Mohamed Salah had seen his number go up before he brought up that of Manchester City. With passions raging and City threatening to wrest a high-end encounter their way, Jürgen Klopp went for a triple substitution.
There were 72 minutes on the clock but why was Salah’s No 11 up on the board? Salah had been Liverpool’s most dangerous player.
It was a mistake because Salah was going nowhere. Klopp explained that to him on the touchline after Salah had walked towards him looking dejected and the manager made the changes that he actually wanted to make, one of which was the introduction of Darwin Núñez, who had been dropped to the bench.
Salah’s goal was a disaster for João Cancelo, who had reached in to try to nick away an Alisson clearance, only to miss his kick. When Salah rampaged clear, one-on-one with Ederson, his mind might have gone back to the 50th minute when he was similarly placed against the City goalkeeper after a Roberto Firmino through-ball.
On that occasion Ederson made a fine fingertip save, brushing Salah’s shot past the post. The Egyptian made no mistake this time, getting his body shape right and oozing conviction. Salah had torched Rangers last Wednesday with the fastest hat-trick in Champions League history. Now this. His mojo is plainly back.
Gripped by indignation, Guardiola turned to the Liverpool support behind him and sarcastically conducted their celebrations. It was Klopp who would see red – metaphorically and literally – being sent to the stands in the 86th minute after exploding at the non-award of a foul. Like the rest of Anfield he felt that Bernardo Silva had impeded Salah.
Moments earlier Thiago Alcântara had got away with yellow rather than red for a bad tackle on Rodri – the Liverpool midfielder’s defence was that he slipped – and, before that, Virgil van Dijk, had made a saving defensive header as Haaland lurked behind him. For the first time in a long time it was not the City striker’s day. Liverpool’s defence emerged with honours, with Joe Gomez impressive alongside Van Dijk and James Milner filling in to good effect at right-back.
What did Klopp miss in the few minutes he was banished from the touchline? Mainly some indifferent work from Núñez, to put it mildly. When he led a three-on-one Liverpool break, he elected to shoot instead of play in Diogo Jota or Salah – the effort was blocked, amid howls from the crowd – and then after Jota had gone down injured, he got an attempted chipped finish all wrong when clean through.
In between times Núñez almost teed up Trent Alexander-Arnold, who had returned from injury, and it meant Liverpool could not engineer the breathing space they wanted. That only made the full-time whistle sound sweeter. Klopp was back out for the celebrations and he can now celebrate a 12th career victory against Guardiola. No other manager has nearly as many wins against him.
Klopp has previously said that Liverpool are not in this season’s title race and they do remain a distance off the pace set by Arsenal. But this was much more like it with Salah, who started at the tip of Klopp’s 4-2-3-1 formation, prominent from the outset, running hard at the City defence and showing his physical side, too.
City came on strong in the final 15 minutes of the first half, Haaland twice working Alisson and heading another opportunity high. The game ignited in the 53rd minute after VAR intervened to thwart Foden, who forced the ball in off Gomez from a tight angle. Haaland had jumped in to free it from Alisson, who did appear to have two hands on the ball.
Immediately afterwards Jota headed off target when gloriously placed after Salah had worked the ball over to him. But it was City who came to push higher, scenting the breakthrough and with Foden driving them. Ilkay Gündogan saw a shot deflect wide; Haaland worked Alisson after Gündogan had breezed away from Fabinho, and Silva rasped a low one wide. Salah, though, made the difference.
Source: The Guardian