Liverpool took advantage of three errors from Vincent Kompany as they extended their lead at the pinnacle of Premier League table to five points thanks to a stunning 3-2 home win over Manchester City.
Philippe Coutinho scored the winner in the 78th minute after a howler from Kompany. Manchester City had spent the preceding days fretting over their captain’s fitness, and were relieved when he was available for selection.
Yet it was his wild swing at the ball which presented Coutinho with his chance from the edge of the box. The Liverpool player made no similar mistake, rifling home with power and accuracy past Joe Hart.
With City having been robbed of the Yaya Toure’s services in between those two strikes due to injury, Manuel Pellegrini’s woes were mounting.
However, there was time for one last twist in the tale – and one that could ultimately end Liverpool’s 24-year wait to be crowned champions of England – as Coutinho pounced on Vincent Kompany’s woeful clearance to fire in a dramatic 78th-minute winner.
Raheem Sterling opened the scoring after only six minutes, picking up on Luis Suarez’s pass and deceiving Kompany before slotting Joe Hart. The lead was doubled by Martin Skrtel with a great glancing header from a Steven Gerrard corner after 26 minutes. But City came out roaring in the second half, with James Milner, a 50th-minute substitute replacing Jesus Navas, setting up David Silva’s lofted shot into the net over the onrushing Liverpool defence.
Jordan Henderson’s late dismissal mattered little in the context of the game as the result ensured that the destination of the top-flight crown now rests exclusively in Liverpool’s hands.
Anfield fell silent before the game to remember the 96 Liverpool fans who lost their lives at Hillsborough 25 years ago, with supporters of both clubs paying their respects.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers was on the pitch in a modern-day re-enactment of Brian Kidd’s famous celebration at Manchester United for the first of Alex Ferguson’s titles. This time Kidd was in the opposite dugout and, for City, it was a traumatic goal after everything that had preceded it in the second half.
Liverpool, unchanged from last Sunday’s 2-1 win over West Ham, set a high tempo from the start and deservedly took the lead inside six minutes.
Luis Suarez split the City defence with a pass that picked out Sterling, who deceived Kompany – named in the starting line-up despite struggling with a knee injury – and Joe Hart with some excellent footwork before firing home Liverpool’s 100th goal in all competitions this season.
City’s hopes suffered another blow when Toure pulled up injured three minutes later, having appeared to twist his knee with an earlier off-target shot.
His replacement Javi Garcia was booked for his first tackle on Henderson as the visitors struggled to get to grips with the game.
Hart came to City’s rescue with a stunning one-handed save to keep out Steven Gerrard’s header, but the Liverpool captain’s delivery from the subsequent corner was nodded in by Skrtel after 26 minutes.
Liverpool’s 100th goal of the season was also their 50th in the Premier League against City. Suarez has now made more assists than anyone else (12) in the Premier League.
City will look back with anguish on those chances that Silva and Edin Dzeko passed up at that stage. They will also harbour legitimate grievances about the penalties that should have been awarded in the first and second half and the referee Mark Clattenburg’s failure to show Luis Suárez a second yellow card. Jordan Henderson was sent off in stoppage time for a studs-up lunge on Samir Nasri but Suarez, already booked, really should have gone earlier for a blatant dive.
Yet Manuel Pellegrini’s side ultimately paid a heavy price for gambling on Vincent Kompany’s fitness when the knee injury he suffered in training could probably be held up as Exhibit A while trying to explain why, in the biggest match of their season, they defended with this much generosity.
City fans, during the match, doing their club proud, held up a long banner of “YNWA 96” in the away end and then joined in the immaculate observation of the minute’s silence.
And the tears in Steven Gerrard’s eyes said it all: this was huge for Liverpool. Brendan Rodgers’ side have the look of champions. Liverpool are climbing back on their perch.