Despite the disappointment of being knocked out of the Europa League on Thursday, the Reds managed to rouse themselves for the visit of the Champions. Despite grinding out 120 minutes and penalties in Istanbul and only arriving home in the early hours of Saturday morning, Brendan Rodgers’ players managed to find the energy to press hard, concentrate and play at a high tempo. Despite having to face the likes of Yaya Toure, David Silva and Sergio Aguero, Liverpool’s defence managed to hold firm enough to hold out for the win.
And with that, Liverpool are firmly in the hunt for a return to next season’s Champions League. After overtaking West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur in February, the Reds start the month of March by passing Southampton and the Reds now sit in fifth, just two points behind third placed Manchester United.
What a team performance it was. The victory may have been achieved by a wonderful, sublimed curling finish from vice-captain Jordan Henderson, and another Goal of the Season contender from Philippe Coutinho – following his similarly spectacular effort last weekend against the Saints – but it was all about how the team managed to work together and for each other for the whole game.
A somewhat makeshift back three saw the much-maligned Dejan Lovren start a third consecutive game, and along with Martin Skrtel and versatile midfielder Emre Can, only gave Aguero one sniff at goal – albeit a good one as the Argentine striker supreme saw his only shot on goal hit the post. Yaya Toure, and to a lesser extent Silva, kept attempting the overhead pass from deep to try to find Aguero in-behind, but the three at the back always managed to snuff the danger out before the ball could reach City’s frontman.
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Jordan Henderson gave another sterling performance in his half-season-long auditioning to be Steven Gerrard’s successor, with his goal coming from Coutinho’s pressing of Fernandinho and Raheem Sterling’s side-rule pass. Sterling had a decent game, as his main job was to constantly harry the trio of Vincent Kompany, Elaqium Mangala and more importantly Yaya Toure.
Whereas Lazar Markovic had minimal attacking threat at right wing-back – though he did supply a great lobbed ball for Adam Lallana’s first-half chance – it was Alberto Moreno on the other side which did the most damage from the Reds’ flanks. The Spanish wing-back gave City’s Pablo Zabaleta – who at one time was the league’s best right-back – a very difficult time, while also working well with Lovren and Joe Allen when keeping the left-sided area of Liverpool’s defensive shape.
Allen was another one who surprisingly impressed. Many doubted if the Welsh international could deal with the muscle of Yaya Toure and Fernandinho, but Allen managed to hold the midfield together and find forward passes. This was probably Allen’s best performance of this season so far. Allen, and Henderson, may have been partially at fault for City’s first half equaliser, when both were too far from their defence line to track Silva, but both worked well together in denying City any space in the second half.
The Man of the Match award was certainly a very tight toss-up between Coutinho and Lallana. For Lallana, he really did well finding spaces in between City’s backline and midfield duo. The English international had a few opportunities to score, but was rather unfortunate to have squandered one and had another two called for offside. Considering Lallana had to shift positions during the game, first to right wing-back then to left wing-back, he did really well in the defensive side of the game as well, and had enough energy in reserve to help his side see out the game.
But amongst the star men in this team performance, one still stood out, and that was the Brazilian magician Coutinho. Fresh from his early spectacular goal against Southampton last week, Coutinho repeated that feat with a wonder winner – which also means the Brazilian also repeated his feat of scoring the winner in the corresponding fixture last season. Besides this sublime winner, Coutinho contributed significantly to the all-round team performance. Along with Lallana, he kept finding space between the lines and as part of the attacking trio, Coutinho pressed high and hard against City’s midfielders. Leaving him at home on Thursday now seems more vindicated than previously. Coutinho was the bright spark that linked everything good together.
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Rodgers will be hoping his Brazilian magician will continue his impressive form against Burnley in midweek, and the manager will certainly be looking for his side to continue with the same against supposedly ‘lesser’ team, in their bid for a top four, even top three place. With trips to the Emirates and Stamford Bridge, and a visit of United to come, it is simply imperative that Liverpool’s players maintain their individual performances as well as the team’s momentum.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Darren C.