Back in January, it took nine minutes. This time, it happened two minutes later. From a poorly executed Manchester City corner kick, Liverpool broke forward, Trent Alexander-Arnold found Mohammed Salah, who played in Roberto Firmino. A tussle with Nicolas Otamendi, a save from Ederson and an error from Kyle Walker later, Salah found himself unmarked, a floored Ederson and a kneeling Vincent Kompany, with the goal gaping. There was little prize for guessing the end result, and the raucous Anfield crowd reached a state of cacophony.
Once again, City were behind at their least favourite venue, once again they had been rattled and shaken by the Merseysiders and they barely found their feet before they fell two behind, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, scorer in this fixture in the League at the start of the year, produced an absolute scorcher to Ederson’s right-hand corner. For Pep Guardiola, the worrying signs on his face were almost visible; there were questions over his selected starting line-up, a selection of Ilkay Gundogan, Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva and Fernandinho left them short out wide, but was supposed to at least keep the midfield tidy. But the visitors had been ransacked by their hosts’ high-octane and high-pressing football before they could get their house in order, and by the half hour mark they would be three down.
Once again, it was pinball in midfield, Gabriel Jesus managing to nick the ball off James Milner, but to little effect, then Salah was found. The Egyptian’s initial shot was blocked by Kompany, but on the follow-up he decided on crossing, his inch-perfect ball was headed home by Sadio Mane. Just like it was in the league match, three of the four goal scorers etched their names on the scoresheet, but unlike that one, this wasn’t going to be a result that would ultimately have little consequence on City’s stroll to the title, this was a 3-0 lead in the first half hour of a Champions League quarter-final tie, and that would be the score at halftime, although Liverpool did go close before the break in Firmino and Virgil van Dijk.
For City, something had to change after the break, but Guardiola decided it wouldn’t be the players, making no changes. Their tempo did increase in the second period, but there was uncharacteristic sloppiness in their play, embodied by Leroy Sane, whose decision making and accuracy in the final third left much to be desired. Each time he got in behind the defence you sensed he wouldn’t quite get it right, and when he did, the Liverpool centre-backs were in no mood to flounder.
The Reds held on for a comfortable win, which might be tainted by Salah being taken off, although he did return to the subs bench late on. Even by City’s lofty standards this season, this tie now seems a bridge too far. Only Liverpool can lose this now.