Liverpool Makes a Title Statement, Benefits From Controversy in Rout of Man City

An early no-call on a potential handball tilted the scales in Liverpool's way, and the hosts made sure that didn't change in an emphatic win.
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Anfield continues to be Manchester City's house of horrors, and the two-time defending Premier League champions' reign is under threat as a result.

Liverpool's 3-1 win over Man City on Sunday sends the Reds eight point clear in the Premier League table and nine clear of City in a potentially pivotal result relatively early in the season.

Fabinho's long-range laser after a no-call that denied Man City a penalty on the other end opened the scoring in the sixth minute. Mohamed Salah doubled the lead in the 13th minute with a header after sensational build-up work from Liverpool's two fullbacks, and Sadio Mane connected for a header of his own in the 51st to put Liverpool in full control.

Bernardo Silva pulled a goal back in the 78th minute, but the result was never put in the balance, as Liverpool remained unbeaten in league play this season, improving to 11-0-1.

Man City (8-3-1), however, finds itself in peril, trailing Liverpool by three full results–not to mention having to fight Chelsea and Leicester City for top-four positioning. The club has now gone 19 matches at Anfield without a win, and for its top scoring threat, Sergio Aguero, he now has gone 11 games at Liverpool's home (between Atletico Madrid and Man City) without scoring.

Here are three thoughts on the significant match:

Liverpool routs Manchester City in a big Premier League battle

Controversy at the start

It seems a big match these days can't be completed without some sort of influential VAR controversy, and so it was at Anfield, where just over five minutes in, the match turned on an influential decision.

As Silva tried to knife through the Liverpool defense and into the box the ball popped up and appeared to strike Trent Alexander-Arnold on his outstretched arm. It wasn't intentional, but that doesn't matter anymore with the new interpretation of the law. Man City players were livid, with Aguero berating referee Michael Oliver as play continued. On the other end, an awful Ilkay Gundogan clearance attempt gave Fabinho a clear look at goal from long range, and the midfielder hit it perfectly to make it 1-0 Liverpool.

Whether Alexander-Arnold should have been penalized–and thus giving Man City the chance to take the early lead–can be debated, but the ball also appeared to incidentally hit Silva on the arm first, a moment that would have nullified Man City's complaints altogether. Ultimately, VAR reviewed the play at its first stoppage opportunity, which happened to be after Fabinho's goal. Had the call been overruled and Fabinho's goal been wiped out only for Man City to have a PK, the controversy outrage would've been even fiercer. As frustrating as it might be, players can't stop in the heat of the moment, while play is continuing, to argue a call in the current laws-of-the-game climate.

Alexander-Arnold had another potential would-be handball go uncalled later in the match as well for good measure, but at that point the result was largely sorted. After the start Man City had, to have it unravel that drastically changed everything and sent Liverpool on its way. 

As for Pep Guardiola, his feelings about how the officiating crew handled the match can be summed up with his interactions with the referees after the final whistle. There's nothing genuine about this "thank you so much!" 

A statement in the title race

After blowing a 10-point lead last winter, Liverpool certainly has its guard up, even after extending its lead over City to nine points and its overall table lead to eight. But after Liverpool won the Champions League title, and after the start it has enjoyed to this season, there's a different aura around this team and a genuine feeling that it's Liverpool's title to lose.

There are still some significant matchups to come–the season is only 12 games old, after all–but a big six-point swing in a game against the title rival (all due respect to the way Chelsea and Leicester have played so far) means plenty from both a practical and psychological standpoint. Everything seems to be tilting Liverpool's way. 

Midweek injury hampers Man City

For all the laughter about Kyle Walker's emergency performance in goal vs. Atalanta in the Champions League, there was nothing funny about Ederson having to miss this game. Claudio Bravo, at this point, is not a starting-caliber goalkeeper in the heat of a title race. That much was evident on Liverpool's third goal, when Jordan Henderson's cross was allowed to sail through the six-yard box to the far post, where Mane headed in. Bravo simply has to make that catch, or at least punch it to safety. 

That is but one instance in a match filled with touchpoint moments, but it also effectively put the match out of reach. 

The gap between Man City's starter and backup is a sizable one–not unlike the gap that now stands between Liverpool and Man City in the league table.