Liverpool vs Manchester City match report: Gigi Wijnaldum secures crucial victory against limp and lifeless City

Liverpool 1 Manchester City 0: Wijnaldum's early header exposed a familiar problem among Pep Guardiola's side as City fall away from the title battle in defeat

Georginio Wijnaldum celebrates after heading Liverpool into the lead against Manchester City
Georginio Wijnaldum celebrates after heading Liverpool into the lead against Manchester City

The money from Abu Dhabi has managed to fix most things that were broken at Manchester City but not their record at Anfield, which has remained dreadful. Since Boxing Day 1981, they had managed a single win in the red half of Merseyside and that was 13 years ago.

Few of Manchester City’s Anfield defeats could have hurt as badly as this one. In what felt like one of the games of the season, Liverpool largely lived up to their pre-match billing while Manchester City emphatically did not. Once Gigi Wijnaldum put Liverpool ahead in the eighth minute, it was a lead they seldom looked like squandering.

Like the new year fireworks that exploded over the stadium during the interval, it may be premature to make judgements but in the race to catch Antonio Conte’s remorseless machine, Liverpool look the better placed. They are six points rather than 10 adrift of Chelsea and they will not have the encumbrance of European football in the second half of the season.

That Boxing Day defeat in 1981 left Liverpool 12th, nine points adrift of the leaders, Swansea, in the days when a win gave you two. Bob Paisley rallied his men to win the title and Jürgen Klopp finds himself in a better position. Pep Guardiola, in contrast, is nowhere near where he expected to be when 2017 opens.

Klopp versus Guardiola pitched them where they found themselves in the Bundesliga. Guardiola at the club with the money, Klopp in charge of a club that prides itself on its passion with Borussia Dortmund’s ‘Yellow Wall’ replaced by the red wall of Anfield’s Kop. Like the clashes between Bayern Munich and Dortmund, this seemed like a game between two teams at their peak. We were half right. Liverpool before the interval were exhilarating while Manchester City delivered their limpest 45 minutes of the season.

Wijnaldum rose highest to head in Adam Lallana's deep cross

Before this game, Guardiola had remarked that Klopp was probably the best manager in the world when it came to attacking play and Liverpool took just eight minutes to prove it. There were three Manchester City defenders around Wijnaldum when he moved to meet a deep and fabulously-delivered cross from Adam Lallana but none got near the Dutchman whose header thundered into the corner of Claudio Bravo’s net.

When it came to picking up survivors from the wreckage of Newcastle United in May, Liverpool did better with Wijnaldum than Tottenham did with their £30m transfer of Moussa Sissoko.

Manchester City have regularly conceded early goals under Guardiola and this was the sixth time they had done so in the opening quarter of an hour. This time, however, they seemed to have little idea how to claw their way back into the game.

Raheem Sterling would have known what to expect on his return to Anfield. The booing was relentless and there were plenty of repetitions of football’s most inaccurate chant: “There’s only one greedy b*stard.”

The anger from the stands did not inspire Sterling. There were a couple of insipid crosses and one moment when he tangled with Roberto Firmino by his own corner flag, got into terrible trouble and had to be rescued by Pablo Zabaleta.

Jurgen Klopp embraces Wijnaldum after Liverpool's win over Manchester City

There was a lack of drive about much of Manchester City’s play. In any midfield square-up between Yaya Toure and Wijnaldum, you would back the great Ivorian but this time Wijnaldum flicked the ball over Toure with the kind of arrogance that was matched when Simon Mignolet, well out of his area, juggled the ball in front of Sergio Aguero. Returning for his first game since his dismissal in the 3-1 defeat by Chelsea at the start of the month, Aguero touched the ball four times in the first half. Not even Gerd Müller in his pomp would have had an impact with service like that.

He produced City’s first shot on target in the 54th minute, a low drive, lacking power, which rolled into Mignolet’s arms. Manchester City were better after that. They could scarcely have been worse.

Teams

Liverpool: (4-3-3) Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Klavan, Milner; Wijnaldum, Henderson (Origi 64), Can; Mane (Lucas 89), Firmino, Lallana. Substitutes not used: Karius (g), Sturridge, Moreno, Ejaria, Alexander-Arnold.

Manchester City: (4-2-3-1) Bravo, Zabaleta (Navas 86), Stones, Otamendi, Kolarov; Toure (Iheanacho 89), Fernandinho; Sterling, De Bruyne, Silva; Aguero. Substitutes not used: Caballero (g), Sagna, Fernando, Clichy, Garcia.

Referee: Craig Pawson

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