LIVERPOOL: Mo Salah, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sadio Mane all struck in the first halfhour to inspire high-octane Liverpool to a 3-0 triumph in their all-English Champions League quarter-final first leg against Manchester City at Anfield.
Simultaneously Barcelona defeated Roma 4-1 in the night’s other tie courtesy of own goals from Daniele De Rossi and Kostas Manolas and strikes of their own from Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez against one Italian consolation for Edin Dzeko.
At Anfield Liverpool went into their game with a confidence born of the knowledge that they had been the only team to defeat Manchester City in the Premier League. They won the European Champions Cup on five occasions but manager Jurgen Klopp told his players before the game that it was time for them to “write our own history” in the game.
This was the 10th Champions League knockout tie involving English clubs and Klopp’s seventh victory in 13 duels with Guardiola.
City were handicapped in attack by the absence of Sergio Aguero with a knee injury but Liverpool were also troubled in defence by the loss of Joel Matip who will miss the rest of the season after suffering a thigh injury at the weekend against Crystal Palace.
That meant central defensive responsibility for Dejan Lovren and Virgil van Dijk behind two ‘holding’ midfielders in Jordan Henderson and James Milner. As for City, new signing Aymeric Laporte was entrusted with the leftback role of policing Salah.
Guardiola also introduced his own note of caution by picking Ilkay Gundogan in midfield rather than attack Liverpool with former Anfield favourite Raheem Sterling.
The atmosphere was electric and had even boiled over before the game when missiles were thrown at the City team bus. Liverpool quickly issued an apology to City, Guardiola and his players. Starting with an apology was not what Liverpool had wanted.
City, playing with the Kop at their backs, were not fazed by the atmosphere. They took immediate command of midfield, had the first shot through Leroy Sane – into the side net – and forced the first corner awarded by German referee Felix Brych.
But it was Liverpool who scored first, to delirious scenes on the Kop. City left Salah alone on the halfway line, exchanged passes with Firmino whose shot was blocked by Kyle Walker, allowing Salah to strike his 38th goal in his 43rd appearance for Liverpool.
Immediately Sane broke away at the other end but his finishing could not match that of the Egyptian and his miss proved costly as Liverpool increased their lead with a 25-metre drive from Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Remarkably Liverpool scored a third goal on the halfhour. The ball was played to the right, Salah’s initial shot deflected off Vincent Kompany and Sadio Mane was quicker than Firmino and Milner to head Salah’s cross beyond Ederson.
Liverpool thus led 3-0 at half-time because, after a slow start, they had run, chased, harried and worked harder than City in every corner of the pitch. It was the ultimate expression of Klopp’s Gegenpressing style.
City needed a goal to take some hope back to Manchester next week but Guardiola decided halftime was too early to bring on a forward when Liverpool would charge in at them from the restart. He contented himself with one tactical change, switching De Bruyne and Gundogan to the right and left respectively.
Liverpool suffered a blow six minutes into the second half when a groin injury forced Salah’s substitution by Giorgino Wijnaldum. City, encouraged, pushed forward and forced two corners in quick succession. To increase their attacking effort Guardiola brought Sterling into the game in place of out-of-form Gundogan.
City had 54pc of possession in the first half and raised it to 71pc after an hour but still without being rewarded by a goal to help them in the return which Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson will miss after collecting a yellow card.
City, despite being runaway leaders of the Premier League and champions-elect, have still not won at Anfield in 17 games since 2003.