A crushing second half display saw Manchester City move 10 points clear of the reigning champions with a game in hand, after a brace from Ilkay Gundogan and efforts from Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden helped City to a first Anfield win in almost 18 years.
Nicolas Anelka scored both goals for the Citizens on that occasion, so when Gundogan netted his second with only 20 minutes to play to make it 2-1, it almost seemed fitting. However, that was to reckon without a day to forget for goalkeeper Alisson and a moment of magic from the mercurial Foden.
Unlike the reverse fixture, the start was cagey. City dominated the ball initially without threatening, while Liverpool seemed cautious at pushing too high and leaving the space in behind.
It took almost 25 minutes for a chance of any sort, but when it arrived it really should have been converted. Trent Alexander-Arnold skinned Oleksandr Zinchenko near the byline, before whipping a cross to the unmarked Sadio Mane who could only divert his header over.
The chance seemed to galvanise Liverpool, with the home side suddenly dominating both possession and territory. Shortly afterwards, a Ruben Dias header was firmly met on the volley by Roberto Firmino from 20 yards, with Ederson alert to tip over the crossbar.
City had created nothing, but with 10 minutes of the half remaining, they were given a golden chance to take the lead.
Sterling, the most positive runner of the match for City, isolated Alexander-Arnold 1v1 and drifted past him with ease. As he got into the box, a deft stepover and touch took him past Fabinho, who flicked out a leg and brought the winger crashing down.
City had missed (literally) their last two penalties against Liverpool. Riyad Mahrez had aimed for Essex and Kevin de Bruyne had aimed at a microphone, so it seemed fitting that Gundogan aimed for a stairwell in the Kop end and joined his teammates in an apparent inability to aim at the goal.
Ederson for penalties, anyone?
Half time: Liverpool 0-0 Manchester City
The question going into the second half was simple. Would City, and more specifically Gundogan, be disheartened by yet another penalty miss?
The answer was an emphatic no.
Not even three minutes had gone when Sterling, again, found himself 1v1 with Alexander-Arnold. Once again, he drifted away with incredible ease, running into the box and finding Foden well-placed. Although his low shot was clawed away by Alisson, Gundogan found himself perfectly positioned to hammer in the loose ball, and give the away side a precious lead.
Guardiola had tweaked his system to more of a 4-4-2 after the interval, and City were much the better team because of it.
Despite this, the final ball would not quite land for the away side, and Liverpool very nearly equalised as Curtis Jones’ effort from the left ran just wide of Ederson’s far post, following a fortuitous ricochet off Joao Cancelo. It was a warning that was not heeded.
There appeared little danger from a long Alexander-Arnold ball aimed at Mohamed Salah, with Ruben Dias easily getting to the ball first. However, in trying to flick the ball past the Egyptian, he instead kicked against the onrushing Salah to leave the winger in on goal.
In trying to recover, Dias pulled at Salah’s trailing arm, who instantly collapsed to the floor for a penalty. Although there was some minor contact, the way Salah went down was frankly embarrassing, with the lack of said contact emphasised by the way Salah was able to throw his impeded arm up in the air as he did a swallow dive to the floor.
Nonetheless, the penalty stood, and was confidently dispatched by Salah for 1-1 with 30 minutes to play.
The game could have swung for Liverpool, but instead City finally started to click into gear. For the first time, the wingers were finding space and Liverpool’s depleted backline started to look stretched.
John Stones thought he had restored City’s lead with a good finish from a Foden freekick, but the flag correctly went up for a tight offside. Just moments later, and the away side did restore their advantage.
The man ultimately responsible? Alisson. First, he trod on the ball and almost allowed Gabriel Jesus to take the ball and score. As Liverpool panicked, Fabinho returned the ball to Alisson under pressure, and his first time clearance fell straight to Foden on the right edge of the box.
Foden still had Jordan Henderson to beat, and did so consummately. A quick dip of the shoulder and he was away. As Alisson came out to narrow the angle, Foden simply passed across the box to Gundogan to convert his second of the afternoon from close range.
Three minutes later, and Liverpool fan’s would have a keen sense of déjà vu.
Alisson, under pressure from Sterling this time, tried to pass to Fabinho at the corner flag instead of just clearing upfield. This time he picked out Bernardo Silva, who ran in on goal and scooped the ball over Alisson’s head to the unmarked Sterling to head in from all of a yard out.
It was a disastrous few minutes for the Brazilian, and it ended the game there and then.
Foden had been the best player on the pitch in the second half, so when Jesus chipped the ball to him on the right flank there was only one thought in his head. As Andrew Robertson backed away, Foden cut inside onto his left foot and shot in one fluid motion, with the ball scorching through Alisson’s fingertips and into the top corner.
It would be harsh to call it another error. It is debateable whether he even saw it, such was the power on the shot.
It would be the last meaningful action of the match, with Liverpool now only just fourth in the league, with City now five clear of rivals Man United along with a game in hand.
Full time: Liverpool 1-4 Manchester City
Man of the Match: Phil Foden
City as a team were poor first half, but the tactical changes at half time unleashed Foden to terrorise the Liverpool defence. Gundogan and Sterling were also excellent, but Foden was simply unstoppable, and his wonderful goal was richly deserved.