Review and Player Ratings from FA Cup semi-final defeat – Manchester City 2-3 Liverpool
After a frantic 10 days, it wasn't getting any easier for Manchester City as they faced Liverpool for a second time in a week, this time in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley Stadium.
Pep Guardiola made seven changes to his City starting XI, with some forced. Kyle Walker missed out with an injury, while De Bruyne could only make the bench due to having stitches in his calf. Nathan Ake and Oleksander Zinchenko started the game in defence, with Fernandinho ahead of them. Gabriel Jesus, Jack Grealish, and Raheem Sterling all joined Phil Foden in the attack.
The first chance of the game fell to Grealish after a delightful long ball from Fernandinho found Joao Cancelo on the right-hand side perfectly – the Portugal international proceeded to pull it back to the Englishman, but his effort was blocked before reaching the target.
After a rocky period from City, failing to get through Liverpool's high press with the dysfunctional defence on the field, they found themselves one goal down just 10 minutes into the game after Ibrahima Konate jumped highest from a corner and headed in his third goal in as many games.
One of the more controversial decisions by Guardiola was starting Zack Steffen in goal instead of Ederson, and unfortunately, it didn't pay off. Unlike City's #31 last week, the American was not calm under pressure and didn't release the ball quick enough to avoid Sadio Mane's incoming slide tackle – the ball ended up in City's goal for a second time in 17 minutes.
Obviously, it was a very heavily changed side for City given the hectic schedule, but the Premier League champions looked very off the pace. Struggling to beat the press, stray passes, poor touches, etc. – it wasn't the opening 25 minutes Guardiola was hoping to see.
Alisson's distribution wasn't the best either – a couple of times he played a few sloppy passes into City players' paths, but they weren't able to make the most of the opportunities handed to them with still the only City chance of the game coming from Grealish early on.
Sadio Mane doubled his goal tally for the afternoon just before half-time and made it 3-0 to Liverpool. Liverpool's #10 smartly volleyed into the near corner with Steffen unable to keep it out. Not the best 45 minutes from the Citizens, is the nice way to put it.
A fantastic start to the second half provided the Manchester side with the hope they needed for a comeback. Fernandinho slipped Jesus through into the box past Virgil Van Dijk, the Brazilian cut back inside and squared it to Grealish who fired it into the top left corner, just 70 seconds after the restart.
Jesus, who had just extended his already great record against the Merseyside club, really stepped it up a gear in the second half, if not for a great recovery by Van Dijk, he may have had the chance to pull another back for his side but the forward was forced wide into a tight angle.
Some immense defending from Ake, moments after Sterling's attempted pass across the box was cut out. Mohammed Salah was played in behind the City defence but Ake's pace stopped any potential chance the Egyptian might have had. Insane pace from the Dutchman.
Jesus had been City's brightest attack spark all afternoon, but even he knows he should have had scored this chance. The Brazilian was on his own bearing down on goal after Grealish played him through, but the forward decided to take his shot early and Alisson made a good save down to his left to keep the scoreline at 3-1.
It was a much better second-half display from the players in sky blue, but they were still unable to create loads of chances against this full-strength Liverpool side. Guardiola, strangely, opted for no substitutions for most of the game either. However, in fairness, it later transpired that most of the bench were suffering from fitness issues of some kind.
Sterling had a free-kick, won by Jesus, who was taken off straight after, but the Englishman's effort was quite far off target, which just about summarised City's afternoon at Wembley.
Bernardo Silva gave the travelling City fans hope the comeback might have actually happened with a 90th-minute tap-in after some extraordinary play from Riyad Mahrez – who replaced Jesus – squeezing it just past Alisson to the Portuguese international – but it was too little too late for the Blues.
Both Sterling and Fernandinho aimed to bring the scoreline level, but the latter's fierce volley was deflected over for a corner, while the former's curling effort was too central and straight at Alisson.
It's City's fourth semi-final exit under Guardiola, and three in as many years. The second half was much improved from the first 45-minute performance but it still wasn't enough to take the game to extra time and get themselves in the final.
Steffen - 2
Cancelo - 6
Stones - 8
Ake - 7
Zinchenko - 6
Fernandinho - 6
Bernardo Silva - 7
Foden - 7
Jesus - 7
Grealish - 7.5
Sterling - 6
Subs: Mahrez - 7.5
What's next for Manchester City?
Up next for the Blues is Brighton and Hove Albion on Wednesday 20th April, kicking off at 20:00 BST.