Man City ended the year with a narrow 1-0 defeat to Liverpool.
The Reds scored early on with what would be their only effort on target as the Blues’ long winless run at Anfield was extended by another year. Pep Guardiola will be disappointed with the result, but pleased with the way his team fought until the end.
What happened? City started brightly and were knocking the ball around confidently in the opening minutes, but Liverpool struck with their first attack as Adam Lallana’s cross found the head of Georginio Wijnaldum who out-jumped Aleks Kolarov to power the ball past Claudio Bravo. It was harsh on the Blues but given there had been no City clean sheet at Anfield since 1986, not entirely a surprise. Understandably, the goal knocked City out of their stride and with Liverpool happy to allow the visitors to keep possession and stay deep it already looked like a long haul back for Guardiola’s men. Just before the half-hour mark Roberto Firmino came within a whisker of controlling James Milner’s clever through-ball, but the Brazilian’s first touch was poor and the chance of a one-on-one was gone. It wasn’t until just before the break that the Blues threatened with menace as Kevin de Bruyne intercepted a poor pass and drove at the middle of the home defence but his shot was deflected wide as he was quickly crowded out. That was pretty much it for a half where City created little of note and Jurgen Klopp’s tactics appeared to be spot-on. It was 52 minutes before the Blues registered a first shot on target as Sergio Aguero fired a tame drive from 20 yards straight at Simon Mignolet, but it was quickly followed by a low drive by David Silva that went a few feet wide and a volley from Raheem Sterling from Yaya Toure’s excellent pass. Guardiola’s half-time tweaks were starting to pay off and suddenly the Blues looked as though they might turn things around. Liverpool looked nervous and wary as the Blues started to build a head of steam but it was crucial the spell resulted in an equaliser. City began to dominate, but with Liverpool defending in numbers, chances were at a premium and the slice of luck the Blues desperately needed just wouldn’t come as the hosts saw out the half to claim all three points.
Where was the game won/lost? Liverpool’s press and aggression in the first half was sharper and more effective. Klopp’s side closed down City whenever a player in sky blue had the ball and there always seemed to be three or four red shirts chasing and challenging. David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling all struggled to make any impact with little or no time or space to scheme – but City changed things around after the break and looked much better. By full-time, even the most partisan home fan would probably admit City’s second-half efforts merited a point – but alas the Blues ended empty-handed.
Star man Raheem Sterling never stopped running or trying at Anfield and it was he the City fans voted their man-of-the-match, perhaps just edging out the equally impressive John Stones who rarely put a foot wrong.
What it means City are now 10 points adrift of leaders Chelsea and four behind Liverpool. While there is still a long way to go, the Blues can ill-afford to drop too many more points in the coming weeks. City know better than any team in the Premier League that sizeable leads can be eaten away, but will need go into the New Year all guns blazing in order to start making ground on those teams above. Both Chelsea and Liverpool will eventually drop points and when they do, City have to win.
What’s next? City have the chance to get back to winning ways quickly with a home game against Burnley in less than 48 hours’ time. The Blues beat Sean Dyche’s side 2-1 five weeks ago but the Clarets will be confident after a 4-1 win over Sunderland.