Title race still firmly, exhilaratingly on: Manchester City required all three points to keep their breath hot on the necks of Arsenal and they did the business supremely in a second-half show of might.
Having fallen behind to Mohamed Salah’s smash-and-grab opener, Julián Álvarez equalised to make it 1-1 at the break. Then City showed why they are the champions of the past two seasons and the dominant, garlanded side of this era.
A first killer blow was administered seconds after the interval via the kind of fast break Liverpool had hit them with. Álvarez can take bouquets for helping to create Kevin De Bruyne’s strike, as the Argentinian’s crossfield ball sliced open Jürgen Klopp’s side and found the roving Riyad Mahrez along the right. He turned the ball across and the Belgian, so often City’s key man, finished.
A memorable day for Álvarez became even rosier when his shot was blocked by Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ilkay Gündogan hooked home. The 23-year-old was surely only in the XI due to Erling Haaland’s groin problem yet Pep Guardiola had answered perfectly the poser of what to do when your 42-goal man is ruled out: select a World Cup-winner who can slot straight into the side’s seamless groove and be the standout performer.
Gündogan’s finish had the stadium bouncing and Klopp fuming. Liverpool’s manager was yet again overseeing a defensive horror show so he responded with what felt like a farcical move, dragging off four players on 70 minutes: Salah (perhaps unfortunate to be removed), Diogo Jota, Harvey Elliott and Andrew Robertson, as Roberto Firmino, Darwin Núñez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kosta Tsimikas all entered.
When the outstanding Jack Grealish gave Alexander-Arnold the runaround – swapping passes with De Bruyne – and scored, Liverpool had been humiliated by a foe who, before this term, had been their sole rivals for the championship.
Four-one was the margin of City’s last league victory over Liverpool in February 2021, too, and here it reflected how they pummelled their opponents throughout, breached only when hit by a quick break. Liverpool pounced as Alexander-Arnold dinked one of his long-range specials to Jota on halfway and, fielded at No 9, the Portuguese raced in like a natural, holding off Manuel Akanji and teeing the ball up for Salah whose lethal left foot was never going to miss.
This was a stinging black eye for City. But they, of course, know only one way: to fight back. Mahrez soon spurned a sparkling chance to equalise by blazing over. As City bombarded Liverpool they went mighty close to allowing a second sucker-punch. From a De Bruyne corner, Klopp’s side broke along the left as Salah ran in but Grealish, in the type of defensive play Guardiola adores from his attackers, raced over, stuck out a foot to stop the pass, and the ball deflected to Ederson. He soon made an impression at the other end, too. Mahrez dribbled infield from the right and tapped to Gündogan’s who relayed to Grealish. His slide-rule ball was perfect and Álvarez made no mistake.
The goal had Guardiola comically involving Liverpool’s Tsimikas, who was warming up, in a high-five and there was further hilarity from the Spain midfielder Rodri who, having coated Scotland for their underhand tactics in mid-week, did the same to Cody Gakpo, felling the Dutchman illegally.
But at the final whistle, the midfielder and his team had the last laugh, and one loud enough to be heard at the Emirates where the league leaders, Arsenal, will host Leeds.