Manchester City 2-3 Liverpool: Reds stun Guardiola at Wembley
 (Photo by James Gill - Danehouse/Getty Images)

On Friday afternoon, Jurgen Klopp refused to be drawn into speculating about the historic, remarkable feat his side are on the cusp of achieving between now and the end of May.

“You’d think I'm completely mad!” he said in his usual cool, pragmatic manner.

That was the German’s blunt response to shut down questions from reporters probing if he or his players had allowed themselves to dream about the unprecedented quadruple they remain well-placed to achieve in just over six weeks time.

Having already wrapped up the first part - of what could culminate in an extraordinary four-piece - against Chelsea in February's League Cup final, supporters will be licking their lips at the prospect of seeing the momentous charge for greatness stretch into  May after their commanding 3-2 win over Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final.

With the two sides facing off for the second time in six days, this encounter was always destined to play second-fiddle to the captivating display from both sides at the Etihad last Sunday, given the slender one-point gap that separates Klopp and Pep Guardiola’s men at the top of the Premier League table.

Of course, for Manchester City there would be just as much at stake as their Merseyside counterparts due to the aspirations they hold of completing a first English  'treble' - since Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United side defied the odds in the Nou Camp 23 years ago - still very much alive. 

Klopp made seven changes to the side that secured their safe passage into the final four of the Champions League 72 hours earlier, as Alisson Becker, Ibrahima Konate, Naby Keita and Luis Diaz all retained their places.

For City, Guardiola proved his loyalties once more as he opted to stick with secondary goalkeeper Zack Steffen, who featured in the third and fourth rounds as well as the quarter-final triumph over Southampton.

As a result of City’s gruelling midweek trip to the Wanda Metropolitano, and the seven changes Guardiola made to the side, it was the Reds who made the mark on the game after just nine minutes. 

The first combination of the game from Mane and Andy Robertson down the left-hand side saw Liverpool win their first corner of the game. That handed Virgil van Dijk and Konate a chance to patrol  the City box in a bid to take command, boasting the aura of a team who have scored the most goals from set-pieces in the Premier League this season.

And within seconds of lurking in the new surroundings, that’s exactly what the Frenchman did as he rose highest to connect with Robertson’s whipped delivery. Sending Reds fans behind the goal into raptures.

The goal was a catalyst for another dominant showing from the former RB Leipzig man, who demonstrated why Klopp was so keen to get his signature wrapped up at the tail end of last season. To fend off any other European clubs clamouring for his much-desired signature. 

Up against Gabriel Jesus for much of the afternoon, he utilised his strength, pace - in attack and recovery - and range of passing to set the tempo for his side in the blistering Wembley sun.

The Citizens, truth be told, never looked like landing a chink in their opponents' armour, performing well below the immaculate standards Guardiola has come to expect from this group of players over the past four seasons. 

That was epitomised by stand-in goalkeeper Steffen - who increased Manchester City’s already mammoth task from a molehill to a mountain when he was caught napping - after just 17 minutes.

Unlike the usual ice-cold Ederson, who is usually situated between the City sticks, the American took one touch too many as the ball was played back to him on the goal line.

He dithered, dithered, and then dithered some more.

And that was a kind enough invitation for Mane to pounce as he bundled the ball over the line thanks to a sliding challenge executed with great force.

Wembley was stunned.

Mane took centre stage as his teammates raced over to laud the Senegal international, while he donned a smile bright enough to light up the famous Wembley arch. 
 

This is a player who is enjoying his best spell since the all-conquering title-winning campaign of 2019/20. He looks fitter, stronger, more composed and more importantly like flashes of his old self.

However, just after Mane’s maiden strike of the afternoon, If Klopp had any ideas of keeping his side level-headed with a balanced half-time team talk, those plans would soon elapse as Mane grabbed his second and the Reds’ third with a sweeping volley just before the interval. 

The layoff was sweetly handed to him by Liverpool’s magician, their metronome and arguably their most important player; Thiago Alcantara.

The finest of touches on the edge of the box from the Reds’ majestic operator allowed Mane to hit the crispest of volleys that flew into the near post and past the helpless Steffen.

City, intent on restoring some pride, came flying out of the blocks after the interval as Jesus displayed some neat footwork to create an opening for Grealish to slam home and apply am ounce of pressure to Klopp’s men, after less than 180 seconds. 

Liverpool had chances of their own to grab a much-craved fourth goal, but it was in fact Alisson who was the busier of the two ‘keepers as he was forced to make two huge saves to deny Jesus from cranking up the pressure for those from Merseyside who had made the pilgrimage to the capital.

Bernardo Silva grabbed a second for Guardiola’s men just as fourth official Kevin Friend raised his board to indicate that four additional minutes would be played. 

Though, Klopp’s men resented the desperate, aimless balls from the Citizens in a bid to take the game into extra time. 

And Michael Oliver’s whistle was met by the sound of nearly thirty thousand sighs as Liverpool supporters gasped at the sight of their heroes booking a place in next month's showpiece final, as they edge ever closer to ending their 16-year drought in the world’s oldest cup competition. 

Klopp will no doubt keep his quadruple cards close to his chest despite his side's chances of completing a clean-sweep looking greater than ever, but those inside Wembley this afternoon know their side is within a whisker of securing unprecedented dominance.

They may never get a better shot than this.

 

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