Liverpool maintained their pursuit of Premier League leaders Chelsea as they moved to within six points of the pacesetters with victory over Manchester City at Anfield.
Georginio Wijnaldum’s soaring eighth-minute header from Adam Lallana’s cross was enough to put Liverpool in second place and put a serious dent in City’s own title challenge.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp led the celebrations at the end of a game that was high on energy but sadly lacking in any moments of genuine quality.
City, who laboured throughout, improved in the second half but never seriously threatened Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet and this loss leaves them 10 points adrift of Chelsea.
This was the first Premier League meeting between two huge personalities straight from the top tier of management – and it brought a victory for Jurgen Klopp to cherish at Pep Guardiola’s expense.
The head-to-head was locked at 4-4 after their meetings in Germany with Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich. This was a different stage with different prizes on offer – but it was an occasion that was just as charged.
Klopp, in 15 months, has revitalised Liverpool and given hope to supporters longing to end the wait for a first title since 1990. And as they continue their pursuit of relentless Chelsea, belief continues to grow that the charismatic German can still haul in Antonio Conte’s side.
Liverpool’s manager was, as usual, celebrating with his players after the final whistle before pumping his chest in mock relief in front of Anfield’s huge new Main Stand.
And, when City fleetingly threatened a second-half comeback, he turned cheerleader in front of those same fans with a demand to lift the noise levels that was met instantly.
Klopp has become the new Anfield talisman. Under him, the transformation of his team and the mood around the club continues.
Something else that will give Liverpool’s fans great heart is the way in which Klopp is getting results against his closest rivals.
Since his appointment in October 2015, Klopp has faced a total of 13 Premier League games against Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham. He has lost only one – a single goal defeat by United last season.
He has also enjoyed a Europa League win over two legs against United, although the balance is redressed slightly by a loss on penalties against Manchester City in last season’s Capital One Cup final.
Can Liverpool win the Premier League?
Liverpool – and indeed Manchester City – are having to run to stand still in the Premier League title race, with Chelsea stretching their winning run to 13 games as they beat Stoke City earlier on Saturday.
It meant this was a game both sides needed to win – hence the contrasting emotions of Klopp and Guardiola at the final whistle.
Liverpool are underdogs but six points is still a gap that can be closed and Chelsea have to visit Anfield on 31 January.
Klopp’s players have shown strength of character with their response to setbacks earlier this month, when they lost 4-3 at Bournemouth and drew 2-2 at home to West Ham.
They have also shown they can win in different ways. Recent victories over Middlesbrough and Stoke showcased a free-flowing style. At Everton and against City, they toughed it out – and answered questions about a supposedly vulnerable defence. It is evidence that Liverpool must be taken very seriously as title challengers.
Are City’s title hopes over?
It is far too early to dismiss a manager of Guardiola’s ability – and a team of City’s talents – in terms of the Premier League title race. However, the 10-point gap between themselves and Chelsea is starting to look as if it will only be overturned by extraordinary events.
City were too timid for too long here at Anfield. Sergio Aguero – returning after a four-match ban – was starved of service, while Kevin de Bruyne was marginalised and largely snuffed out by Liverpool’s intense pressing style.
It was still David Silva who called the shots when they did put some moves together after the break but Yaya Toure could not exert serious influence.
Guardiola’s task should at least be put in context. City were a team short on inspiration and spark for much of last season under Manuel Pellegrini. Perhaps it was too much to expect even a manager of Guardiola’s pedigree to apply an instant fix.
City should never be ruled out. But on the evidence of this flat performance – and the growing sense that significant renewal of the squad is still needed – dragging back Chelsea may be beyond them for this season.
Man of the match – Georginio Wijnaldum
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp: “I know everyone talks about our defence. It’s not about avoiding goals – that’s the end product – it’s about how we work together.
“I think we have the smallest number of shots on our goal in the league. Tonight the concentration level was outstanding.
“I don’t care about criticism of our defence. You always pick out things that aren’t right but that’s how goals are.”
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola: “It was an equal game. The goal made it difficult against a team who use the counter-attack like a master. The second half was much better.
“We have to wake up for another game. We need to focus and work – we can’t think about the big goals.”