A Gabriel Jesus penalty condemned Liverpool to a 5-4 penalty shoot-out defeat to Manchester City at Wembley.
Goals from Raheem Sterling and Joel Matip saw normal time finish 1-1 in an entertaining game, but one in which Liverpool could justifiably think that Lady Luck evaded them.
In the second half, in particular, Liverpool — with Mohamed Salah to the fore — peppered Manchester City’s goal with shots, but a combination of the goal frame, Kyle Walker acrobatics and Claudio Bravo denied the Reds a victory in normal time. Despite the shootout loss, the performance, especially after the interval, augurs well for Liverpool’s campaign which begins on Friday night at home to Norwich at Anfield.
Bravo’s save from Georginio Wijnaldum’s spot-kick proved the difference in the shootout, with every other player from both team’s scoring.
The former Barcelona keeper was busy throughout and it was his performance, in both normal time and in the penalty shootout, that sealed the victory for City.
Shaqiri, Lallana, Salah and Oxlade-Chamberlain were all accurate from 12 yards for the Reds, but it proved to be in vain as Gundogan, Foden, Bernardo, Zinchenko and Jesus all held their nerve to secure the victory for Pep Guardiola’s men.
The two protagonists in last season’s epic Premier League title race did not want to give each other a psychological inch in this encounter and the opening of the game was suitably intense.
City had the better of the opening period and they capitalised on their ascendancy by taking the lead in the 12th minute.
For the first time since leaving the club in 2015, Raheem Sterling scored against Liverpool. After lax communication at a set piece from the Reds’ rearguard, the England winger prodded home from close range after David Silva’s flick fell to him.
Alisson may feel he could have done better, as the ball was not hit with great conviction and trickled over the line. The main culprit, however, was Liverpool’s lack of communication. With half the team playing offside and the other half presumably admiring Wembley’s architecture, Kyle Walker’s deep free-kick found an onside Kevin De Bruyne, whose header found Silva who in turn found Sterling for the goal.
Liverpool did rally well to going behind and Salah was especially prominent, proving to be a thorn in the side of Alexander Zinchenko at left-back. The Egyptian had several shots at goal in the first half, although the accuracy didn’t match the intent Klopp would have doubtlessly been encouraged by the sharpness of his forward despite the former Roma man only returning to pre-season training last Monday.
Similarly, Roberto Firmino showed no ring rustiness in a performance of typical industry and flair. The Brazilian fashioned the best chance of the half for Liverpool. After acrobatically controlling a long ball, Firmino pirouetted beautifully away from Manchester City’s defenders attention and strung Bravo’s hands with a left-footed strike.
The half time whistle sounded with City holding a marginally deserved lead, based off their ascendancy in the midfield and the joy they were getting in behind Liverpool’s full-backs.
Last season’s Premier League champions started the second half with direct intent and they nearly doubled their lead when Sterling hit the post. The 51 times capped England winger was clearly offside when collecting Silva’s pass but play was flagged on. Facing Alisson one on one Sterling’s shot came back off the post.
The former Red soon had another great chance to double City’s lead. After reneging to kick the ball out despite Divock Origi writhing in pain on the pitch, The Cityzens fashioned a chance which saw Sterling again one versus one with Alisson. The presence of Virgil van Dijk back appeared to have startled Sterling and his momentary pause saw Alisson clutch the ball off his toes.
Liverpool’s first clutch of substitutes proved to be the turning point in the game. Naby Keita and Joel Matip replaced Fabinho and the struggling Trent Alexander Arnold respectively.
Keita’s introduction, in particular, proved to be a catalyst for the Reds to dominate the game. Direct and ambitious, Keita brought bravery and skill to the midfield that had been sorely lacking and provided a platform for the attack to flex their abilities
Matip’s substitution meant that Joe Gomez replaced Alexander Arnold, who had struggled defensively at right-back, at right-back and Liverpool looked more solid as a consequence.
With their pressing sharper and Keita offering a better option in midfield for ball circulation Liverpool began knocking on the door and forcing Bravo into making saves in the City goal.
The European Champions came an inch away from equalising in the 56th minute. Van Dijk’s volley hit the bar and bounced up off the line. For the second time in a few months, millimetres denied Liverpool a goal against Manchester City. Less than a minute later Salah hit the frame of the goal after his left-footed, near-post shot bounced back off the post as the Reds really raised the tempo.
A Liverpool goal did eventually come and van Dijk was at the heart of it. Jordan Henderson’s free-kick found its way to the Dutchman at the back post and he delicately cushioned a volley to Matip who powered past Nicolas Otamendi to head home from close range.
Buoyed by their goal, the Reds continued to push on but were denied by saves from Bravo and, in the 92nd minute, a goal-line clearance from Walker from a Salah header.
Ultimately, the Reds did not make the most of their chances in normal time and fell in the penalty shoot out. The second-half performance, however, should be enough to encourage Klopp and the whole fan base for the season ahead.
Liverpool team: Alisson; Alexander Arnold, Gomez, van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Henderson; Salah, Firmino, Origi.
Subs used: Matip, Keita, Oxlade Chamberlain, Shaqiri, Lallana