Grealish helps Manchester City crush Liverpool to keep pressure on Arsenal

The title race is still firmly, exhilaratingly on: Manchester City required all three points to keep their breath hot on the necks of Arsenal and they did the business supremely in a second-half show of might, even if the leaders responded later in the afternoon.

Having fallen behind to Mohamed Salah’s smash-and-grab opener, Julián Álvarez equalised from Jack Grealish’s pass to make it 1-1 at the break. Then City showed why they are the champions of the past two seasons and the dominant, garlanded side of this era.

Related: ‘Four performances were OK’: Klopp laments Liverpool’s display at City

A first blow was administered seconds after the interval via the kind of fast break from which Liverpool had scored. Álvarez can take bouquets for helping to create Kevin De Bruyne’s goal, as his crossfield ball sliced open Liverpool and found the roving Riyad Mahrez along the right. He turned the ball across and the Belgian, so often City’s key man, finished.

A memorable day for Álvarez became even rosier when his shot was blocked by Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ilkay Gündogan hooked home. The Argentinian was surely only in the XI because of Erling Haaland’s groin problem but Pep Guardiola had answered perfectly the poser of what to do when your 42-goal man is ruled out: select a World Cup winner who can slot straight into the side’s seamless groove and be a standout performer.

Gündogan’s goal had the stadium bouncing and Jürgen Klopp fuming. Liverpool’s manager was yet again overseeing a defensive horror show, so he responded with what felt like a farcical move, dragging off four players on 70 minutes: Salah (perhaps unfortunate to be removed), Diogo Jota, Harvey Elliott and Andrew Robertson, as Roberto Firmino, Darwin Núñez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kostas Tsimikas entered.

When the outstanding Grealish gave Alexander-Arnold the runaround – swapping passes with De Bruyne – and scored, Liverpool had been humiliated by foes who, before this term, had been their sole rivals recently for the championship.

A delighted Guardiola said: “Minute one to minute 93, it was a perfect performance – even when we conceded a goal we were playing really well. It is one of the best performances in my seven years [here]. The game was so stable through 93 minutes – I cannot name one player better than the other one, all were exceptional.”

Grealish revealed he might have missed a game he decorated with arguably his finest display for the club. “I was in the toilet all morning, I felt sick, but I feel all right now,” he said. “I love football, playing, training, and when it’s going well there’s nothing better. I feel back to my normal self – scoring and getting the assist is perfect.”

Related: Jack Grealish, Manchester City’s coolest kid, teaches Liverpool a lesson | Barney Ronay

Four-one was the margin of City’s last league victory over Liverpool in February 2021, too, and here it reflected how they pummelled their opponents throughout, breached only when hit by a quick break in the 17th minute. Liverpool pounced as Alexander-Arnold dinked one of his long-range specials to Jota on halfway and the Portuguese raced in like a natural, holding off Manuel Akanji and teeing the ball up for Salah, whose lethal left foot was never going to miss.

This was a stinging black eye for City. But they know only one way: to fight back. Mahrez soon spurned a sparkling chance to equalise by blazing over. As City bombarded Liverpool they went mighty close to allowing a second sucker-punch. From a De Bruyne corner, Liverpool broke along the left as Salah ran in but Grealish, in the type of defensive play Guardiola adores from his attackers, raced over, stuck out a foot to stop the pass, and the ball deflected to Ederson.

Grealish was soon as impressive at the other end. Mahrez dribbled infield from the right and tapped to Gündogan who relayed to Grealish. His slide-rule ball was perfect and Álvarez made no mistake.

Guardiola comically sought to involve Liverpool’s Tsimikas, who was warming up, in his celebrations. There was further hilarity from the Spain midfielder Rodri who, having coated Scotland for their underhand tactics in midweek, did the same to Cody Gakpo, felling the Dutchman when already on a booking.

But at the final whistle, the midfielder and all of those in blue had the last laugh. Grealish said: “Arsenal are a great team, it’s in their hands, but we’ll do everything we can to chase them down.”

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City are eight points behind, but have a game in hand and Arsenal must still visit here. It would be no surprise if the championship is decided on the final day.