Liverpool put a huge dent in Manchester City’s title hopes with a 2-1 victory which dramatically enhanced their own hopes of a top-four finish.
Chelsea’s involvement in the Capital One Cup final had given Manuel Pellegrini’s side a chance to reduce the gap at the top to two points but, as was the case last season, they were cut down at Anfield.
Eleven months ago defeat here did not prove their undoing in the title race as Chelsea did them a favour by winning at Anfield.
This time it was Liverpool doing Chelsea favours — not something their fans would usually celebrate but on this occasion their club’s needs come first, and with the championship beyond their means, the race for Champions League qualification takes priority.
Jordan Henderson’s brilliant opener was matched by an equally good team goal from Edin Dzeko but Philippe Coutinho’s 75th-minute winner eclipsed them all.
Anfield is a bad ground for City, who have now not won here in 12 league matches, yet it was supposed to be their hosts who were mourning a Europa League exit to Besiktas on penalties on Thursday.
City reverted to the team which thrashed Newcastle 5-0 last weekend after losing to Barcelona in midweek but it was the home side, registering four changes — most significantly returning playmaker Coutinho — from the defeat to Besiktas, who got off to a flier.
Coutinho, who twice set up Adam Lallana to first shoot weakly at Joe Hart and then brilliantly finish from a narrow angle only to be judged marginally offside, was the instigator.
Pressing hard he robbed Vincent Kompany and rode a challenge from the City captain before laying off to Raheem Sterling, who gave Kompany a torrid time in the first half, and he teed up Henderson to curl a beauty over Hart and into the top corner in the 11th minute.
Immediately the intensity went up a notch, with Sergio Aguero breaking free of Skrtel and beating Simon Mignolet but not the far post with a left-footed shot.
It was end-to-end stuff, with the creative Coutinho and equally mercurial David Silva running the show for their respective sides, although an honourable mention should go to the pint-sized Joe Allen, who was a giant in midfield against players of huge size and even bigger reputations.
The former’s ball with the outside of his right foot sent Sterling racing down the left wing, but although he easily jinked past Eliaquim Mangala, City’s 32 million-pound summer signing, his cross rolled through the six-yard area with no-one to knock it in.
Silva was increasingly finding space in front of Liverpool’s back four, the area where he is most dangerous, and from there he crafted City’s 25th-minute equaliser.
The Spain international picked out Aguero, whose sublime ball to Dzeko was deservedly rewarded with a goal as the Bosnian slotted past Mignolet for his 50th Premier League goal.
From then on the game became even more open and entertaining, something of a rarity for a noon kick-off on a Sunday.
Both defences looked to be the weakest links, with Mangala equally out of touch as Kompany while Dejan Lovren’s presence in the back three, after his penalty shoot-out miss in Istanbul cost his side Europa League progress, seemed to cause as much indecision in Liverpool’s ranks as it did consternation in the stands.
The ripple of applause he received for holding off or, depending on your persuasion, pushing over Pablo Zabaleta in the box just before half-time seemed more in relief than appreciation.
Attacks continued, with Aguero heading over 20 seconds into the second half and Sterling bundling wide a Lallana cross, but the quality level dropped somewhat.
In an instant it was raised again, in the 75th minute, when Coutinho cut in from the left, dropped his shoulder and unleashed an arcing shot which dipped over the outstretched fingertips of Hart.
Once again going behind sparked City to go to another gear and, having sent on striker Wilfried Bony for Fernandinho, Aguero’s angled shot whistled just past the far post after Lovren had lunged in.
A frenzied final 10 minutes saw Coutinho have another shot deflected over, Bony escape with a yellow card after appearing to lead with an elbow on Lallana, substitute Daniel Sturridge roll a shot wide with only Hart to beat and Silva flash a shot just off target with the seconds ticking down.
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