The quadruple may have gone from the stuff of fantasy to something that could become a reality.
Liverpool powered into a first FA Cup final in a decade, ending Manchester City’s hopes of a treble, courtesy of a remarkable first half. It brought a sensational scoreline at the break – 3-0 to Liverpool – and, as they threatened an astonishing comeback, City could rue the damage done then amid their injury-time attempts to get an equaliser.
For Pep Guardiola, a decision to prioritise the Champions and Premier Leagues came at a cost on a wretched afternoon for his back-up goalkeeper, Zack Steffen.
For Jurgen Klopp, the prospect of further silverware to add to the League Cup and the prize of becoming the first manager to beat Guardiola 10 times. Certainly Liverpool did it his way: while both previous meetings this season had been drawn 2-2, this was a throwback to the days when City could be blown away by high-intensity football, when Liverpool could score in spurts and be rewarded for their boldness.
Not for the first time, though, they had to hold on when City finished strongly. It was another all-action affair and three games between them this season have produced 13 goals.
It was fitting Liverpool’s trio came from set-pieces, pressing and a quality forward respectively. They have proved three crucial ingredients. The role of the match-winner was assumed by Sadio Mane, who has started his thirties with three goals against City; one last week, two this. He has been converted into a striker after Luis Diaz’s arrival and is scoring both the scruffy and the spectacular.
Not for the first time, Klopp’s words looked prophetic. He said on Thursday that Liverpool could play better than last week. They did. They started slowly at the Etihad Stadium. Not at Wembley. They were two goals to the good after 17 minutes. They became the first team to take a 3-0 half-time lead against City since Liverpool themselves in 2018.
While Mohamed Salah’s drought continued, Klopp has an unexpectedly prolific force. Ibrahima Konate had entered April without a goal to show for his debut season at Anfield. Now he has three in as many games, all headers from corners. Andy Robertson was his latest supplier for Liverpool’s 19th goal from corners this season.
Then Mane took over. Part of Klopp’s ethos revolves around high pressing, while Guardiola relies on having a footballing goalkeeper. Each was a factor when the lead was doubled but so was an individual error. Steffen was at fault for Chelsea’s winner in the semi-final last year and this was a horrible moment for the American, who lacks Ederson’s calm in possession. Perhaps he could have done better again for Liverpool’s third, though this was a more stylish finish from Mane, volleyed in at the near post from the excellent Thiago’s chipped pass.
Resting Ederson may have been the pivotal decision, but was in elite company on the bench. Kevin de Bruyne was only deemed fit enough to be a replacement, though there was some surprise that Aymeric Laporte, Ilkay Gundogan and Rodri were also substitutes. Minus the regular holding midfielder, Fernandinho struggled, looking his 36 years, and City mistimed several challenges in midfield.
They improved after the break. City’s riposte came within 70 seconds with an emphatic finish by Jack Grealish, who was beautifully set up by Gabriel Jesus. The Brazilian, a scorer against Liverpool last week, almost repeated the feat. He was City’s brightest player and was twice denied by Alisson. The importance of those saves was shown when Bernardo Silva tapped in Riyad Mahrez’s cross. Yet City had left themselves too much to do.