manchester city liverpool

The six matches that defined the Liverpool-Man City rivalry in the modern era

From stirring three goal comebacks to bus bombardments, Liverpool and Man City’s rivalry has grown in intensity and acrimony over the years.

The latest chapter of this rivalry was written on Thursday night, when Manchester City absolutely smashed the new champions by four goals to nil. It could have been five only for Riyad Mahrez’ injury time striker to be ruled out for offside.

Unfortunately for City it was one of the least meaningful meetings between the two teams in quite some time, as Liverpool officially wrapped up the Premier League title last week, but in reality had done so a long while ago.


But for City it was about laying down a marker for next season and extinguishing some of the hurt that came from putting up such a weak challenge for the title this year. In historical terms, too, victories over the Reds are not all that common.

Since their first encounter in 1893, City have won just 57 of the 215 meetings between the two. Liverpool have been the victors on 105 occasions, just under 50% of the time.

The record reads better in the modern era, but only slightly. Since the takeover by the Abu Dhabi United Group in 2008, City have just nine wins out of 30 matches against Liverpool (who have 12 wins). And two of those were on penalties in the League Cup and Community Shield respectively.

Their record in Anfield makes for even worse reading; their last win there came in 2003, and they’ve only come away with three points twice in the last 38 years. City have had the upper hand in the very recent past, at least, gaining three wins from their last five meetings.

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Kuyt Flying — 2-3, October 2008

11 years ago Manchester City, buoyed by the investment of Khaldoon Al Mubarak, had just embarked on their ambitious project to become a major force in English football. Liverpool, on the other hand, were arguably at their peak under Rafael Benitez and ready to challenge for the title, having gone the opening six weeks undefeated.

It was new money versus old, young pretenders up against the establishment force, and the best attack taking on the stingiest defence; the subtext to the clash was fascinating in a away, and seeing the friction of those differences manifest itself in this fixture added another layer to what turned out to be an entertaining contest.

City took a two goal lead into halftime through a brilliant Stephen Ireland volley and a terrific Javier Garrido free-kick. It was a phenomenal start, but of the starting eleven that day only three went on to be staple first-teamers for years to come; Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta.

In hindsight, it’s not at all surprising then that they couldn’t hold onto the lead. This team was far from the finished product and despite the fact their defence contained tough men like Kompany, Zabaleta and Richard Dunne, the rest of the squad belied a soft underbelly; the likes of Elano, Robinho, Jo, and Shaun Wright-Phillips, for example.

And yet, they had an opportunity to kill off the game completely in the second-half. Fernando Torres had gotten one back, but a City counter-attack soon after saw Wright-Phillips enter the 18-yard box at a leisurely pace before crossing it into the path of Robinho. The Brazilian had goalkeeper Pepe Reina beaten, but he managed to knock the gilt-edged chance over the bar.

That would surely have killed any momentum the visitors had on the comeback trail. But instead Zabaleta got a straight red for a rash tackle and Liverpool capitalised by getting an equaliser through Torres, before Dirk Kuyt scored a dramatic winner in injury time.

That win kept the Reds neck and neck with Chelsea at the top of the table and six points ahead of Manchester United after seven games, although the Red Devils would ultimately win the title ahead of the Merseyside outfit. City, meanwhile, finished in a disappointing tenth place, but the narrative of buying success would rumble on for the next decade and play a key role in the burgeoning rivalry between these two clubs.

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We Go Again — 3-2, April 2014

After that second-place finish in 2009, it would be another five years before Liverpool would challenge for the Premier League. In the meantime Man City had won their first top-flight title in 44 years, supplanting the Reds as one of the best teams in the country.

Under Brendan Rodgers though, they embarked on an incredible 11 game winning run in the 2013/14 campaign that put them in the driving seat for first place. The Northern Irishman had his charges playing a chaotic brand of football which was very much the embodiment of “you score three, we’ll score four”, empowered by the likes of Luis Suarez, Philippe Coutinho and a very young Raheem Sterling.

Liverpool’s home meeting with City in April of 2014 was a classic example of this. They took a deserved two goal lead through Sterling and Martin Skrtel after 26 minutes and should have seen the game out without a bother. But a David Silva strike and a Glen Johnson own goal after the break shifted the momentum entirely. Typical.

But just as they had done so many times on that unbeaten streak, they just would not die; Coutinho capitalised on an uncharacteristically poor clearance from Kompany to smash a winner home in the 78th minute. Also typical.

After the final whistle Steven Gerrard gave his famous “we go again, do not let this fucking slip” speech to his teammates as they leapt ahead of Chelsea in the table, but it was sadly a precursor for things to come; the captain did indeed slip in a 2-0 defeat to the Blues, before drawing 3-3 at Crystal Palace.

