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Manchester City

Man City lost the Liverpool battle and must shrug off Wembley nightmare to win the ultimate fight

08:00 BST 17/04/2022
Bernardo Silva, Pep Guardiola, Phil Foden, Aymeric Laporte, Man City vs Liverpool, FA Cup 2021-22
Pep Guardiola's side saw their treble hopes ended in the FA Cup semi-finals, but they can still end the season with bragging rights over the Reds

It was a dreadful 45 minutes, one of the worst halves of football Manchester City have produced in the Pep Guardiola era.

Losing 3-0 to Liverpool, their hopes of winning the FA Cup and a historic treble were up in smoke as the Reds' dreams of an unprecedented quadruple remained on course.

And yet by full-time, the feeling that City could still yet end the season with bragging rights over their greatest on-field rivals remained, with hope regained after second-half fightback that almost saw them come all the way back and force extra-time.

Saturday's 3-2 defeat was still painful, but given the week City have had, this was the game they will feel most comfortable in having lost.

They remain a point clear at the top of the Premier League table after last weekend's 2-2 draw with Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium, while they are into the semi-finals of the Champions League after coming through Wednesday's bruising encounter with Atletico Madrid.

City certainly felt the effects of that goalless draw at the Wanda Metropolitano against Liverpool, with Guardiola making seven changes to his line up at Wembley, with injured duo Kyle Walker and Kevin De Bruyne among those who missed out, even if the latter did manage to make the bench.

Liverpool, on the other hand, were at pretty much full strength after resting a host of star names in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final against Benfica.

The difference in preparation, even if the teams had the same amount of time between games, showed, particularly in the first half.

City were sluggish and second best, outrun and outmanoeuvred by a rival that looked hungrier to win.

The third goal of that first half can be forgiven. That was Liverpool at their best, with Thiago Alcantara and Trent Alexander-Arnold combining brilliantly for Sadio Mane to smash in a near-post volley.

What cannot be forgotten so easily, though, is that City had already given up two of the weakest goals they will concede all season against their deadliest rivals.

Ibrahima Konate won a simple header to put Liverpool into a ninth-minute lead, while goalkeeper Zack Steffen was caught horribly and embarrassingly, delaying a clearance that allowed Mane to slide the ball in from a tackle.

Steffen's error summed up the doziness of City's performance, which is not a word usually associated with the Premier League champions.

"It was a difficult fixture because we came from somewhere like only we know where we came from, with games we had and the last five or six days days away and people with the problems," Guardiola said post-match. "The guys put in a lot of pride in the second half.

"Our momentum was there in the second half. We had the chances to equalise."

There can be no resting now for City, with two games a week guaranteed until the end of the season.

These two teams may have finished their scheduled matches against each other for now, but their rivalry will continue right until the end of the season, while there remains the distinct possibility of another meeting in the Champions League final in Paris.

City could potentially need to win every game between now and then if they are to end the season with two trophies, but they would be the two trophies they crave more than any others.

Almost all with connections to the club would have taken winning the Premier League and Champions League while Liverpool swept the domestic cups before the season began, and that very much remains in City's grasp.

They may not have beaten Liverpool in any of their meetings so far this season, but that would mean little if Guardiola's team can get the job done in the two competitions they remain in entering the final month of the season.

Ensuring that happens starts on Wednesday with a home clash against in-form Brighton, with City knowing they could kick off with Liverpool ahead of them in top spot if Jurgen Klopp's team beat Manchester United 24 hours earlier.

After three games without a win, it is imperative City shrug off the first half at Wembley and get back on the horse against Graham Potter's side.

Anything less could leave them up against it, but right now they may have lost the battle against Liverpool, but they remain on course to claim victory in the season's fight for ultimate supremacy.