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Shell-shocked City facing Champions League elimination

Liverpool, Thursday @PeopleSports11

Ahead of their latest trip to Liverpool, Manchester City worked tirelessly to avoid the kind of disastrous 10-minute spell which cost them three goals in 10 minutes in the two sides’ Premier League meeting at Anfield in January.

They worked on complex, ever-changing formations, on more direct passing, and Pep Guardiola tended towards the “safe” option he uses in the biggest game, playing an extra central player instead of a winger. But it all failed during Tuesday night’s shocking 3-0 loss on Merseyside.

If anything, Liverpool’s “spell” was not a spell at all, it was more than 30 minutes of the first half, and Guardiola’s side, who have looked untouchable pretty much all season in England, are now facing elimination at the quarter-final stage of the Champions League.

As distressing as it may have been, you cannot blame the pre-match actions of a handful of Liverpool supporters, who threw so many objects at the City bus that it is no longer useable.

And as vibrant as the atmosphere was inside the famous ground before and immediately after kick-off in this eagerly-awaited first-leg clash, you cannot say that overly affected City’s players either.

After all, City started the game well enough. They set out to dominate possession, even knocking it around their own half rather than probing for openings, in a bid to quieten down the crowd.

They did not look dangerous, but they did not look troubled, either. They were playing their game. Then, the whole house came crumbling down. They so very nearly avoided the Liverpool opener, but after Ederson had denied Roberto Firmino, Kyle Walker could not clear his lines and the ball found its way to Mohamed Salah, with the goal at his mercy.

He was never going to miss. Crucially, that was 12 minutes in. In eight of Liverpool’s last nine victories against City, the Reds had scored inside the first 13 minutes.

The Blues have won twice here since 1956, and it seemed all of their Anfield ghosts came back to haunt them at once. John Stones’ mistake in January allowed Firmino in to put Liverpool 2-1 up, kickstarting City’s 10-minute wobbly spell, and the same can be said of Walker’s semi-clearance. City could simply not recover. -GOAL

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