By Andy Hampson, PA
Manchester City brushed off the absence of Erling Haaland to keep the pressure on Premier League leaders Arsenal with a resounding 4-1 win over rivals Liverpool.
Two goals early in the second half from Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan gave City a decisive edge before Jack Grealish wrapped up victory in an absorbing contest at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.
Liverpool, so used to being City’s chief title challengers themselves, had taken an early lead through Mohamed Salah but Haaland’s replacement Julian Alvarez quickly levelled and the visitors tired after the break.
FULL-TIME | It’s good to be back! 🙌
🔵 4-1 🔴 #ManCity pic.twitter.com/L742pgPegf
— Manchester City (@ManCity) April 1, 2023
The final score underlined the gap that has opened up between the clubs this season with champions City now 22 points ahead of the side that took them to the wire last year.
Much of the build-up to the game had focused on the fitness of the prolific Haaland, who has scored 42 goals in all competitions for City this season.
The Norwegian failed to recover from a groin problem in time but surely looked on with satisfaction from a private box as his team-mates excelled without him.
The hosts showed intent from early on with Gundogan getting into a good position only to miscue a volley, Rodri shooting at Alisson Becker and Riyad Mahrez curling a free-kick narrowly wide.
Yet Liverpool showed fight at first and, although Darwin Nunez was only deemed fit enough for a substitute role, were a danger on the break.
Salah served warning when he had a shot blocked and then made no mistake after another quick counter-attack in the 17th minute.
Trent Alexander-Arnold launched a ball to Diogo Jota from deep and the Portuguese held it up in the area for Salah to race onto and thump a shot into the top corner.
It could have quickly got worse for City but they survived another scare and then levelled after a brilliant, and game-changing, couple of minutes from Grealish.
Firstly he was the only City player to get back as Salah broke clear again and he made a timely interception as the Egyptian looked to play in Jota.
Moments later Grealish was involved at the other end, this time laying off a neat first-time cross for World Cup-winner Alvarez to turn home at close range.
Tensions threatened to boil over in the closing stages of the first half after Rodri was booked for pulling back Jota but not for repeating the offence on Cody Gakpo. Manuel Akanji and Jordan Henderson also got involved in a running battle.
The interval brought a refocusing on the football and City were quickly into their stride as Mahrez found space on the right and centred for the inrushing De Bruyne to turn in.
Gakpo was brilliantly denied by Ederson at the other end but City were relentless and took a firm grip on the game by grabbing their third after 53 minutes.
Alexander-Arnold stretched to block Alvarez’s initial shot but the ball rolled to Gundogan and the German could hardly miss from close range.
The double blow took the wind out of Liverpool’s challenge and a dominant City eventually grabbed a fourth when Grealish combined with De Bruyne to slide home and cap a fine individual display.
It was a thoroughly professional performance by City from a potentially difficult fixture but they will hope the wounded Reds can rally against Arsenal next week.