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Manchester City 2-1 Liverpool: Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho shine as Reds tire
City cut Liverpool's lead to four points at the Etihad Stadium
Last Updated: 04/01/19 9:11am
Manchester City breathed life into the title race with their 2-1 win over Liverpool, but what were the talking points from the game?
Sergio Aguero opened the scoring at the Etihad Stadium, with Leroy Sane netting the winner after Roberto Firmino had levelled for Liverpool.
The win closed the gap to four points at the top of the Premier League table and it owed a lot to two of City's old heads…
The opening goal was Aguero at his predatory best. He was still on the turf appealing for a penalty when Bernardo Silva picked the ball up on the edge of the box, but by the time he had cut it back from the byline, the striker had risen to his feet and ghosted ahead of Dejan Lovren at the near post. From there, he took a touch with his right foot and rifled it home with his left.
"That first touch is sublime," said Sky Sports pundit Graeme Souness. "Then you're thinking, 'Don't shoot from there, you're not going to score' - but he does. Very few people have that sort of touch and the ability to get their balance right and get that much power on the ball."
It was just the latest example of the 30-year-old rising to the big occasion. Since his arrival at City from Atletico Madrid at the start of the 2011/12 season, Aguero has now scored 37 goals in Premier League games between the big six - nearly twice as many as any other player.
The goal was the obvious highlight of Aguero's performance on Thursday night, but he was impressive from start to finish, providing tireless energy on and off the ball and dropping deep to link the play.
Aguero made his experience count as well. The manner in which he exposed Lovren for the goal was the result of a deliberate strategy to avoid Virgil van Dijk and target Liverpool's weaker centre-back. He repeatedly pulled onto the Croatian, as shown by his heatmap, which showed that the majority of his touches came on Liverpool's right.
Aguero then played a key role in the winner, freeing up Leroy Sane to receive Raheem Sterling's pass with a clever run to pull Trent Alexander-Arnold out of position.
"We need Sergio for this type of game, his quality makes the difference," Pep Guardiola told Sky Sports afterwards. "Sergio has a special quality in that position. We have to win these important games, and he's done it his whole career. The first goal, the finish was incredible."
Fernandinho shows his value
Manchester City's win rate drops from 80 per cent to 40 per cent when Fernandinho does not start and this was another example of just how important he is to Guardiola's side. The Brazilian, back in the side having missed the recent defeats to Crystal Palace and Leicester, was outstanding at the base of their midfield.
He looked up for it from the start, making his presence felt with a series of uncompromising challenges and ensuring Liverpool's front three rarely had the opportunity to run at City's backline. At one point, Mohamed Salah became so exasperated by his presence that he shoved him over in frustration to concede a free-kick.
Fernandinho ranked top for tackles (four) and won possession nine times over the course of the 90 minutes, but he also showed eye-catching technical quality. On 28 minutes, there was an outstanding pass over the top of Liverpool's defence to release Sterling, who then set up a dangerous chance for David Silva.
Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville described his performance as "sensational" and Souness was similarly impressed. "Fernandinho is easily the best central midfield player in our country right now," he said. "The amount of work he gets through overshadows the technique he has as well. When he wins it and puts a tackle in, he gets his head up and generally makes the best pass."
It has been a hectic festive period for both sides, but it was Liverpool who seemed to feel the effects of the fixture congestion at the Etihad Stadium. Jurgen Klopp's men impressed in parts, matching City at times in the first half and enjoying a good spell after half-time, but they could not match City's intensity over the course of the game.
The Premier League tracking data highlighted the issue. While City made 124 sprints during the course of the 90 minutes, Liverpool only managed 91. It was their second-lowest total of the season and represented a dramatic drop from their previous five games - in which their lowest total was 119.
The apparent fatigue will be a concern for Klopp with so much of the season still to play. Liverpool do not return to Premier League action until their trip to Brighton on January 12, which should allow Klopp to give his key players some rest, but he will need a response from them when the action resumes.
"It's now Jurgen Klopp's time to look at his players and see what reaction he gets," Souness added. "Pep Guardiola has seen the reaction he has got from his players. They have bounced back in the best and biggest possible way in beating their nearest rivals. Now it's Jurgen Klopp turn to put that question to his players: 'Can we bounce back? What are you made of?'"