Manchester City faced their most dangerous opponent in the place they despise the most, Anfield, and once again left empty-handed after losing to Liverpool.
City’s four titles in five seasons have firmly and deservedly established them as the pre-eminent domestic force, closely followed by Liverpool, but if there is one arena that causes them and manager Pep Guardiola discomfort, disappointment, and contention, it is here in front of the Kop.
Man City has only won at Anfield twice in the last 22 seasons, and one of those came behind closed doors during the pandemic when the atmosphere and noise that inspires Liverpool were removed.
City’s 22 games have also resulted in 14 defeats, with Mohamed Salah’s runaway goal in the 76th minute deciding a full-throttle, ill-tempered but enthralling game.
Guardiola was left with a familiar feeling after Phil Foden’s opener was ruled out by the video assistant referee.
A trip to the screen convinced referee Anthony Taylor that Erling Haaland’s tug on Fabinho’s shirt was a foul, halting celebration in the visiting end and sparking elation and relief at Anfield.
The manager of Manchester City was also a target for objects thrown by Liverpool fans near his technical area, saying: “They tried to throw coins at me, but they didn’t get near me. Maybe they’ll do better the next time.”
Guardiola brought up the incident in April 2018, when City’s coach was attacked by Liverpool fans before a Champions League quarter-final.
Liverpool also issued a statement condemning “vile chants relating to football stadium tragedies from the away section,” as well as graffiti of a similar nature on a concourse.
Anfield is not a happy place for Guardiola or Manchester City, and they will feel no better after this, their first league away defeat since losing at Tottenham on the opening weekend of last season. It was also the first time this season that they failed to score in the league.
The latter statistic may be the most surprising of all, given how Man City has been tearing defenses apart this season with Haaland as the unstoppable spearhead.
City’s finishing touch, and even Haaland’s, was missing here, and it proved decisive in what is traditionally a fixture of fine margins.
Manchester City had plenty of possession and had long periods of possession, but they couldn’t find the final touch.
Haaland had several chances but was denied by Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson, who saved a first-half header and an attempted lob, as well as a goal-bound second-half shot with an outstretched right hand.
While Liverpool’s goal, was a source of joy for Anfield, it was a shambles from City. Pep’s side wasted a free-kick into Alisson’s arms and Joao Cancelo’s panic-stricken slip with Salah in his eyeline from the keeper’s long clearance, which provided Salah with a golden opportunity.
In the end, despite all of Anfield’s noise and fury, it was Cancelo’s slip that decided the game.
It summed up City’s day perfectly. There was plenty of good stuff, but not nearly enough from a team that is still the best in the country. It was reminiscent of some of City’s rare losses in recent seasons when their possession and territorial dominance were undermined by the occasional lack of a killer touch that Haaland now provides.
Man City will not be deterred by one painful experience, but Arsenal must now be given serious consideration in the title race as Premier League leaders following their outstanding start to the season.