Big win at Anfield a big moment for Liverpool
LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — The night started with their team bus being smashed up by beer cans and bottles. It ended with their Champions League ambitions in pieces, too.
Manchester City’s players learnt Wednesday just why a trip to Anfield can be one of the most uncomfortable experiences in European soccer.
On an evening that will go down in the club’s long and storied lore, Liverpool reduced the best team in England to a rattled wreck by beating City 3-0 in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal match, thanks to three goals in a devastating opening 31 minutes.
Mohamed Salah — with his 38th goal of the season — Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sadio Mane all scored in front of The Kop, leaving City coach Pep Guardiola scratching his head as he paced his technical area and wondering where it all went wrong.
Was it the fact that his players came under attack before kickoff, with Liverpool fans chucking objects at City’s team bus as it traveled along Anfield Road — the street running alongside the stadium — before turning into the ground?
Was it his tactical decision to drop winger Raheem Sterling and play an extra central midfielder in Ilkay Gundogan, a move that completely backfired?
Or was it the fact that Liverpool can so often be just too hot to handle going forward?
It might have been a mixture of the three. And it leaves City’s dream of a treble — it has already won the League Cup and could clinch the Premier League on Saturday in record time — in tatters.
“In this room,” Guardiola said to reporters, “I think there is nobody, except the guy talking to you, who believes we can go through. There are 90 minutes more, we are going to try.”
As important as Liverpool’s attacking brilliance in the first half was the team’s defensive resilience in the second half.
City finished the game without having a shot on target — “I don’t know how we did that,” Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp said — and its star players muted. David Silva was subdued, Kevin De Bruyne played too deep, Gabriel Jesus barely got a touch.
An away goal would have changed the complexion of the match, especially given that Salah hobbled off injured and could yet be a doubt for next week’s second leg at Etihad Stadium.
But, with center back Dejan Lovren and right back Trent Alexander-Arnold excelling, Liverpool held firm and knows scoring one goal in the return leg at Etihad Stadium on Tuesday leaves City requiring an improbable five.
“We beat the best team in the world,” Klopp said.
“But we have to work,” he added. “You celebrate the party only when the party starts.”
In the other quarterfinal first leg on Wednesday, Barcelona beat Roma 4-1 thanks to a pair of own goals, by Daniele De Rossi and Kostas Manolas, and strikes by Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez.
Like Real Madrid, which won 3-0 at Juventus on Tuesday, Barca look assured of a place in the semifinals. And Liverpool are halfway there as well.
From the moment Liverpool scored the opening goal in the 12th minute, City looked shellshocked.
A stray pass from Leroy Sane allowed Liverpool to counter through James Milner’s pass down the right flank to Salah, who fed Roberto Firmino down the middle. Firmino’s shot was blocked by Kyle Walker, but the Brazilian managed to pass the ball across for Salah to send a rising shot into the net.
Oxlade-Chamberlain had his best game for Liverpool since his summer move from Arsenal and he rifled in the second goal in the 21st after referee Felix Brych played the advantage following Vincent Kompany’s foul from behind on Firmino.
Guardiola shook his head. De Bruyne barked at his teammates. But worse was to come for City.
Salah had a long-range shot blocked but after the ball came back to him, he sent over a curling cross that just went over Fernandinho’s head and was met with a headed finish by Mane.
It threatened to get even uglier for City in the final minutes of the half as they kept getting stretched by Liverpool’s forwards, with Nicolas Otamendi having a particularly tough time.
Liverpool didn’t want to hear the halftime whistle. And the sight of Salah hobbling off in the 52nd minute with what appeared a left groin injury gave hope to City.
The introduction of Sterling, for Gundogan, meant City reverted to its usual shape but Liverpool’s defending was excellent.
Liverpool last reached the semifinals in 2008, when it lost to Chelsea. Hold out next week and the Reds will feel they are back where they belong.
By Steve Douglas of the Associated Press. www.twitter.com/sdouglas80