KEIR RADNEDGE at WEMBLEY —- The quadruple remains very much alive for Liverpool after they disposed of Manchester City 3-2 at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-final.
It should never have been that close. Liverpool, leading 3-0 at halftime, very nearly let City off the hook when Jack Grealish and then Bernardo Silva struck at the start and end of the second half. They would have had only themselves to blame for losing their focus.
City doubtless paid for the mental and physical stresses of their midweek confrontation with Atletico Madrid. Manager Pep Guardiola made seven changes and City badly missed the controlling authority of Kevin de Bruyne. Even so, their patient passing game never clicked into gear for which Liverpool deserve full praise.
Jurgen Klopp’s men already have the League Cup in their trophy room, are sitting on City’s shoulder in the Premier League and will face outsiders Villarreal in the Champions League semi-final.
Klopp, now the longest-serving manager in the Premier League after the midweek sacking of Sean Dyche by Burnley, was thrilled with the manner in which his team ran City ragged in the first half then relieved at the way they survived a weird finale.
The clubs’ third meeting of the season was always going to be decisive one way or the other after the two 2-2 draws in the Premier League. That last meeting had been six days’ earlier and in the meantime both clubs had reached the semi-finals of the Champions League.
Liverpool were the more aggressive in the early exchanges and took the lead in the 10th minute. Ibrahima Konate rose above Ake to head home a left-wing corner from Andrew Robertson. This was Konate’s third goal in his third successive game, after one in each European tie against Benfica.
City were soon descending towards a third successive defeat in the Cup semi-finals after conceding a sloppy second goal in the 18th minute. Keeper Zack Steffen took a heavy touch on the ball at his feet and Mane slid forward to jab the ball into the net.
Suddenly Liverpool were in sight of a first FA Cup Final since their defeat to Chelsea in 2012.
City looked a sky blue shadow of their normal selves, proving Guardiola into an animated fury in his technical area. He had just subsided on to the bench for a conference with his assistants when Mane thumped an angled volley past Steffen on his left-hand post just before the interval.
City needed a swift riposte and they produced it two minutes into the second half. Gabriel Jesus wriggled into space in the Liverpool penalty box and squared for Grealish to shoot up past Alisson’s right hand and into the top corner.
They should have scored again in the 70th minute. Grealish sent Gabriel Jesus through the centre of Liverpool’s defence. The Brazilian had the goal at his mercy but Alisson’s left-leg deflected the shot wide for a corner. City would regret a fatally bad miss.
Liverpool raced down the other end and might have scored themselves. This time Salah was the unlucky forward after a poor defensive header by Oleksandr Zinchenko.
City appeared down and out and yet it was not all over. In the final minute of normal time poor defending by Liverpool allowed Bernardo Silva to pulled back a second goal. City, apparently surprised themselves at still being in with a shout, piled forward and forced two corners in quick succession.
All too late. Liverpool escaped to reach the 150th anniversary final against Chelsea or Crystal Palace.