Belfast Telegraph

Liverpool sink Manchester City hopes

Liverpool 2 - Man City 1

By Tim Rich

This was a match that turned two seasons. For Manchester City, five points behind Chelsea, having played a game more, it was the moment their grip on their title loosened, perhaps fatally. For Liverpool, this was a wildly improbable victory which makes it likelier than not they will finish in the Champions League places.

Dawn would have been starting to break over the Mersey when Brendan Rodgers and his team reached their beds on Friday morning.

They had endured two hours of gruelling, draining football against Besiktas in Turkey.

There would have been the crawl through Istanbul's choking traffic and a four-hour flight, carrying with them all the baggage that comes from a lost penalty shoot-out.

They would have one day to prepare for the champions of England. There seemed no logical reason to imagine they might win.

It may not have been coincidence, but neither Philippe Coutinho nor Jordan Henderson, the two principal reasons why Liverpool won this match, travelled to Turkey.

Each scored a staggeringly good goal - between an Edin Dzeko equaliser - and, far from fading, as most at Anfield would have expected, Liverpool finished the stronger.

On the final whistle, Rodgers turned to the Main Stand, punched the air twice and grinned hugely. This was one of the biggest victories of his time as Liverpool manager.

"It was a brilliant result and a brilliant performance," he reflected.

"We were relentless. Landing at half four in the morning and then not getting to your bed until six o'clock and then having to prepare for a game against the champions is no mean feat - but to play like that is something else.

"As the game went on, we became more dangerous and we restricted Manchester City to one shot on target.

"The momentum, the flow and the rhythm were always with us. If we reach the top four it will be a more significant achievement than it was last year because of where we are coming from."

The only travel City had to endure in midweek was negotiating the traffic jams on the Mancunian Way that lead to the Etihad Stadium but they still suffered a chastening European experience at the hands of Barcelona.

As they came off the pitch, some of Manuel Pellegrini's side might have been grateful Luis Suarez had left Liverpool. However, they still had Coutinho to come to terms with.

Neymar, who was in the Barcelona side that sashayed through the same leaden 4-4-2 formation Pellegrini employed at Anfield, remarked that Coutinho, whom he has known since he was 16, could become the brightest star in the Premier League.

This game demonstrated why. City never came to terms with either the young Brazilian or his strike partner, Raheem Sterling.

Coutinho did not appear to be in a dangerous position when the ball came to him with 15 minutes to go - he was on the left of the penalty area and there seemed to be too many blue shirts around him. One of them was Samir Nasri, who was just about to close him down when Coutinho shot. Once more Joe Hart flung himself to reach a ball bound for the top corner of his net. Once more, he clutched only rain-spattered air.

"The kid has got so much ahead of him," said Rodgers. "He came to us at 19 and in a way he is still adapting to us and to this country.

"To have beaten Joe Hart, who is 6ft 5in, from that angle and with that power is astonishing.

"He is a star and although there are improvements he can make to his game he loves it here because he is playing for a team that loves to play a technical game. He cost eight-and-a-half million quid, by the way."

Liverpool stand fifth, putting a slow start to the Premier League campaign behind them and appearing to have sufficient momentum to seriously challenge Arsenal and Manchester United for a top-four slot.

Henderson said: "We defended well, showed great character when it went back to 1-1, and then Philippe came up with another fantastic goal to win the game for us.

"We've got to keep going. Every game is as big as each other.

"We've got another big game against Burnley on Wednesday. We've got to keep building and finish strongly."

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