Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino strike as Liverpool weather Manchester City’s early storm to reach semi-finals

Manchester City 1-2 Liverpool (Liverpool win 5-1 on aggregate): Gabriel Jesus struck early, but Liverpool fought back to reach the Champions League semi-finals

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer at Etihad Stadium
Wednesday 11 April 2018 07:52
Jurgen Klopp delighted to beat 'one of the best teams in the world'

Rather than one of the Champions League’s great historic comebacks, we instead saw the effect of one of its great modern players - and maybe another great Liverpool European season.

That's what it feels like it's building up to, with the team following Mohamed Salah to such an elite level. The Egyptian once again displayed the wondrous standard he has reached, as well as ice-cold serenity amid the searing heat of the Etihad to kill all of Manchester City’s energy and send Liverpool into the competition’s semi-final for the first time in a decade thanks. Roberto Firmino made it 2-1 to win the game, to go with the tie.

None of that will kill City’s anger in the time between rounds, though, as their rage about a series of decisions by Spanish referee Mateu Lahoz - and particularly the call to rule out what would have been a key second goal just before half-time - even saw Pep Guardiola sent off.

With the Catalan, it seemed, went all of City’s momentum.

It would be far too much to say that was the story of the tie given the epic that the first leg was and how epically brilliant Salah again proved himself to be, but it was undeniably a juncture moment. It also afforded the Egyptian the space for such a special finish.

The great frustration for City - and something that will hardly ingratiate their supporters to this competition any more - was that they had seemed to be doing everything right.

Performing at an utterly frenetic pace, they had looked like they would blow Liverpool’s 3-0 first-leg lead away by just blowing Liverpool away.

It really looked like that would happen.

Gabriel Jesus handed City an early lead

City even got the very early goal that is usually a fundamental requirement for such sensational recoveries, both to immediately embolden your own side and stadium as well as create instant doubt in the opposition. It was what Walter Pandiani did for Deportivo La Coruna to AC Milan within five minutes in 2004, what Luis Suarez did for Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain within three minutes last season… and what Gabriel Jesus did for City within two minutes here.

There was a game on. There was a chase.

There was then a City siege.

Liverpool themselves might have justifiably complained that a foul should have been given for Raheem Sterling’s challenge on Virgil van Dijk but something of a tone had been set by Sadio Mane’s high challenge on Kevin De Bruyne earlier on.

Pep Guardiola was sent to the stands at half-time

The match was marked by all manner of wild swings and tackles, and it said much that referee Lahoz had to start wielding yellow cards as early as the 30th minute, apparently to just calm the game down.

It couldn’t calm City down.

They were operating at a ferocious pace, driven primarily by the drive of Bernardo Silva. He was at the centre of every attack, either smashing the post with wicked drives, or offering precision to the game of pinball across the Liverpool goal that some of City’s forward play had become.

The only problem was that pace was always going to be unsustainable… so Guardiola’s side really needed another goal before it dropped, just to force the dynamic in their favour again.

Liverpool seized control in the second-half

They would argue they got it, but weren’t given it.

This is why that moment will be such a flashpoint.

That game of pinball led to Loris Karius coming out for a cross, the ball bouncing around and ending up in the net through Leroy Sane - who was suddenly in front of the goalkeeper. That would have put him in an offside position, except the ball seemed to come off James Milner.

The argument was it should have stood, as Guardiola made all too clear to the referee. A little too clear. The referee immediately directed him to the stands.

Roberto Firmino won it on the night

Guardiola evidently wasn’t taking his own early advice of slowing things down, as he had gestured to his players earlier in the game.

City could no longer muster the same intensity, so the space suddenly grew for Liverpool incision. Mane surged forward and went down in the box along with many City defenders but, with everyone else on the ground, Salah again stood up - in so many ways. He also stood the ball up, divinely and decisively lifting it into the net.

That was it. All the pace was gone from City, the chase was over. Firmino was left to win the game, but was just a detail rather than any determining factor.

All of City’s speed, all of their intensity, had already been so quickly killed by one of the Champions League fastest players. And maybe now this season’s best.

Manchester City are out of the Champions League

Cristiano Ronaldo has a rival. The defending champions Real Madrid have a rival, and one of the most historic, led by Jurgen Klopp.

Guardiola will meanwhile lead an inquest for City, who have now remarkably lost three games in a row, just as they were hoping to seal three trophies in a season. They can argue this defeat was not about their failings.

This Champions League season, however, may instead be about Liverpool. It may be about Salah. The winning of this game was.

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