Unstoppable Liverpool, not VAR, the story as Reds make title statement vs. City

LIVERPOOL, England — Pep Guardiola was humble after a 3-1 defeat at Anfield. The Manchester City manager made sure he complained about VAR and “the big bosses” in charge of the controversial refereeing support system, but at the end of it all, he held his hands up and spoke a truth by saying, “Liverpool are the best team in the world.”

Guardiola often delivers such statements with heavy sarcasm, such as when he shook the hand of referee Michael Oliver at the end of the game and said, ‘Thank you very much” to the man who was in charge of a fixture which saw City controversially not awarded a sixth-minute penalty following a handball by Trent Alexander-Arnold. But by claiming that Liverpool are the best team on the planet right now, Guardiola was not being facetious or clever.

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Guardiola’s City team are the defending league champions — they are chasing a third successive title this season — and they followed up winning the Premier League with 100 points in 2017-18 by completing a domestic Treble last term.

But despite Guardiola saying after this game that he was “so proud” of his team because “they showed why they are champions,” the reality is that only one side looked like champions at Anfield, and it was Liverpool.

City had their periods when they dominated possession and created chances, but they did not play with the same control that usually enables them to overcome most opponents. Instead, they were rushed and flustered because Liverpool made them so.

Liverpool took their chances and City did not, but while the praise so often falls on Jurgen Klopp’s attacking players, this was a day when their defensive discipline and organisation came to the fore and led them to victory. During those spells of heavy City dominance, Liverpool defended with two solid lines of four, an arms-width apart at times, to stifle and frustrate Guardiola’s players.

And yes, they also had good fortune on their side with Oliver ruling out penalty claims when the ball hit Alexander-Arnold’s outstretched right arm. VAR also quickly dismissed the penalty claim, but such has been the inconsistency of VAR in the Premier League, it could easily have gone the other way.

Similarly, VAR did not spend three minutes dissecting whether Mohamed Salah was offside for the second goal, despite the freeze-frame of Andy Robertson’s pass to the Egyptian forward suggesting that some scrutiny was required, if only to make everything clearer to those inside Anfield, wondering whether they could celebrate the goal or not.

But while City would be justified in claiming that VAR, or the lack of it, knocked them off their stride early on, it was not the reason for their defeat. Neither was goalkeeper Claudio Bravo’s laughable attempt to deal with Liverpool’s third goal, when Sadio Mane easily headed in at the far post on 51 minutes.

The reason for the end result was Liverpool’s deep quality in every area of the pitch, and the unity and belief that Klopp has forged during his four years in charge.

The former Borussia Dortmund coach has, as Guardiola suggests, built the best team in the world right now and even a side as complete as City could not live with them on Sunday. And if City are to get back into the title race, or if Chelsea and Leicester can close the eight-point gap which separates them and Liverpool right now, the question must be who can beat Klopp’s team to give the rest hope?

It is still only November, so an eight-point lead is no guarantee of the title at this stage, but Liverpool have beaten all comers in 2019, in England and in Europe. It is difficult to imagine them losing three games, let alone one. In fact, since the start of last season, they have lost just one Premier League game — against City on Jan 1 — and are unbeaten at home since 2017.

They fought back from a seemingly lost cause against Barcelona in the Champions League last season, to win 4-3 on aggregate after losing the first-leg 3-0, and they now have the belief that comes from winning thanks to the Champions League triumph over Tottenham.

Liverpool are looking formidable and invincible. They have faced City, Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester United already this season and failed only to beat United. Not only are they on course to smash City’s record points haul of 100, they also look capable of emulating Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal Invincibles.

All that aside, as Guardiola said on Sunday, Liverpool are the best team in the world right now and look unstoppable.

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