Premier League: Manchester City hands Liverpool first loss of season

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Manchester City stars Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane (Getty Images)

Leroy Sane’s 72nd-minute strike proved decisive as Manchester City reinvigorated its title defense and ended Liverpool’s unbeaten Premier League run Thursday with a crucial 2-1 win at the Etihad Stadium.

Roberto Firmino looked to have sealed a potentially vital point for first-place Liverpool in the title race when he equalized just past the hour, but Sane struck soon after, confirming the Reds’ first league defeat of the season in their 21st game and moving City to second and within four points of the summit.

A lively City start faded and Pep Guardiola’s men had a lucky escape in the 17th minute. Mohamed Salah released Sadio Mane into the box and the Senegal forward hit the post before John Stones blasted his clearance against Ederson and hastily scrambled to clear off the line.

Vincent Kompany was fortunate to avoid being sent off for a wild lunge on Salah 14 minutes later and City capitalized on that let-off just before the break.

Bernardo Silva played a low cross from the left toward the near post, where Sergio Aguero nipped in front of Dejan Lovren and emphatically smashed past Alisson from a seemingly impossible angle.

Liverpool hit back 26 minutes from time, however, as Andrew Robertson latched on to a lofted pass and played a volleyed cross for Firmino to bury with a stooping header.

But City was not done, catching Liverpool on the break before Sane found the net via the right post after being played into the box by Raheem Sterling.

A Liverpool onslaught followed, with Ederson tipping a Salah effort wide, before Bernardo Silva and Sterling missed glorious chances to finish the Reds off. Luckily for them, no comeback came and the champions held on.

What does it mean? Aguero vital on the big occasion…again

It is difficult to be surprised by Aguero these days, given how impressive he has been at this level for so many years, but his goal on Thursday was his 37th against the “Big Six” in the Premier League since 2011-12. Harry Kane is closest to him with 21 goals. There really is no one else like him in England in terms of effectiveness in the big games. The win also gives City much-needed momentum and halts the relentless charge of Liverpool, which would have gone nine points clear of Tottenham and 10 ahead of City with a win.

Sane the spark to reignite City’s hopes

While his goal was undoubtedly a highlight, for its quality and importance, Sane also deserves praise for his general performance as he was a constant outlet on the left and caused Trent Alexander-Arnold plenty of issues.

Lovren targeted

It was plain to see for much of the match that Lovren was identified by City as Liverpool’s weak link. He picked up an early yellow card and was then caught on his heels by Aguero for his goal. In a game of this magnitude, there is not much coming back from that.

What’s next?

City has FA Cup and EFL Cup ties with Rotherham United and Burton Albion, respectively, coming up over the next six days, before returning to league action at home to Wolves on Jan. 14. Nuno Espirito Santo’s men are the Reds’ next opponents on Monday in the FA Cup, before traveling to Brighton and Hove Albion five days later.