Brendan Rodgers now knows his side is capable of winning the league while over half of Roy Hodgson's England team excelled for Liverpool in this win where Luis Suárez was lucky to stay on
Brendan Rodgers can play down talk of a 19th league championship all he likes, the final whistle sparked a title celebration in all but name from Liverpool. The manager's reaction to Philippe Coutinho's late winner – bounding on to the pitch in the manner of Brian Kidd and Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford in 1993 – was also a giveaway. Steven Gerrard led delirious scenes on the Anfield pitch as soon as referee Mark Clattenburg called time on a pulsating encounter. His side's first-half performance justified their place at the Premier League summit both in terms of the quality of Liverpool's attacking play and the relentless pressing that halted Manchester City at every turn. In the second half, when City showed class and character in abundance, Liverpool held their nerve while the rest of Anfield was losing theirs to dig in and find their cutting edge once more. The only negative for Liverpool was the late red card for Jordan Henderson for a tackle on Samir Nasri that will bring a three-match suspension. He will be missed.
The Manchester City captain would have been the last person you would predict as the weak link in the visiting defence even after suffering a knee injury in training on the eve of the game. How badly that affected his display is immeasurable but also irrelevant, as his two major errors were routine. His appearance on the team-sheet sent a collective sigh of relief through the City ranks but his performance undermined them, perhaps fatally in terms of the title race. Kompany was at fault for Liverpool's second goal when he failed to track Martin Skrtel's run to meet Gerrard's corner. His second mistake was far worse, slicing a routine clearance straight to Coutinho who swept Liverpool back in front just as they appeared at their most vulnerable. The integral part of City's title victory in 2012 may well have holed their chances in 2014.
Liverpool started with six England outfield players on display – Manchester City had none – and most excelled in front of the watching international management team of Roy Hodgson and Ray Lewington. They must surely be tempted to start the World Cup with Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling in the positions they occupy for their club. A few months ago the talk was whether Sterling had time to force his way back into the England squad. Now it should be a question of where he starts. Still only 19, he embodied the fearlessness, industry and style with which Liverpool are closing in on the title.
The Uruguayan's temperament has improved in tandem with his form this season but he was lucky Clattenburg opted for a lenient approach to the potential title decider. Suárez walked a disciplinary tightrope from the fifth minute when he received a yellow card for a dangerous tackle on Martín Demichelis. City were not slow in highlighting any perceived indiscretion to the referee thereafter. Kompany's protests about a Suárez dive shortly before half-time were widely optimistic but not in the 53rd minute, when the striker pirouetted over a Demichelis challenge. Clattenburg did not fall for it but neither did he penalise Suárez, awarding a goal-kick and ignoring City's justified complaints. Mind you, there were no complaints from City when James Milner also escaped a booking for a similar offence moments later.
It was a surprise Manuel Pellegrini selected Jesús Navas over James Milner from the start given Liverpool's obvious attacking threat and their tendency to fly out of the blocks at Anfield. City needed to be compact and dig in from the outset but the Spanish winger provided no help in that respect, even adding to City's unease in the first half with a series of poor touches and loose passes deep inside his own half. It was the introduction of Milner for Navas early in the second half that sparked life into the visitors, giving them a better shape in which the outstanding David Silva shone, better balance and a supply from the right that matches the quality from the left.