Manchester City maintained the pressure on Premier League leaders Arsenal by shrugging off the absence of the injured Erling Haaland to outclass Liverpool with a magnificent display at Etihad Stadium.
City’s 42-goal striker was ruled out with a groin injury, but Pep Guardiola’s reigning champions demonstrated their all-round strength by coming from a goal down against a Liverpool side who have made life so difficult for them in the past, to run out convincing winners.
Liverpool caught City with a counter-attack after 17 minutes to take the lead, Diogo Jota making the break before Mohamed Salah applied a thumping finish.
City responded in devastating fashion with the outstanding Jack Grealish, who made a crucial intervention on Salah when Liverpool had the chance to double their lead, crossing for Julian Alvarez to equalise after 27 minutes.
Alvarez was the creator as City went ahead 53 seconds after the break, his raking pass finding Riyad Mahrez, who crossed for Kevin de Bruyne to slide home from close range.
John Stones delivered a masterclass in an unaccustomed role which saw him advance into midfield but also drop back into defence when required, and with City in total control Ilkay Gundogan added the third after a goalmouth skirmish.
Grealish deserved a goal and it duly arrived in the 74th minute when he timed his arrival perfectly to turn in De Bruyne’s cross as Liverpool ended beaten and bedraggled.
Grealish shows his class
When Grealish was substituted to a standing ovation late on, he fully deserved the accolade after a performance of the highest class.
The 27-year-old England winger tormented Trent Alexander-Arnold, delivered an equaliser on a plate for Alvarez and then scored the fourth goal that gave the scoreline a more accurate reflection of City’s supremacy over Liverpool.
Among all of his contributions, the lung-busting run to chase back and block Salah as the Egyptian raced clear with the option of setting up Jota was vital. Seconds later he was playing in Alavarez and City were level.
Grealish has grown into his role at Manchester City and clearly has the faith of his manager, who embraced him in a bear hug as he left the field.
Even stripped of Haaland, City were scintillating and gave a graphic demonstration of the gap that has opened up between them and Liverpool, who have been the only side to provide them with serious opposition in the title race in recent years.
The stylish performance of Stones, spending time breaking up attacks and spraying passes around in midfield to show what a naturally gifted footballer he is, showed that Guardiola’s side have many strings to their bow and this was a huge reminder to Arsenal that they will not give up their title without a fight.
Liverpool’s decline made clear
Liverpool have been the shadow on Manchester City’s shoulder in the title races of recent times – now they are simply a shadow of the side that chased a historic quadruple last season.
Jurgen Klopp’s team may occasionally show their former selves, like in the 7-0 demolition of Manchester United, but too often this season they have been mediocre and now they face a fight to finish in the top four.
The midfield pairing of Jordan Henderson and Fabinho look tired and vulnerable and Virgil van Dijk has lost much of his old authority at the heart of the defence.
Alexander-Arnold had another dismal 90 minutes and Andrew Robertson, his full-back partner on the other side, did not fare much better. Both were left exposed and City took full toll.
Much is made of Liverpool’s pursuit of Jude Bellingham but even if they are successful against opposition from many of Europe’s elite, the idea that the brilliant teenager will cure all their ills is a delusion.
Klopp looked, in turns, furious and bemused at Liverpool’s rank bad defending, lack of intensity and the manner in which they were over-powered – but given their previous form this season, he should not have been that surprised.