Liverpool Beats Manchester City but Barely Dents Its Invincible Aura

Liverpool Beats Manchester City but Barely Dents Its Invincible Aura


In those 10 minutes at Anfield, at least one of those questions was answered. Despite a late rally — goals from Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan closed the gap to 4-3 and turned Anfield into a nervous, impatient wreck as injury time ticked down — City could not recover from the blows Liverpool had landed in that nine-minute spell. Whatever else City achieves this year, it will not go down in history as invincible.

That is a fact that will resonate rather more outside the club than it does inside. Guardiola has always scoffed at the idea that City might not lose a game. He has made it abundantly clear that it was not a target going into the season, and nor has it become one over the last few months.

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Manchester City’s Nicolas Otamendi, right, and Fernandinho in the second half.

Credit
Peter Powell/European Pressphoto Agency

All that matters to Guardiola, to his players, his staff and his employers, is that City wins the Premier League title, and ideally the Champions League, too, and does so in style.

He is smart enough to realize why the idea of an invincible season had taken root, though. The Premier League, more than anything else, cannot function without a story. Normally, that centers on who will or will not win the championship. City’s superiority has rather rendered that discussion moot. And so, in the vacuum, the story became a slightly more far-fetched one, one that has only been written once, by Arsenal, since the death of Queen Victoria.

The question now is what comes next, what the story is from here. It takes a peculiar desperation to imagine that this defeat heralds the reinvigoration of the title race, though it is true to say that City has looked more flawed in recent weeks than seemed possible just a couple of months ago.

Crystal Palace came within a missed penalty of beating City at the end of December. Bristol City, of the second-tier Championship, gave Guardiola’s team a scare in the League Cup just last week. Now Liverpool, in one 10-minute blitz, seemed to fill with doubt a team that had been so composed, so unruffled, all season.

All three did so by refusing to be cowed by City. Most teams, faced with Guardiola’s expansive style and swirling passing patterns, had decided simply to batten down the hatches and hope for the best.

Like Bristol City and Palace — and Napoli and Shakhtar Donetsk before them, in the Champions League — Liverpool took the opposite approach. Klopp told his team, with the lead and through the medium of mime, not to take its feet off City’s throats, and it worked. “There is no alternative way,” Klopp said after the game. “It is either that or you sit on the edge of your box and hope you win the lottery.”

It is tempting to believe that others might spot the pattern, and have the courage to do the same. It does not need to work every time, after all, for a title race of some sort to unfold: Should Manchester United win on Monday, City’s lead in the table would be down to 12 points. Two more bad days for Guardiola’s team would be enough for a little drama, at least, to creep back into proceedings.

Sadly — for everyone but City — that is unlikely. Even without Philippe Coutinho, departed for Barcelona, Liverpool appeared to be the most likely team England could offer to halt City in its tracks. True, Manchester United and Chelsea still have to visit City at the Etihad, and City must travel to Arsenal and Tottenham, but it always felt as if Sunday was the most arduous test that remained.

In part, that was because of City’s remarkably poor record at Anfield — no wins here for 15 years, a period in which City has been on an inexorable rise and Liverpool, largely, has been treading water — but more significantly, it was because Liverpool seemed to possess all the weapons needed to do to Guardiola’s team what Guardiola’s team does to so many others. Liverpool can press like City, can counterattack like City, and can sweep teams aside like City. It just does not do any of it as reliably as City does.

Few other teams in the Premier League — perhaps Tottenham apart — have that skill set. Certainly not enough that City might yet be caught. Going for the kill worked for Liverpool. It likely would not work for many others. This is not an Independence Day moment, a blueprint for how to bring down an empire. Those 10 minutes in the white heat of Anfield guaranteed that City would not end the season unbeaten, but it is not a sign that Guardiola’s team is starting to bend and break with the pressure. It will not be as invincibles, but its place in history still awaits.



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