Man City give Liverpool’s cock-a-hoop Kop a swift title reply as they regain top spot – Stuart Brennan



The Kop sang “We Shall Not Be Moved!” as Liverpool knocked Manchester City off the top of the Premier League for the first time since December. They were right for less than an hour.

The Anfield narrative since City’s wasteful draw at Crystal Palace a fortnight ago has been of a flagging Blue horse, while the Merseysiders go from strength to strength, gradually overhauling Pep Guardiola’s side and, with the Etihad showdown between the two just eight days away, delivering the psychological blow of toppling them from the heights with a 2-0 win over Watford. The only problem is that for all Jurgen Klopp’s talk of his team being “mentality monsters”, City have the belief, the ability and an unquenchable team spirit that makes talk of “pressure” and mind games virtually irrelevant.

Kevin De Bruyne took five minutes to smash Liverpool hopes of possessing a points edge before the two teams meet at the Etihad Stadium next Sunday, and with Ilkay Gundogan making it two by half-time, City cruised effortlessly into a crucial fortnight with three points, a clean sheet and plenty in reserve. They were able to hold John Stones in reserve following his injury scare on England duty, while Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez were also on the bench as Guardiola’s husbands his resources ahead of a huge fortnight.

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But with Raheem Sterling picking up where he left off for England in midweek by claiming two assists and showing that he, like Mahrez, can terrorize the left side of the defence, the Blues head into the pointed end of the season in great shape. Phil Foden’s selfless work created the space for midfield duo De Bruyne and Gundogan to do the damage, while Jack Grealish’s subtle inside work ensured Joao Cancelo was a constant menace down the left-hand side.

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That early goal had a beautiful simplicity about it – one of those goals that make you think; “Now why don’t they do that more often?”

Kyle Walker’s switch of play, finding Joao Cancelo on the left as Jack Grealish dragged the right back inside, was important. He quickly found Rodri, who lofted his pass to Sterling, relishing the space created by the earlier switch. He volleyed his cross instantly into the path of De Bruyne, who brilliantly crashed it into the top corner with five minutes on the clock. So good it looked simple, and any pressure Liverpool hoped to have exerted with their earlier win was already dissipating in the Lancashire chill.

The goal took De Bruyne to ten for the season in the Premier League, making him the joint top scorer in that competition with Riyad Mahrez and Sterling – only the second time the ‘King of the Assist’ has hit double figures in the league. Burnley reacted by trying to cut it up rough a bit, and when Wout Weghorst took a sly look at Rodri before flinging an elbow at his head, he was perhaps lucky that referee Craig Pawson quickly produced just a yellow card – a VAR intervention might otherwise have suggested it was a red card offense.

The Clarets’ hustle, bustle and physicality – as they tried to realize Pep Guardiola’s metaphor of a trip to Turf Moor being like a visit to the dentists – was shrugged off by the Blues. They were two goals up in 25 minutes, with another goal of stunning simplicity, and again with Sterling as the creator.

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City worked the ball out neatly from the back, and when Kyle Walker fed Sterling, a swift one-two with De Bruyne sent the England man haring down the right again. Sterling’s end-product has perhaps been the area he needs to improve most, but again he was perfect. The cut-back to Gundogan’s galloping run was precision itself, and the German swept the ball home on the volley with the minimum of fuss.

As far as trips to the dentist go, this one was a painless cinch, with City ruthlessly crushing any attempts by the Clarets to wield the drill. City were enjoying the sunshine and quickly clicked into gear in the second half, Sterling’s nutmeg pass freeing De Bruyne on the right, and his pass being swept goalwards, again by Gundogan, but Nick Pope in the Burnley goal was equal to the effort.

With Burnley offering little by way of goal threat, City simply cruised through the second half, sub Gabriel Jesus still managing to hit the post and blaze the rebound wide. Job done, and now on to Atletico, Liverpool, Atletico and Liverpool.

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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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