LIVERPOOL, March 1- Philippe Coutinho scored a sensational winning goal as Liverpool beat Manchester City 2-1 on Sunday to close on the Premier League top four and dent their opponents’ title defence.
The Brazilian produced a tremendous finish from 25 yards at Anfield to settle a game of immense quality after City striker Edin Dzeko had cancelled out an equally spectacular opener from Jordan Henderson.
It was a victory that moved Liverpool up to fifth place in the table and cast serious doubt over whether reigning champions City can now offer Chelsea a realistic challenge for top spot.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side are now five points behind the leaders having played a game more than the Londoners, who did not feature in league action this weekend due to their League Cup final with Tottenham Hotspur.
This was an entertaining contest from the first whistle, with the hosts going close when Adam Lallana ran onto Coutinho’s through-ball but could only shoot straight at Joe Hart.
Liverpool took the lead with their next attack in the 11th minute as Henderson received Raheem Sterling’s pass before curling a fine shot from outside the box into the top-right corner.
City looked to respond immediately, with David Silva’s pass splitting the home defence and Sergio Aguero’s shot coming back off the post.
It was an open contest and Liverpool responded to City’s chance through Coutinho, who fired over on the break, while Alberto Moreno’s energetic run resulted in a wayward shot.
City drew level on 26 minutes with a goal that owed a lot to Aguero’s trickery on the edge of the area as he found the unmarked Dzeko, who produced a composed finish beyond Simon Mignolet from 10 yards out.
Dzeko could have had a second soon afterwards, but his drive from the edge of the area went just over, while at the other end Lallana fired narrowly wide after a chipped pass from Lazar Markovic.
– Aguero threatens equaliser –
Coutinho worked Hart again from 20 yards and was then involved in a well-worked move, finding Lallana, who back-heeled to Sterling, only for the England forward to lose his footing at the crucial moment.
The break-neck pace continued in the second half, with Aguero heading agonisingly just over for the visitors from Pablo Zabaleta’s cross.
Then Sterling’s scrambled shot flew fractionally wide after Lallana appeared to have laid a goal on a plate for him.
The game finally settled down midway through the second half and it appeared both sides were finally showing the effects of their mid-week European defeats — City against Barcelona, Liverpool at Besiktas.
Lallana was unable to hit the target with an acrobatic shot from a Markovic cross, but the hosts started to look the most likely to get the third goal of the game.
And it was Coutinho who provided the decisive moment, cutting infield from the left and arcing a glorious shot over Hart to claim his fifth goal of the campaign, a week after netting in similar fashion at Southampton.
Both sides brought on attacking players — Daniel Sturridge for the hosts and Wilfried Bony for City — and it was the visitors who nearly levelled when a delightful piece of skill from Aguero resulted in him shooting just wide.
City’s attacking allowed Liverpool to play on the counter-attack and Coutinho saw a deflected effort go just over from Sterling’s pass.
Then Sturridge missed an even better chance to put the game beyond doubt as he sidefooted wide after being played in by Henderson, who had won the ball off Yaya Toure.
But the missed chance did not matter as Liverpool held on without too many alarms to ensure a potentially pivotal result in both their own and City’s seasons.