UNITED KINGDOM, March 2 – Liverpool avenged their League Cup heartache as they condemned Manchester City to a third consecutive Premier League defeat with a 3-0 victory at Anfield on Wednesday.
City beat Liverpool in the League Cup final on Sunday but there was to be no repeat for Manuel Pellegrini’s side as Liverpool’s superior commitment and possession paid off on a bitterly cold night on Merseyside.
Goals from Adam Lallana, James Milner and Roberto Firmino left City’s title challenge in tatters and they now sit 10 points behind leaders Leicester, with even their top four place under threat from Manchester United, who are level on points with their rivals.
Yaya Toure’s calm spot-kick won the Wembley shoot-out for City, who were also indebted to goalkeeper Willy Caballero’s three penalty saves.
But both were absent for this rematch, with Caballero resuming his place on the bench as Joe Hart returned for this critical match while Toure was absent with a foot problem.
Liverpool’s best player on Sunday had been Lucas Leiva, deputising in central defence, but he was missing on this occasion due to a thigh problem as Reds boss Jurgen Klopp made five changes.
Daniel Sturridge was also sidelined, but any Liverpool fears about their attacking intent without the England forward were soon forgotten.
As a result of Liverpool’s switches, the home side looked much fresher than City.
The Reds enjoyed far more possession as the first half progressed but City’s defence, led be the ever-impressive Vincent Kompany, refused to be cowed.
City produced few clear-cut chances as one Sterling effort flew into the Kop end but Liverpool then found another gear and set themselves on the path to victory.
After 33 minutes, Lallana had few options available from 30 yards out so decided to test Hart and his surprising effort snuck into the bottom corner.
The goal caught Hart, and Anfield, unawares and was initially barely celebrated as few in the stadium knew it had settled in the back of the net.
– Slice of luck –
However, four minutes before the break there was absolutely no doubt that Milner had doubled the lead as he finished off a wonderful passing move to poke past Hart.
Seconds before the interval, Liverpool also got a slice of luck where Milner clearly handballed a Sergio Aguero header from a corner but it was missed by the officials.
The incident was an indicator that it would be Liverpool’s night and they confirmed that after the restart.
A vocal and excited Anfield urged Liverpool forwards and Firmino was again at the heart of the action in the second half, pulling the strings against a City side that began to look increasingly ragged.
Liverpool’s freshness paid off again as Firmino capped off a superb passing move.
Gael Clichy’s poor tackle allowed Lallana to pick the ball up outside the penalty area and his inch perfect pass found Firmino, who slotted into the far corner.
Liverpool continued to hunt for goals and Hart had to be at his very best shortly after the third goal.
England midfielder Milner blasted goalward from 25 yards, but Hart did well to tip the effort wide.
City never gave any hint that they could fight their way back into the contest and Liverpool also took their foot off the gas towards the end because it was clear that the job was done.
But the loss is another hammer blow to City’s title ambitions this term and the inquest in the coming days about the manner of this defeat is likely to be loud and painful for Pellegrini.