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Alisson’s feet put Premier League title in Man City’s hands as Liverpool face battle for top four

Champions were 4-1 losers against league leaders City at Anfield

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Sunday 07 February 2021 19:09 GMT
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Alisson (second right) gifted Man City an unassailable lead at Anfield
Alisson (second right) gifted Man City an unassailable lead at Anfield (Getty Images)

Alisson’s feet put the title into Manchester City’s hands, but Ilkay Gundogan and Phil Foden are in the kind of form to seize it themselves.

The sparkling English playmaker’s thunderous late strike completed and reflected an emphatic 4-1 victory over Liverpool. It went way beyond a “statement”, and may well have reclaimed the Premier League trophy for Pep Guardiola’s side.

They are in a supremely commanding position - five points clear with a game in hand - the sense of assurance only further illustrated by the fact this was their first win at Anfield since 2003, and the Catalan’s first at all. The argument might be that this isn’t the same Anfield without fans, that it isn't the same Liverpool with so many injuries, and that it isn't the same Alisson with errors like this.

READ MORE: Premier League table and fixtures – all games by date and kick-off time

Against that accumulation of problems, though, you only have to look at City’s accumulation of victories. This was also 10 in a row in the league, and felt like the kind of performance they have been building up to. This is certainly a new, or maybe renewed, City. That they did it without Kevin De Bruyne makes it so ominous for everyone else. Many might  be saying the title race is already finished. The psychological hold Anfield seemed to have over the team is certainly finished, but the game could well have started a bit of a hoodoo for Alisson.

The main reason for this victory was City’s superiority, but the main change in the game was the goalkeeper’s meltdown. He may well prove hugely influential in the delivery of the title again, but not in the manner anyone anticipated. Alisson’s previous heroics should not be forgotten, and mean he shouldn’t be overly criticised for this, but it was equally difficult not to think of similar horror shows for goalkeepers like Fabian Barthez against Arsenal in 2001/02 and Jerzy Dudek against Manchester United the following season. Both proved decisive in the eventual destination of those titles, too.

Guardiola has a theory that when goalkeepers have a crisis of confidence in big games it can lead to a chain reaction and almost self-fulfilling bigger errors, and that definitely seemed the case here - particularly with that key second goal from the brilliant Gundogan. City were just ready to seize on it. Alisson botched one pass and then immediately botched another in worse fashion. It was part of a general sloppiness from Liverpool that probably made that sloppiness worse, and made them more uncertain.

One of the first notable actions of a dreary first half was Trent Alexander-Arnold booting a bizarre attempt at a pass across the pitch. Raheem Sterling conspicuously targeted the full-back throughout, beating him for the opening goal that set City off, and took their performance to another level. Sure, the game had been relatively even until Alisson’s meltdown and that no doubt amplified the scale of the victory, but there was just a constant sense there was more to City - with more to come. There was a calculation to their performance, as befits Guardiola’s new approach to the team. They have been more contained of late, and more protected, but there was just a sense of release here.

Phil Foden fires home Man City’s final goal (Getty Images)

That is particularly true for Foden. Guardiola’s management of the young playmaker, initially criticised for not playing him enough, now looks like careful cultivation. His current form is better than David Silva’s last few seasons, even if that sounds sacrilegious. The goal was the crowning moment, but the run for the second - from Alisson’s second bad pass - was what really elevated and energised City. It was the urgency that won the game.

Similar applies to Guardiola’s overall management of this club. The reality remains that he has the advantage of the most lavish project in football history, backed by the billions of Abu Dhabi, but it’s equally true he is again maximising that advantage. He has figured out solutions to a lot of problems that transpired over the last year, and that is testament to his football genius.

Klopp, meanwhile, faces almost more problems than can be handled. It is as if every time he comes close to fixing one, another arises. A new problem here was City’s new approach. It undercut Liverpool’s usual game against them - but then they weren’t playing with anything like the usual intensity.

The latest problem from that is their position in the table. All of the discussion before and during the game was about the title, but the aftermath leaves the champions in a precarious position regarding the Champions League places. Klopp had no option but to admit it is now their main objective. They should still have enough to do it with ease in the end, but it is a reflection of their current problems that it looks much more difficult right now.

It is a reflection of City’s current class, meanwhile, that it’s difficult to pick out their top performer. All of Sterling, Gundogan, Ruben Dias are candidates, but it was Foden that won this game - and may well have won the title.

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