Vice-captain Jordan Henderson and midfield magician Philippe Coutinho scored two wonder goals to secure a thrilling and important 2-1 victory over title-chasers Manchester City at Anfield on Sunday lunchtime.
The pair’s superb goals were just reward for a fantastic performance from the home side, particularly considering they only got back from Turkey at 4.30am on Friday morning. To perform to such a high standard against a top team who had enjoyed 48 hours more recovery time following their midweek European travails is testament to the character of the squad that Brendan Rodgers has assembled.
At the same time, the fact that match winner Coutinho was rested against Besiktas speaks volumes for the Northern Irish manager’s wise squad management, which involved Henderson and Markovic also starting after missing out in midweek, the former due to injury and the latter with suspension.
The injury prone Sturridge wasn’t risked after playing 115 minutes in Turkey. Instead, Sterling, Lallana and Coutinho formed a front three that ran City’s backline ragged throughout the 90 minutes. Two of those three combined twice in the opening stages to almost open the scoring, while the third provided the assist when Henderson did break the deadlock.
First, Coutinho split City’s defence with a beautiful pass to play in Lallana, who should have done better with a toe-poked shot that was comfortably saved by Hart. Hart was then caught unawares as Lallana smashed in a brilliant half volley from a tight angle after receiving a short corner from Coutinho, but the former Southampton skipper was flagged just offside.
When Liverpool did bag the opener that their early adventurous play deserved, it came from an unlikely source, as Jordan Henderson rocketed home a spectacular strike from the edge of the box. The ever-present Coutinho was inevitably involved in the build-up, capitalising on an error by Kompany to release Raheem Sterling, who then squared to Henderson. The number 14’s awesome effort went right in the postage stamp, leaving Hart with no chance.
|This is what that goal means to Hendo...|
Having never scored more than six goals in a Premier League season, goalscoring is perhaps the main area of his game that Henderson has to focus on improving if he is to successfully take over from Steven Gerrard at the end of the season. If he adds goals like this one to his game, there’s no telling how far he can go with his career.
To be fair to them, City responded well, Aguero almost making Liverpool pay for a mix up at the back as the Argentine striker hit the post. At the other end, Sterling beat Mangala easily on the left and flashed a dangerous cross/shot across the face of goal, but nobody was there to double the Reds’ advantage and, just two minutes later, the visitors levelled. Pellegrini’s men pinged the ball around nicely and eventually Aguero slipped a great ball through to Dzeko, who fired home a right footed shot.
|Dzeko levelled for City|
Liverpool had a few more chances before the break, Lallana dragging an effort wide and Coutinho shooting straight at Hart, but they were unable to regain their lead, as City improved. However, the visitors were still the happier side entering the interval at all square.
After the break, although City immediately started the better and should have taken the lead with an Aguero header that thankfully went over the bar, Liverpool dominated. Coutinho, in particular, was exploiting the space in between City’s midfield and defence afforded the Brazilian thanks to their tactically naïve 4-4-2 formation, which remained unchanged from Tuesday night when Barcelona’s Luis Suarez demolished their defence in style.
The impressive Lallana whipped in a great cross to Sterling, but he could only bundle wide. Lallana then found the net for a second time himself, finishing from close range after Martin Skrtel had nodded a free kick down for him. Frustratingly, it was chalked off again though as the Slovakian was marginally offside from the free kick.
Liverpool were having all the play and, even after Pellegrini brought on Milner for Dzeko and went to five in midfield, the away side still couldn’t stifle the Reds’ creativity or gain much of a foothold in the contest. The hosts just couldn’t seem to find that killer final pass, though.
Consequently, as he had against Southampton a week earlier, Coutinho decided to take matters into his own hands with a piece of individual brilliance fifteen minutes from time. Cutting inside from the left after receiving a pass from Sterling, the diminutive Brazilian struck a world class effort into the far corner in sensational fashion.
|Coutinho scores his weekly worldie!|
It was an absolutely awesome goal from Coutinho, who is going from strength to strength and fast filling the shoes of Luis Suarez. The Reds’ creative catalyst and attacking fulcrum, Coutinho keeps on coming up with the goods when it matters most, which could prove pivotal in the race for fourth. When he plays like this, he’s simply unstoppable, and no defence in the country is going to look forward to facing him as we head into the business end of the campaign.
As he had after Henderson’s wonder goal, Aguero almost provided an instant riposte, flashing a right footed shot across goal from a tight angle. Apart from that, though, City struggled to even get hold of the ball, let alone create chances, as Liverpool sensibly kept possession well. Sturridge even had a chance to make it 3-1 with minutes remaining, but he shot wide when he should have scored after a mistake from the dreadful Yaya Toure had let him in.
This win takes Liverpool up to fifth on 48 points, only two behind fourth placed United and three adrift of Arsenal. Moreover, with winnable matches against Burnley and Swansea coming up, Liverpool should still be full of confidence when they come to face United and Arsenal in two crunch contests at the end of March and beginning of April respectively.
For the moment, though, let’s just enjoy what was a great performance and an even better result.