In an immense night of football, Manchester City beat Liverpool 2-1 to fire themselves back into the title race.

The defeat was Liverpool’s first in the Premier League this season and reduces their lead over Manchester City to just four points. What did we learn?

1. Win midfield: win the game

There was so much talk about where this game would be won and lost, with so many theories, but Pep Guardiola did what he always did: trusted in his midfield. He knew that midfield dominance would decide the game, and it was proven thus.

Fernandinho and Bernardo Silva were absolutely brilliant from start to finish. Both men recovered the ball constantly from Liverpool, utterly neutering the Reds’ ability to drive the ball forward through midfield (it was no coincidence that the one time they escape Bernardo and Fernandinho, they created their only major chance of the first-half) and then moved it forward with supreme precision. Fernandinho was spraying passes around the field like his name was Xabi Scholes-Pirlo, and Bernardo created City’s opener with a lovely run and low cross.

The importance of midfield was perhaps best illustrated in the second half, when Liverpool’s best spell of the game came when they replaced James Milner with Fabinho. This had two key functions: it introduced an excellent midfielder in Fabinho and moved the awful Jordan Henderson out of key zones, helping redress the unchallenged state of play in midfield that City had previously enjoyed. There was no mistake that Liverpool scored during this period.

Then Pep Guardiola answered this by removing the disappointing David Silva and bringing on Ilkay Gundogan. The German helped City recapture their midfield control, giving their front three a more stable platform upon which to attack. In response to this change Liverpool’s midfield had to push up higher to combat City, in effect allowing City to score their game-winner.

Midfield, as always, was the key.

2. A full-back fiesta!

This game was largely defined by its four full-backs. The two second-half goals in particular were all about the impact the full-backs had on the game. First there was Aymeric Laporte, City’s best centre-back filling in that problem position of left-back. Laporte was, for the most part, good. He handled Liverpool’s incursions and moved the ball well. It’s clear he’s no left-back, but he’s the best of City’s back-ups.

Then there’s Danilo, another back-up starting because of Kyle Walker’s wretched form of late. The Brazilian was average; using the ball with a minimum amount of competence (although his one good pass came in the build-up to City’s winner). Without the ball he was never obliterated until Liverpool actually tested him, with a cross for the second goal sailing over his head as he was poorly positioned.

That cross came from Liverpool’s right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold, and it was aimed at Liverpool’s left-back Andrew Robertson. The Scot volleyed the ball back across goal, allowing Roberto Firmino to pop up and briefly equalise for the Reds.

Alexander-Arnold was, as per usual, not exactly great defensively but really, really good in attack with the ball at his feet. Robertson, in addition to the assist, was sublime all night long. Routinely clamping down on Raheem Sterling’s wing wizardry in a way that really allowed Liverpool to stay in the game. Kyle Walker even came on for the last few minutes to add to the full-back fiesta!

3. Automatic Aguero

Sergio Aguero at home against Liverpool is just automatic. The Argentine is awful at Anfield, having never scored there, but every time The Reds come to the Etihad, Aguero gets a goal. And tonight, in a game so riddled with tension, that streak continued.

It was a neat low cross from Bernardo Silva out on the left, and importantly it was directed towards Dejan Lovren rather than Virgil Van Dijk. Not that Lovren made a mistake, he defended just fine, but there’s always a chance Van Dijk does something supernatural.

So the ball goes to Lovren and Aguero just steals in front of him. Now he’s got a tiny angle to aim at goal and only his weak foot to fire from, but does that stop him? Does it heck. He unleashes what can only be described as a gunshot up and into the roof of the net. Alisson’s hand goes up to try and palm the ball away at his near-post but by the time his arm has extended, the ball is in.

The shot was so fast it broke the sound barrier on the way in (probably) and gave City a huge lead as well as making Aguero the first player to score in seven consecutive home games against a single side. Aguero is so consistently good at the Etihad that it was a genuine shock that he failed to beat Alisson 1v1 late in the game. Though he did manage to play his part in the game-winning goal, so there you go.

4. Liverpool bring their European headaches home

Liverpool came into this game with a superb away record in the Premier League. They had won eight and drawn two of their ten trips away from Merseyside. They looked solid and dangerous, a marked contrast to the Champions League where they lost all three games and didn’t play well once (they’ve actually lost five away games on the bounce in Europe).

Today felt like a European away game than a domestic one. Liverpool approached it with a hesitance, there was fear in their eyes and in their play. All of the assurance they had taken on the road in the Premier League was gone, and it was replaced with the panicked and hurried nonsense of the trips to Naples, Belgrade and Paris.

Even when Liverpool went behind, their riposte wasn’t the whirlwind we usually get. With the exception of eight minutes when Fabinho came on up to when Ilkay Gundogan entered the game, Liverpool were only as dominant as City allowed them to be and with some smarter decision-making on the break the Champions could have won this by more than one goal. The result wasn’t great, but the performance is what will trouble Jurgen Klopp more. He will hope to get this first league loss out of his system.

5. S-A-S strike City back into the hunt

City needed something special to hammer back at Liverpool after Firmino’s equaliser. With the exception of PSG and Red Star Belgrade, no side had scored more than one goal against Liverpool in 90 minutes, and Red Star did it against a weakened XI.

And when Danilo fizzed the ball thirty yards forward into Raheem Sterling’s feet, the Englishman turned and ran into the middle of the pitch. He could have moved wide, but he was behind the midfield running at the defence. Sergio Aguero was on the far half-space and instantly ran infield, dragging Trent Alexander-Arnold infield and opening up an ocean of space behind him.

Into that space burst City’s third forward Leroy Sané. Sterling found him with a pass, Sané took one touch to steady the ball and then absolutely rifled it in low off the far-post. For all the talk of Liverpool’s lethal front three, it was Manchester City’s S-A-S attacking trio who ended up making the difference with their dizzying combination of individual quality and team-focused cohesion and fired the Sky Blues back into the title race. League on!

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