Manchester City edged Liverpool in a five-goal thriller on Thursday night to book a place in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals as both teams played their first competitive football since mid-November.
Erling Haaland and Riyad Mahrez twice gave City the lead, but each time the advantage was cancelled out by Liverpool equalisers from Fabio Carvalho and Mohamed Salah respectively. But there was to be no answer to Nathan Ake’s 58th minute winner.
The first clear sight of goal went the way of the visitors when Haaland raced clear down the right and put the ball on a plate for Cole Palmer in the middle. But the youngster got his angles all kinds of wrong and miscued well wide of the target from close-range.
Liverpool were struggling to gain any sort of foothold and were quickly punished by Haaland, who capitalised where Palmer floundered by meeting Kevin De Bruyne’s cross ahead of Joe Gomez.
The equaliser came relatively out of the blue, although Darwin Nunez had hit the post from an offside position. It was made possible when Joel Matip drove forward from the back. City then didn’t do enough to close down James Milner and it was an easy finish for Carvalho.
That goal initially knocked the stuffing out of City, but they squandered two glorious chances to re-take the lead before half-time. Both were the product of De Bruyne crosses from the right and twice Caoimhin Kelleher saved, once with his foot from Ilkay Gundogan and soon after pushing away a header from Ake. Great saves, but the City players at least gave him a chance.
In a flying start to the second half, both teams had scored within three minutes of the restart. First, Mahrez put a clinical finish beyond Kelleher after a sumptuous first touch on the right-hand side of the box set himself to fire low across the goal. But only moments had passed before Salah made it 2-2, a tap-in from a Darwin Nunez square pass after he had been released down the left.
Just shy of the hour mark, Liverpool made the mistake of giving De Bruyne far too much time to cross. His curling ball from the left after a short corner was too perfect and there was no way that Ake could miss with his head at the far post, especially given the City overload.
Nunez, having earlier laid on Salah’s goal, was poor in front of goal himself. Midway through the second half he pulled a great chance from the right wide of the far post, by then his third similar chance of the night and all of which were off target.
Tempers threatened to boil over towards the closing stages when Rodri and Fabinho were involved in an angry confrontation, but the latter soon denied City a would-be fourth goal, blocking on the line from a fierce De Bruyne shot. Kelleher then saved from substitute Phil Foden on the rebound.
GK: Stefan Ortega – 5/10 – Conceded twice but not actually tested much.
RB: Rico Lewis – 6/10 – Had decent energy and played with a fierce tenacity.
CB: Manuel Akanki – 5/10 – Passed the ball fairly accurately but not a great night overall.
CB: Aymeric Laporte – 5/10 – Left for dead by Darwin Nunez when Liverpool scored their second.
LB: Nathan Ake – 7/10 – Didn’t have a clue where Salah was for his Liverpool goal but was an attacking threat himself. Had one header well saved before finding the net.
CM: Kevin De Bruyne – 9/10 – Disregarded a disappointing World Cup and put multiple exquisite balls into the box. Two of them resulted in goals. Others should have done too.
CM: Rodri – 7/10 – A searching ball to the right led to City’s second goal. Risked serious punishment when he bundled Fabinho over in an ugly confrontation.
CM: Ilkay Gundogan (c) – 6/10 – Often involved in City’s attacking moves.
RW: Riyad Mahrez – 7/10 – It was the world class first touch control that made his goal.
ST: Erling Haaland – 7/10 – A poacher’s finish early on put City ahead. Skied an early chance within the first few seconds of the opening kick-off.
LW: Cole Palmer – 7/10 – Should have given City an even earlier lead than they had. Not overawed by playing this star-studded team.
SUB: John Stones (61′ for Akanji) – 6/10
SUB: Jack Grealish (72′ for Palmer) – 6/10
SUB: Phil Foden (73′ for Haaland) – 7/10
SUB: Bernardo Silva (88′ for Gundogan) – N/A
Pep Guardiola – 8/10 – City were the stronger side for much of this game. Didn’t go to his bench until after re-taking the lead for the second time to try and see it out.
GK: Caoimhin Kelleher – 6/10 – Made two very good saves in the first half and another late one, but was left on an island too many times by the defenders in front of him.
RB: James Milner (c) – 6/10 – Got forward into a good position to set up Carvalho. Forced off through injury before half-time.
CB: Joel Matip – 6/10 – Created the chance from which Liverpool equalised by bringing the ball out of defence with confidence.
CB: Joe Gomez – 5/10 – Not up to much when Haaland easily got ahead of him to score the opening goal for City.
LB: Andrew Robertson – 5/10 – Guilty of not getting close enough to Mahrez when City retook the lead only moments after half-time.
CM: Thiago – 5/10 – Not as influential as Liverpool fans would have hoped or expected.
CM: Stefan Bajcetic – 5/10 – Only lasted 45 minutes after a first half yellow card. Struggled to compete when he was on the pitch and didn’t see much of the ball.
CM: Harvey Elliott – 5/10 – Struggled to lay a glove on City during his hour on the pitch.
RW: Mohamed Salah – 6/10 – Had been so quiet until he scored Liverpool’s second goal. Seemed to briefly come alive a little more after that but soon disappeared to the periphery again.
ST: Darwin Nunez – 6/10 – Unselfishly made Salah’s goal after showing great pace to get into position. His own finishing, however, was poor.
LW: Fabio Carvalho – 6/10 – A composed finish got Liverpool back on terms at 1-1 but he didn’t otherwise see a lot of the ball and didn’t return for the second half.
SUB: Nat Phillips (38′ for Milner) – 5/10
SUB: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (46′ for Carvalho) – 7/10
SUB: Fabinho (46′ for Bajcetic) – 6/10
SUB: Jordan Henderson (57′ for Elliott) – 6/10
SUB: Naby Keita (70′ for Thiago) – 5/10
Jurgen Klopp – 6/10 – His team initially struggled to compete and he turned to the bench much earlier than his opposite number.
Player of the match – Kevin De Bruyne (Man City)
Watch 90min’s TFP on YouTube as Harry Symeou, Scott Saunders, Grizz Khan, Lawrence Bury and Daniel Childs look ahead of the Premier League’s return. Subscribe to the channel here!