LONDON: Jurgen Klopp’s most important victory as Liverpool thus far was significant also for another new import from the Bundesliga: Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Liverpool’s outstanding 4-1 victory at Manchester City undermined their hosts’ self-belief and status as league title favourites. United beneficiaries because their 2-1 win at Watford lifted them above their local rivals and into second place behind Leicester whose lack of depth and serious quality will, ultimately, catch up with them.
Not since 1989 – long before the billions rolled in – had Liverpool won by such a margin at City. Their first win there in seven years vindicated Klopp’s insistence that money is not everything, even in the Premier League. They outran and outplayed City from the first minute and only a fine display by England keeper Joe Hart saved City from a heavier beating.
At the final whistle Klopp walked over to celebrate in front of Liverpool’s 3,000 travelling fans. Their response for what he has achieved over the past six weeks was rapturous in recognition of what he has achieved already without spending a penny.
Before Klopp’s arrival Liverpool had won only one of their 14 previous league visits to City, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea. Now it is two out of two after the earlier victory at Chelsea last month.
Eliaquim Mangala’s seventh-minute own goal was followed by strikes from the outstanding Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino. Sergio Aguero pulled one back but Martin Skrtel crowned the event.
Raheem Sterling, who forced his way out of Liverpool to join City for £49m during the summer, had a nightmare game. “Sterling, Sterling, what’s the score?” Liverpool’s fans chanted derisively every time he came near them.
By contrast his replacement, Firmino, enjoyed his finest game since arriving from Hoffenheim ahead of the snappy midfield efforts of revived Emre Can, Lucas Leiva and captain James Milner. In central defence Dejan Lovren – starting his first league game since September – also rose to the challenge.
City badly missed injured Vincent Kompany as they conceded three first-half goals at home in the league for the first time since defeat to Arsenal in February 2003. Manager Manuel Pellegrini said: “It was a complete disaster, the whole team. I am more than angry, our performance was unbelievable.”
Klopp was in contrastingly happy mood though he refused to be carried away. He said: “It was far from perfect, but it was very, very good. At half-time Man City made two changes and it’s difficult to stay in the game with this quality of opponent but we did it with big passion and that’s important.
“You can’t win a game against a team like City without passion. We tried to close the spaces where they want to play and we pressed high. My players were even a little bit surprised at half-time that they were 3:0 in the lead … but with results like this the boys will start to believe in themselves and that’s very important.”
City were overtaken in the table by Manchester United for whom Schweinsteiger came close to his first goal since his arrival from Bayern. His last-minute effort provided United with their winning goal but only thanks to a deflection by Watford skipper Troy Deeney.
Earlier Watford appeared to have snatched a point when Deeney’s 87th-minute penalty cancelled out Memphis Depay’s early opener. But the last-minute drama kept United one point behind Leicester while extending their unbeaten run to eight games in all competitions.
Schweinsteiger, on MUTV, said: “It would have been nice if it was my goal but I know that the Watford player touched the ball so, for me, it doesn’t matter. We won the three points and that’s the most important thing.
“It meant a lot to me because these sorts of games can make the difference at the end of the season. Now we have two points more, which is why I was really happy and made an unbelievable sprint after the goal where nobody could follow me so I’m very happy about that.
“We didn’t play with real swagger today but we showed character and fought until the final seconds.”
Schweinsteiger, at 31, was the oldest player in United’s starting line-up and his satisfying fitness level will be important in weeks to come as United’s injury list increased after the enforced substitutions of Phil Jones and Ander Herrera. Both will miss Wednesday’s Champions League game against PSV Eindhoven.