This 3-2 win was the one that gave them the belief they could win the holy grail, but it’s the hope that kills you. That, and Tony Pulis.

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City’s Demolition Job — 5-0, September 2017

Man City were a juggernaut in the 2017/18 campaign, something Liverpool learned very early on in the season. The Reds started off well, but it was the hosts who took the lead after 24 minutes through Sergio Aguero. If that wasn’t bad enough, disaster struck for the visitors soon after.

Struggling to latch onto a long ball from Joel Matip, Sadio Mane inadvertently booted goalkeeper Ederson square in the face. The Senegalese was predictably sent off for the challenge, landing his side with the most uphill of tasks. With a defence featuring Ragnar Klavan and Alberto Moreno, they simply weren’t up to it.

A brace apiece for Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane completed a major demolition job of Jurgen Klopp’s charges. The final goal was the best of the lot, the German winger left in acres of space on the edge of the box to send the ball top bins. It is Klopp’s heaviest defeat as Liverpool boss.

Liverpool fans claimed that their side had outplayed City before the red card, which was viewed as a laughably pointless piece of analysis, but they would have the last laugh in the next three meetings between these two.

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Shots Fired — 4-3, January 2018

City topped the league by 15 points, having won 20 of their opening 22 games of the season, drawing the other two. They were looking well to emulate Preston North End and Arsenal, the only two clubs in English football history to go an entire league season unbeaten.

And having crushed Liverpool earlier in the campaign, few would have bet on City leaving Anfield with anything less than a point at least. But they ended up with their first defeat of the campaign.

A collection of spectacular goals from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Roberto Firmino, Mane and Mo Salah gave the home side a shock 4-1 lead after 70 minutes, with the only response coming from Sane. It won’t surprise anyone to know that City’s central defensive pairing that night was John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi, who both got destroyed by Norwich City(!) earlier this season.

Although Virgil van Dijk had signed for Liverpool at this point, he wasn’t in the team here, and this was also before they had bought Fabinho and Alisson Becker, so there were still huge holes in their defence. In a game that should’ve been dead and buried, there was still a chance for City, who scored twice more late on through Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan. It wasn’t enough though, as they finally tasted defeat at the final whistle.

This felt like a weird once-off result at the time, but it was actually a harbinger of the challenge Liverpool would bring to City over the next couple of seasons.

Bus Attack — 3-0, April 2018

That challenge would come sooner than expected, as the two Premier League clubs were drawn together at the quarter-final stage of that year’s Champions League.

Anyone who expected a similar kind of ding-dong battle to the one that occurred just three months previously were in for a rude awakening, as Liverpool unexpectedly destroyed City. It was no fluke either; they dominated the game from start to finish, and looked decidedly more comfortable at the back with Van Dijk in the starting line-up.

Mane and Salah scored either side of a Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain screamer to give themselves an incredible lead, all within the first half-hour of the game. But the main talking point after the match concerned the Man City bus, which had been pelted by objects from the home support as it made its way to the stadium. Did it rattle them? Who knows for sure, but it certainly looked that way.

There was no miracle comeback in the second leg, as Liverpool won 2-1 at the Etihad and made a run all the way to the final. As the two best teams in the country, and arguably the top two in Europe, they have played each other so many times in big games that they know each other inside out. That has led both Klopp and Pep to be more conservative in their tactical approach whenever they face other these days, but every time they meet is a fascinating encounter nonetheless.

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Done And Dusted — 3-1, November 2019

Title races are never decided in November, but this result essentially consigned Man City to also-rans. Holding a five point lead in the table going into this match, Liverpool seized the initiative and never looked back.

After just six minutes of play Fabinho hit a stunning effort from range to open the scoring, and by the 13th minute Mo Salah had doubled their lead. It was the first time since December 2016 against Leicester City that they conceded twice in the opening 15 minutes of a league match.

Any chance of a comeback was smothered just after the second-half began, as Sadio Mané struck home in the 51st minute. A Bernardo Silva consolation late on could not hide the reality that was now facing City: Liverpool were going to be champions this season.

City were missing two key players in the form of Ederson and Aymeric Laporte, meaning Fernandinho had to play alongside John Stones in the centre of defence. They couldn’t handle the ferocity of the host’s attack and it was only natural that they succumbed to such a battering.

The previous season Liverpool within literal millimetres of scoring the goal that may have been enough for them to win the league, only for Stones to clear it off the line in the nick of time. This time they were definitive and didn’t let the opportunity slip through their fingers.

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