Liverpool’s forwards came out top in the battle of the Premier League’s great entertainers as Manchester City’s unbeaten start to the season was ended in remarkable fashion at Anfield.
Having won all but two of their league matches this season, Pep Guardiola’s side found themselves 4-1 down midway through the second half and they looked well beaten before a late rally set up a nerve-jangling finale but the hosts held on for a 4-3 win.
The ending of their 30-match unbeaten run, stretching back to April, handed Manchester United the chance to cut City’s lead to 12 against Stoke on Monday.
Having drawn level just before the break when Leroy Sane cancelled out Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s early opener, City were torn apart by three brilliant goals in nine minutes from Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, although all were assisted by defensive errors.
Substitute Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan scored late on to raise hopes of an unlikely comeback but Liverpool held on to extend their own unbeaten run to 18 matches, their longest sequence since 2008.
The result helped paper over the cracks in the Liverpool backline where questions are still being asked about their goalkeepers.
Jurgen Klopp picked Loris Karius ahead of established number one Simon Mignolet and suggested the place was now the German’s to lose.
With £75million record signing Virgil van Dijk already missing with a tight hamstring it was a huge call and one, arguably, the Reds boss got wrong with Karius at fault for the equaliser.
Instead of providing a solution it merely reopened the debate about whether either goalkeeper is good enough for a side with future title ambitions.
There cannot be any such argument about Klopp’s attacking resources, particularly as this was their first outing since the £142million sale of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s low ninth-minute 20-yard strike was the deserved reward for Liverpool being one of the few sides to take the game to City.
It was his third Premier League goal of the season and the 24-year-old now has as many league goals in 20 games for Liverpool as he scored for Arsenal in the last two campaigns.
City, who had to replace injured left-back Fabian Delph on the half-hour, had speculative shots from Sane and Kevin De Bruyne but Liverpool had better with Firmino’s near-post header going just wide.
However, five minutes before the break Joe Gomez misjudged Kyle Walker’s crossfield ball and Sane skipped past him and Joel Matip and beat Karius too easily at his near post.
Six minutes into the second half Nicolas Otamendi’s header against the bar was the signal for Liverpool to raise their game. The momentum changed in three pivotal minutes which exposed the league leaders like never before this season as both City centre-backs were found wanting.
John Stones was out-muscled by Firmino for Oxlade-Chamberlain’s through-ball and the Brazilian dinked an effort in off the far post before Mane hit the outside of the same upright with a curling right-footer.
But Senegal international Mane was not to be denied when Salah nipped in front of Otamendi and teed up his team-mate to lash the ball into the top corner with his weaker left foot.
Still, Liverpool poured forward and when Ederson miscued a clearance to Salah the Egypt international lobbed it back over the goalkeeper’s head for his 24th strike of the season.
Silva and Gundogan enhanced City’s reputation for late goals but it was not enough.