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Liverpool 3-1 Man City: The 15-minute spell which could end up deciding title race
Liverpool's 3-1 win at Anfield put them nine points clear of Manchester City on Super Sunday
Last Updated: 12/11/19 10:35am
Two sucker-punch goals from Liverpool. One controversial handball decision against Manchester City. Could the opening 15 minutes at Anfield on Sunday come to define this year's Premier League title race?
Liverpool's 3-1 win put them nine points clear of the reigning champions, and the crucial moments all occurred in a breathless early spell during which Fabinho's stunning strike put the hosts in front shortly after City had been denied a spot-kick, with Mohamed Salah then scoring a clinical second goal which came out of nothing in the 13th minute.
Here, we provide a detailed blow-by-blow account of how City dominated the opening exchanges, how the key decision went against them, and how their ruthless opponents took full advantage...
Atmosphere builds as kick-off approaches
The players emerge from the tunnel to a loud roar from around the stadium, and the usual pre-match handshakes are followed by a belting rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone.
In the City half, Kevin De Bruyne - who told Sky Sports he "loves" playing at Anfield in the build-up to the game - can be seen clapping his hands together and geeing up his team-mates. It is a fevered atmosphere and, once a respectfully observed minute's silence to mark Remembrance Day is over, the volume becomes even louder.
First minute: City show no fear
Despite the hostility of the crowd, and the deafening whistles which soundtrack their early possession, City start confidently.
They are straight onto the front foot, working the ball forward on the right-hand side, where De Bruyne wins the first corner of the game off Fabinho in front of the Kop.
Second minute: Liverpool pinned back
The corner comes to nothing, but Liverpool still can't get a foot on the ball.
City pin the hosts in as Andrew Robertson tries to find team-mate from a throw-in, and the ball is swiftly back in their possession as they probe on the opposite flank this time. "They've started pretty well, City," says Gary Neville as Sterling charges down a long pass from Trent Alexander-Arnold.
As the clock ticks into the fourth minute, Liverpool are still yet to string more than a couple of passes together - or even make it out of their half.
Alisson Becker can be heard bellowing "organise" as they concede another corner immediately after a free-kick, but John Stones is able to rise above Dejan Lovren and flick a header towards the far post. He throws his hands down in frustration as he sees nobody there to meet it.
"He's furious, John Stones, and he has every right to be," says Neville. "That's a space that should always be filled on a corner, the back post."
It is a let-off for Liverpool and the first real sign of City danger.
Fifth minute: The penalty incident
Liverpool have a chance to gather themselves, but their lack of composure is obvious.
Alexander-Arnold, who is having a difficult start, sees another pass cut out by Raheem Sterling deep in his own half. Alisson then miskicks a pass to Virgil van Dijk on the edge of the home side's box and the normally cool-headed Dutchman shanks his clearance.
Liverpool do eventually work it forward, but their first foray into the City half ends when a Sadio Mane pass falls straight to Kyle Walker.
That's where the move which leads to the game's major flashpoint begins.
Stones rolls the ball back to Claudio Bravo and the stand-in goalkeeper, who would be heavily criticised for his subsequent performance, calmly clips the ball back to the City centre-back despite Mane's best efforts to charge him down.
Stones lifts a pass down the right flank to Bernardo Silva, who uses a combination of his chest and knee to get the ball under control, turning as he does so and directing a looping pass over the top of the Liverpool defence towards De Bruyne, who is running in behind Van Dijk.
The Liverpool centre-back, still struggling to get to grips with the game, then makes a mess of his attempted clearance. Bernardo, his impressive anticipation summing up City's alertness in the early stages, takes the ball on his chest and sprints into the box.
Then it happens: His deflected pass inside strikes Alexander-Arnold on the arm. And while it strikes Bernardo's on the way there, it's Alexander-Arnold's which appears to be in an unnatural position.
Sixth minute: Twenty-two crazy seconds
There are instant shouts of handball from the away end and, down on the pitch, a furious Sergio Aguero leads the protests, running straight to Michael Oliver after he turns the appeal down.
City's anger is compounded by the fact that Sterling was unmarked at the far post, waiting to pounce.
"You can see Sterling coming in at the back post," says Jamie Carragher. "There's no doubt it stops the ball coming across to him."
