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14 Jan 2018

Liverpool vs Manchester City: Five things we learned from Anfield

Manchester City's unbeaten run was finally brought to an end at Anfield on Sunday evening as a vibrant and energised Liverpool side secured a thrilling 4-3 victory against Pep Guardiola's visitors.

It was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who opened the scoring after just nine minutes, drilling home a fine strike from outside the City box to put his side in control.

The visitors equalised through Leroy Sane five minutes before the break but Liverpool's lead was restored after the restart, with Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohammed Salah all finding the back of the net.

City hit back late through Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan to put a stunning comeback on the cards but Jurgen Klopp's men held on for a memorable victory.

Here are five things we learned:

Oxlade-Chamberlain seizes his chance to shine

Having sold Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona for a staggering £142m, one of Liverpool’s main challenges for the months ahead now concerns adapting and refashioning the side’s front line in the wake of the Brazilian’s departure.

On this occasion, Jurgen Klopp opted to put his trust in the increasingly impressive Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who sparkled today under the bright lights at Anfield. With Adam Lallana back from injury, this was the former Arsenal man's big chance to prove to Klopp why he deserves a spot in Liverpool’s starting XI.

It took just nine minutes for the player to do just that, putting the hosts ahead with a stunning, low-driven shot that means he’s now scored more goals for Liverpool than he managed in any one individual season at Arsenal.

From there, Oxlade-Chamberlain moved from strength to strength as he asserted himself within the visitors’ final third through both his physicality and high-quality deliveries from the flank. This performance was reinforced by a renewed sense of confidence in the player, which was evidenced by his powerful runs into the box and numerous attempts on goal. A fantastic display in all that bodes well for the months ahead.

Coutinho who?

The so-called ‘fab four’ may no longer exist but Liverpool’s front men showed there’s life post-Coutinho at Anfield. Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Mohammed Salah and Oxlade-Chamberlain all looked sharp, spirited and hungry as they set about cutting open the visitors’ defence with their mazy runs and smart passing.

Alongside Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mane was at the heart of much of Liverpool’s surging forward movements. From dropping deep to reclaim possession to his clever flicks and tricks, the Senegalese brought a real energy to the hosts – especially when bearing down on City’s penalty area.

News that Naby Keita won’t be joining Liverpool this January may have stirred some concern among fans ahead of kick-off but, on the back of today’s performance, it’s certainly clear that Liverpool have the strength and quality within themselves to cope following Coutinho’s departure.

City’s left-back curse strikes continues

After signing for £50m in the summer, Benjamin Mendy lasted just five games before being forced onto the sidelines with a long-term ACL injury. As such, Pep Guardiola was forced to turn elsewhere in search of a viable replacement. Enter Fabian Delph. The midfielder was subsequently refashioned as a left-back and, initially, filled the gap in City’s backline.

But he’s ultimately struggled to match the high standards expected by Guardiola and today was forced off early after over-extending himself in a challenge on Oxlade-Chamberlain. How long he’ll be sidelined for remains unclear but once again City find themselves with a dilemma at left-back. It’s a position of weakness for the club and given their previous, there’s every chance they could look to sign another defender this January.

Defending remains point of vulnerability for Guardiola’s side

On the topic of defending, this was confirmation that City’s backline can be ruthlessly exploited and is far from the finished product. Liverpool’s second, third and fourth goal all came as a result of the visitors' poor decision-making at the back.

For Firmino’s second, John Stones failed to clear Oxlade-Chamberlain’s dissecting pass, opting to go shoulder to shoulder with the forward only to be muscled out of the way before the Brazilian dinked the ball over Ederson and into the back of the net. Nicolas Otamendi was at fault for the third, with his failed clearance paving the way for Salah to lay off Mane in front of goal. It was a similar story with the fourth as Ederson fired his own clearance into Salah, with the Egyptian doing the rest from 35-odd yards out.

It was a nine-minute spell in which City’s composure at the back snapped and crumbled under the weight of Liverpool’s attacking prowess. Alongside the upset of actually losing a match, to do so in such fashion will have struck a significant psychological blow to the side. Unbeatables no more.

Robertson gets the better of Sterling

What a revelation Andrew Robertson has been. Having made just 10 league appearances this season, today’s performance may well have just secured the Scot a permanent position in Klopp’s first team.

Against the talent of Raheem Sterling, Robertson was assured and disciplined throughout. Up until the winger’s substitution in the 71st minute, the Scot had his opposite man firmly tucked away in his back bottom as he repeatedly dispossessed and disrupted the City player out on the flank. Equally composed and physically dominant, it was no real match.

However, the same can't quite be said about his team-mates at the back whose questionable defending in the dying minutes of the match almost saw all Liverpool's hard work come undone. The Reds held on but it was another reminder that Virgil van Dijk, sidelined with an injury, is desperately needed to tighten up the hosts' permeable backline.

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