Manchester City blew the title race back open as they won an epic encounter that ended Liverpool’s unbeaten start to the season.
Sergio Aguero clinically lashed the Citizens ahead before half time, but Roberto Firmino headed into an empty net midway through the second half to send the travelling fans into raptures.
The second half was played at a barely believable tempo and City regained the lead from a lightning counter attack that ended with Leroy Sane precisely finishing Raheem Sterling’s pass.
Liverpool threw everything at the Champions from then on and were almost rewarded, but a strong hand from Ederson denied Mohamed Salah as the game neared stoppage time.
Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling squandered further chances to make the points safe for City, but in the end they closed out the result to bring themselves to within four points of their opponents at the top of the league.
A game for the ages
If a non-English fan wants evidence that the Premier League is the greatest league in the World, show them this game.
Despite not being open until the final moments, the game was played at a lightning pace. At the tail-end of a gruelling festive period, both teams will surely have left the field in agony.
The opening exchanges were as expected, tense. City swarmed all over Liverpool and starved their midfield of James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum of time and space.
The champions could not maintain that tempo however, and the game briefly dipped into a fiery midfield battle reminiscent of October’s 0-0 draw at Anfield, with neither side willing to take risks.
It was rare that attacking flare had a chance to shine through, but neat interplay from Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah almost clinched the opening goal for Sadio Mane. The post denied him before John Stones and Ederson combined with the grace of Laurel and Hardy to eventually clear.
Aguero’s brilliantly taken near post finish five minutes before half time stoked the flames further, and both teams will surely have welcomed the half-time whistle and an opportunity to get some rest.
The second half was an incredible spectacle. First Firmino and then Sane finishing off beautiful team moves as the game opened up.
The Etihad became a cauldron of noice as Salah, Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling missed chances to add to the scoreline while Virgil van Dijk moved to centre forward in the closing stages.
But City closed the game out to bring the title race back to the boil. What a game.
Surprising starting lineups
There had been much talk around who would start for both sides, and in the end both managers made some surprise decisions.
Pep Guardiola turned a few heads by picking Danilo ahead of Kyle Walker at right back, while Aymeric Laporte switched to left back in place of Oleksandr Zinchenko.
In midfield, Fernandinho was picked to start in the centre, with Silvas David and Bernardo either side of him. In attack, Leroy Sane returned in place of Riyad Mahrez.
Liverpool made two changes from the team that dismantled Arsenal five days earlier, Jordan Henderson and James Milner deputising in place of Fabinho and Xherdan Shaqiri.
Many had predicted that Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan would start for City, both having been rested for the trip to Southampton a few days earlier.
But instead Guardiola opted to stick with Bernardo and David Silva, the latter of which will surely not have had a more ineffectual game in a City shirt.
Despite again conceding some chances, City appeared to get their game plan spot on but for a few passages in either half.
Liverpool fans will be left wondering why Fabinho was left out of the starting lineup, after the Brazilian lifted the team with his second half introduction for James Milner.
Ultimately, the game was a classic yet cagey encounter, but City tipped it tactically on the day.
Liverpool top by just four points
Liverpool are still in the driving seat at the top of the Premier League, but City’s result will have given them and others a much needed psychological boost.
Had Liverpool won, they would have been nine points clear of second place Spurs. City’s win today means both they and Spurs are within two results of Klopp’s men.
It also ended the Reds’ 20-game unbeaten start to the league season, obliterating Dejan Lovren’s recent remarks about equalling Arsenal’s 2004 Invincibles and going the whole season unbeaten.
It seems incredulously early to have been a title decider, but if City do lift the trophy come May, they will look at this game as a key turning point.
Liverpool have their fate in their own hands, and have only three of the top six still to play, two of those at home. What was a three game cushion is now down to two, fans will be hoping this is one lead they do not let slip.
Goal line technology saves City
When Sadio Mane’s low shot cannoned back off the post, City fans must have sighed with relief. They would not have banked on John Stones smashing the rebounded ball into his own keeper and back on target.
Stones recovered to hook clear moments later, but most of the ground thought he was too late and that the ball had crossed the line. Eyes turned to referee Anthony Taylor, who did not give the goal.
It was an incredible passage of play, rarely seen in professional football, let alone a top of the table Premier League clash.
Watching in real time, I thought it was in. Replays showed that the ball was just millimetres short of fully crossing the line.
Times like these are when we must commend goal line technology. In a game of this magnitude, a wrong decision would have taken all the headlines.
Instead, it was clear cut and correct. No one will be more grateful than John Stones and Ederson, who would’ve featured on blooper reels for years to come if the Englishman had not managed to clear in time.
Kompany lucky not to see red?
Both teams were up for the battle that ensued, and by half-time two players from each team were in the book.
Many felt that Vincent Kompany should not have been on the pitch however, after catching Mohamed Salah with a lunge after a loose ball from John Stones on the half-hour mark.
Such a tackle would not have been a foul 20 years ago, let alone a booking, but the game has changed and many players and pundits believe it could’ve been much worse than a yellow.
The big Belgian’s foot was high as he attempted (successfully) to stop the Egyptian King from chipping over him and running clear.
But he followed through, and Salah went down in pain as the Liverpool players swarmed around the referee. Ultimately, Anthony Taylor chose to give just a yellow.
Vincent Kompany left the ground, but he did get the ball first. You’ve definitely seen them given. In my opinion Anthony Taylor was correct to keep his red card in his pocket.
Kompany went on to have an imperious performance in the City back line before making way for Nicolas Otamendi on 88 minutes.