At this point, however, as City's focus wavers, Liverpool spring into life. Mane, stationed just inside the Liverpool half, pulls to left flank and calls for the ball from Robertson, who, having received it from Van Dijk, slides a perfectly-weighted pass right into his path.
Angelino cuts out the Senegal international's subsequent cross, but Ilkay Gundogan gets in his way and the German's toe-poked clearance roles invitingly to the unmarked Fabinho. He takes a touch and, with his next one, unleashes a ferocious drive which beats the despairing Bravo.
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The ball hits the back of the City net just 22 seconds after it had struck Alexander-Arnold's arm at the other end of the pitch.
The VAR check
As Fabinho wheels away in celebration, Oliver is already being surrounded by blue and red shirts. There is pushing and shoving as tensions threaten to boil over.
All the while, the handball is being checked by the game's designated VAR, Paul Tierney, back in Stockley Park.
Gary Neville says the goal will stand, the stadium announcer does the same and then, with the clock reading six minutes and 18 seconds, just 75 seconds after the incident, Oliver blows his whistle to confirm the decision.
The goal stands. Anfield erupts for a second time.
Eighth minute: City keep coming
It is a huge setback for City, but they do not lose their heads. Instead, they keep coming forward.
Alexander-Arnold concedes another free-kick in a dangerous area on the left, but an unmarked Sterling can only direct his header wide from De Bruyne's inswinging delivery.
"What a chance," says Neville on the gantry. "Liverpool have made a great start in terms of the scoreline, but in terms of keeping the ball, they look very anxious," adds Carragher as Alexander-Arnold, under pressure from Sterling yet again, sends a wayward pass into the stands.
10th minute: Reds show first signs of improvement
Liverpool then have an opportunity to press City at the other end, with Fernandinho duly overhitting a pass for Angelino to concede a throw-in in the visitors' territory.
It is greeted with cheers from the home fans and Jurgen Klopp's side subsequently enjoy their first real spell of possession of the game, stroking the ball around at the back as they attempt to take the sting out of the game.
12th minute: The second sucker-punch
Soon enough, though, the momentum seems to be back with City. De Bruyne sends over another delicious cross from yet another set-piece - this time on City's right flank - but Aguero, again unmarked, somehow fails to make a connection and Stones, sliding in behind him, narrowly misses it too.
"Why didn't Aguero head it?" asks Neville. "Another big chance City have missed," adds Carragher.
Liverpool then begin another spell of possession, stroking the ball around the back with the kind of composure they previously lacked. A long ball forward from Dejan Lovren is then headed clear by Angelino, but it falls straight to Fabinho, who plays a short pass to Alexander-Arnold.
The 21-year-old was still struggling at this point, unable to evade Sterling's pressure, but this time he has a yard of space. He shifts the ball onto his weaker foot and, spotting Robertson, who has momentarily has lost Bernardo Silva on the opposite flank, he pings a raking, 60-yard pass into his path.
Over on Liverpool's right flank, Salah, anticipating what was to come, could already be seen manoeuvring into position when Alexander-Arnold received the ball from Fabinho.
First, he pulled into the space vacated by Angelino when the City left-back sprang forward to close down Jordan Henderson, who he anticipated might receive the ball from Alexander-Arnold.
Then, having eluded both Angelino and Fernandinho, Salah began a diagonal run towards goal, raising his right hand to alert Robertson and then meeting the Scot's superb cross with a header which beats Bravo and nestles into the bottom corner.
"He gets into a great position Salah, in between Fernandinho and Angelino," says Neville on the gantry.
For City, it is another brutal sucker-punch, this time coming just 66 seconds after De Bruyne's free-kick so narrowly eluded Aguero and Stones at the other end.
There is a VAR check for offside - replays show the margin could hardly have been finer - but just like last time, the goal stands.
15th minute: City stunned
On the City bench, Guardiola collapses into his seat, his exasperation clear to see. His side have dominated possession and territory, playing with personality and bravery in a relentlessly hostile environment, but Liverpool have been utterly ruthless.
"They have had two passages of play and they've scored two goals," says Carragher.
Immediately after the second goal, Liverpool's intensity increases and City's momentum stalls. This time, there is no immediate recovery from Guardiola's men.
Liverpool are the ones dominating the ball now, with City's loss of composure summed up by a panicked clearance from Angelino where, a few minutes earlier, he might have tried to find a pass.
City would recover their poise later in the game, of course but the damage was already done. Those frantic 15 minutes could come to define this year's title race.