Manchester City have met the challenge of the men from Merseyside with an enthralling 2-1 win at the Eithad Stadium.
The citizens had read all the hype, measured the points differential between the teams and in turn, steeled themselves to take on the undefeated Reds; with a loss potentially denting their own title challenge.
It was a simple case of the champion being challenged and a fundamental question asked of the incumbents’ courage, resilience and fortitude. As is the case with winners, City found the answers and shaded Liverpool across most aspects of the game.
Defensively sound, the Sky Blues kept the Liverpool attacking threats to an acceptable number of chances and scrambled and scrapped in the box when required. Leroy Sane, Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling broke superbly at the other end and kept the Red’s defence on constant watch.
Midfield saw a tight battle, with the connections between the lines slightly better from City’s perspective, as Liverpool struggled to provide consistent and quality ball to Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino. Both were somewhat starved of opportunities, despite Firmino heading home in the 64th minute after a cleverly played ball across the face of goal.
Earlier, Liverpool were within centimetres of opening the scoring in a desperate moment in the City box, before John Stones cleared off the line. It was to be City who struck the first telling blow however, after 40 minutes Aguero thumped home from close range and Alisson stood little chance such was the force of the blow.
With two innovative managers playing the role of conductor on the sideline, the tactical battle was compelling and led to Firmino’s equaliser, as the Brazilian slipped in to sit behind Salah as a true ten. Jurgen Klopp was clearly attempting to open up some space for the Egyptian up front and provide some extra passing avenues for a Liverpool attack than never really found top gear.
The changes did work and for a moment the idea of a 1-1 draw may have seemed appealing to Klopp. However, true to form, he kept pushing and left plenty of space for the City break that looked dangerous all night. Sterling became influential late in the contest, yet it was Leroy Sane who found the net in the 72nd minute with a sublime left foot that required both posts to eventually find the back of the net.
In boxing parlance, it was a points decision for the champ with the challenger eagerly anticipating a rematch. Sadly, that rematch will not take place in the league this season, after the two teams played out a 0-0 draw in early October.
Whilst destined not to face off directly, Manchester City and Liverpool are the class of the league as it stands. Separated now by just four points, the long season will continue to see them pull away from the other contenders and the final three weeks will most likely decide the race.
Right now, Manchester is alight, rejuvenated after recent losses. Liverpool, after their first loss, have been given a warning; on a day when the champs struck back with force.