola said of the atmosphere. “We were involved in the environment of Anfield for many, many reasons.”
This was seen as the toughest test in City’s final 16 games of the season — the team hasn’t won at Anfield since 2003 — and so it proved. Liverpool was without the departed Philippe Coutinho and injured new signing Virgil van Dijk, but showed once again that there is no more dangerous team in matches between members of England’s “Big 6.”
Liverpool’s effervescent front three — Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah — all scored, as did the man who might replace Coutinho in its so-called “Fab 4” attack, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The win moved Liverpool level on points with Chelsea and second-place Manchester United, with all three teams 15 points behind City. United can reduce the gap to 12 points by beating Stoke on Monday.
Arsenal’s class of 2003-04 remains in a league of its own but, 14 years on, the north London team is in disarray.
Arsene Wenger’s team lost 2-1 at Bournemouth, on the day the departure of Alexis Sanchez looked closer with Arsenal dropping the forward for the trip to the south coast. Wenger later said Sanchez’s future would be sorted “in the next 48 hours” as City and United vie for his services.
Arsenal is in sixth place, eight points off the Champions League qualification positions.
Here’s a closer look at the two games:
WHO NEEDS COUTINHO?
Many wondered if Liverpool’s attack would stutter following the departure of Coutinho early this week. The win over City answered that.
“It sent the right statement,” Klopp said. “It’s not that I said in the meeting, ‘Boys, by the way, it would help a lot if you could win tonight and no one speaks about Philippe Coutinho,’ because we like talking about him. He was probably still jumping in his living room in Barcelona.”
Oxlade-Chamberlain gave Liverpool the lead in the ninth minute with a long-range strike that Coutinho often produced, before Leroy Sane equalized just before halftime. Then came City’s implosion.
Roberto Firmino knocked John Stones off the ball and deftly chipped goalkeeper Ederson Moraes to regain the lead for Liverpool in the 59th minute. Sadio Mane smashed a rising shot high into the net in the 61st after Nicolas Otamendi was dispossessed, and Mohamed Salah capitalized on a weak clearance from Ederson to chip the goalkeeper from 45 meters (yards) in the 68th. In between the second and third goals, Mane struck the post.
“The pressing around the goals was different planet,” Klopp said, adding of the atmosphere: “It’s one of the best places in the world of football if we are on our toes.”
City threatened an amazing comeback after goals by Bernardo Silva, in the 84th, and Ilkay Gundogan, in the first minute of stoppage time, but Liverpool held on in a nervy finale.
“To lose is never good news,” Guardiola said. “But all teams lose games. What is important when you lose games, is to not lose again.”
Sane added: “At the end of the season, when we win the Premier League, nobody cares if we lost a game.”
With Sanchez dropped and both Mesut Ozil and Laurent Koscielny injured, Arsenal’s lineup looked a shadow of the past teams under Wenger and was possibly one of its weakest in recent memory.
It couldn’t handle the fightback from Bournemouth, which started when Callum Wilson equalized in the 70th minute from a cross that Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech raced from his line in an attempt to block. Wilson then set up Jordon Ibe for the winner in the 74th minute.
Hector Bellerin opened the scoring in the 52nd for Arsenal, which is in sixth place and has dropped eight points off the Champions League qualification positions.
“We were 1-0 up and suddenly we lost two goals and we don’t know where they came from,” Wenger said.
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80