Sunday, 1 January 2017

Georginio Wijnaldum Gives Liverpool A Well-Deserved Win Against Manchester City

Georginio Wijnaldum

These are the moments when Liverpool’s supporters must hold genuine hope their team are capable of catching and overhauling Chelsea at the top of the Premier League table. There is still a six-point deficit but Jürgen Klopp’s men look absolutely convinced they have what it takes and it was not a coincidence that the man in charge of the music belted out an old Starship track straight after the final whistle. Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now felt like an accurate gauge of the mood.

Anfield was certainly a happy place because Liverpool not only signalled their intentions here but blew a gaping hole in the title chances on another of the teams who began the season with lofty ambitions. Georginio Wijnaldum’s goal inflicted the damage and the 10-match winning sequence with which Pep Guardiola introduced himself at Manchester City is starting to feel like a deception. This was another erratic display and, however it is dressed up, City’s owners did not bring in Guardiola to be 10 points adrift at the halfway point of the season.

Liverpool played with great panache at times and, in other periods, they showed the kind of durability that will be essential to sustain a title challenge. The players in red never gave their opponents a moment’s peace in the first half but after the break, when they switched to a more conservative system, they can also take great encouragement from the fact City had lots of the ball but did not create one clear opportunity.

What never shifted was the impeccable attitude of Liverpool’s players whereas their opponents, in contrast, took an age to get going. Once the visiting team started showing some urgency, with Raheem Sterling, David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne growing into the game, they did at least make a fight of it.

Yet it would be generous to say they deserved anything considering the story of the 90 minutes and, once again, they came away from Anfield filled with regret. They have not won here since 2003 and Sergio Agüero has not scored at this ground in eight appearances. The Argentinian, back from a four-match suspension, barely got a sniff.

Klopp’s men scored 87 league goals in 2016, their highest figure since managing the same in 1985. More importantly, there was hard evidence here that if any team can chase down Chelsea it is likely to be the one with the liver bird on their chest.

At one point Roberto Firmino could be seen miscontrolling the ball to concede a throw-in and there was still warm applause. There is a vibe here reminiscent of the near-victorious season now infamous for Steven Gerrard’s slip. The crowd can see a team who are giving everything and, in their latest victory, a set of players who looked desperate to show their superiority.

For long spells, they did exactly that – quick to the ball, strong in the tackle and playing in the knowledge that if City’s defence are placed under pressure a mistake will generally follow. City have kept only four clean sheets from their 19 league fixtures in the Guardiola era and Aleksandar Kolarov, in particular, had a difficult match.

There is nothing particularly new about that but it was rare to see City look so incoherent in attack, particularly in the opening 45 minutes when Sterling, facing his former club, seemed disorientated by the crowd’s jeers and even Silva, of all people, could be seen misplacing relatively simple passes. Sterling’s early anxiety disappeared in the second half when he started reminding his old club of his threat. Yet Liverpool, holding on to their early lead and switching to a counterattacking system, still looked the more threatening side, albeit with less of the ball.

Perhaps the best compliment that can be paid to Wijnaldum for his goal is that there are Liverpool supporters of a certain generation who will remember John Toshack scoring headers of this nature. It was a prodigious leap but, more than anything, it was the sheer will on his part to meet Adam Lallana’s cross with the necessary blend of power and precision. The ball flashed past Claudio Bravo and Liverpool had scored for the 23rd successive top-division fixture on their own ground.

City had an argument that Ragnar Klavan, already booked for a challenge on Agüero, might have been shown a second yellow card shortly before the goal. Yet any grievance on their part does not alter the fact they made an almighty mess of the free-kick, leading directly to the game’s decisive moment. Yaya Touré’s decision to aim it out to the left wing was strange in itself and Kolarov’s touch to give the ball away was clumsy in the extreme.

City were vulnerable as soon as Firmino played the initial forward pass, giving Lallana the chance to make ground on the left, and Kolarov’s ignominy was compounded by the fact that when he made it back to the penalty area he was the player Wijnaldum out-jumped. That Kolarov was at fault twice probably summed up his evening.

It was not until the game was approaching the hour-mark that Guardiola’s team started to pass the ball with speed and clarity. Silva and De Bruyne switched positions and both became increasingly influential. Yet whatever Guardiola is trying is not working. Not yet anyway.

Liverpool were barely troubled during four minutes of stoppage time and the game finished with Klopp embracing his players, blowing kisses to the crowd and looking forward to 2017.



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