Liverpool survive Manchester City scare to reach FA Cup final after Mané double | FA Cup

In the final analysis, it was impossible not to zero at the moment when Zack Steffen wished he could be anywhere but here and Liverpool had a vice-like grip on this FA Cup semi-final that it was difficult to see them relinquishing.

Poor Steffen. Pep Guardiola had wanted to show his faith in him in the domestic cup goalkeeper but it all went wrong for the USA No 1 and Manchester City in the 17th minute. Addressing a routine back-pass and under the usual orders to play out, Ederson-style, from the back, Steffen took a heavy first touch and, after some hesitation, an even heavier second one.

Sadio Mané flew in to tackle the ball in for 2-0, Ibrahima Konaté having scored the first, and Liverpool were on their way to a final against Chelsea or Crystal Palace and, they hope, the second element of an unprecedented quadruple.

Liverpool’s dominance of the first period was total – Jürgen Klopp felt it was one of the best halves his team had played – and it would get worse for Steffen when he conceded softly at his near post from Mané for 3-0.

Mané was excellent through the middle and so was Luis Díaz on the left wing, the January signing tormenting City with his Velcro touch, quick feet and wonderful balance. Thiago Alcântara pulled the strings from further back.

It was a strange day for City, the tone set by the seven changes Guardiola made from the 0-0 draw at Atlético Madrid last Wednesday that secured progress to the Champions League semi-finals. Can any team rotate as heavily and hope to topple Liverpool? City had precious few players who were better than 6/10 and, across the piece, they were second best.

But they showed their champion courage in the second half, pulling a goal back straight away through Jack Grealish and going close to 3-2 on 71 minutes when Gabriel Jesus was denied one-on-one by Alisson.

The comeback never really felt on, as Liverpool continued to threaten at the other end but then, in what felt like the blink of an eye or, more precisely, a flick of the Riyad Mahrez afterburners, it did. On as an 83rd minute substitute – the only one Guardiola made – Mahrez tore on to a ball up the inside-right at the beginning of injury time, outstripping Andy Robertson, before crossing and watching it flick off Alisson for Bernardo Silva to tuck home.

City had the chances during the additional four minutes to have forced extra time. Fernandinho blasted high after a long throw-in had been worked to him, Mahrez saw a shot flick off the substitute Diogo Jota and fly over and Raheem Sterling dragged low at Alisson.

City had given themselves too much to do and Steffen would sink to his haunches at full-time, a clutch of teammates quickly over to console him. He had seen Mohamed Salah shoot wastefully wide on the break towards the very end while he would then get out to save at the feet of Roberto Firmino, another Liverpool substitute. It was not what his afternoon of him will be remembered for.

Celebrations after Sadio Mane scored his second goal. Photograph: Marc Atkins/Getty Images

City’s dream of another treble under Guardiola – this time, the ultimate one – is no more, even if they will surely not mind if they can preserve their one-point advantage over Liverpool at the top of the Premier League and win the Champions League. For Guardiola, it was a fourth FA Cup semi-final defeat in five.

What will be interesting to see is whether City will suffer from the disappointment or Liverpool can draw strength from the win. Liverpool, who have already secured the Carabao Cup, have been close to perfect in terms of results since the 2-2 draw at Chelsea on 2 January, the only one they have missed that has mattered being the 2-2 draw at City last Sunday .

City had suffered at Atlético and, when the teamsheets dropped, it was easy to feel that Liverpool might have the edge, Klopp having recalled his big guns after last Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final, second-leg at home to Benfica, where a 3 -3 draw ensured their progress.

When Konaté powered home a header from Robertson’s outswinging corner, the club’s fans felt it would be their day. They really believed it after Steffen’s horror moment.

City did not turn up at the start, even if Grealish, playing as the false nine, did have a fourth-minute shot blocked by Virgil van Dijk.

Bernardo Silva gives Manchester City hope with his late goal against Liverpool.
Bernardo Silva gives Manchester City hope with his late goal against Liverpool. Photograph: Justin Setterfield/The FA/Getty Images

Liverpool swarmed all over them and their third goal just before half-time was Exhibit B for the prosecution against Steffen because he was horribly slow to get down and across to Mané’s volley.

The Liverpool buildup had been of a piece with their enjoyment of the first half, all assured touches and movements that were too quick for City. Thiago slipped in between two sky blue shirts before swapping passes with Trent Alexander-Arnold and the flighted pass out right to Mané was made to measure.

City’s lifeline was fashioned by Jesus, who took a pass from Fernandinho, jinked inside Fabinho and teed up Grealish and it might have been a different story had Jesus been able to finish his one-on-one chance.

Before that, Fernandinho had escaped with a yellow card after a bad tackle on Mané and City were still in it – just about – when Salah clipped narrowly wide on 72 minutes. City would make their last-gasp push. It was not enough.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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