Liverpool survive Manchester City’s fears of reaching FA Cup final after Mané double | FA Cups

In the final analysis, it was impossible not to focus on the moment when Zack Steffen wished he could be anywhere, but here, and Liverpool took a vice-like grip on this FA Cup semi-final, which was hard to watch them give up.

Poor Steffen. Pep Guardiola had wanted to show his faith in the backup goalkeeper, but it all went wrong for US No. 1 and Manchester City in the 17th minute. With a routine return and under the usual orders to play Ederson-style from behind, Steffen took a heavy first touch and, after some hesitation, an even heavier second.

In, Sadio Mané flew in to tackle the ball into the net for a 2-0 lead, and Liverpool were on their way to a final against Chelsea or Crystal Palace – and, they hope, the second element of an unprecedented quadruple. Liverpool’s dominance in the first half was total and it would get worse for Steffen as he softly closed in to 3-0 at his nearest post from Mané.

City responded in the style of the champions in the second half, Jack Grealish pulled back a goal and after Alisson made a save to reject Gabriel Jesus, they hinted at the strange when substitute Riyad Mahrez crossed in the 90th minute, the ball hit Alisson and Bernardo Silva returned home on the far post.

Guardiola’s team had the chances during the break to force extra time as the recent clash between these rivals produced even more drama. Fernandinho blared loudly while Raheem Sterling shot low on Alisson, but City had left themselves with too much to do. Guardiola made seven changes from the team that started the second match of the Champions League quarter-final at Atlético Madrid on Wednesday night, and one of them was Steffen. A sustained image would come after the full-time whistle as he sank down sadly and had to be comforted by some of his teammates.

Celebration after Sadio Mane scored his second goal. Photo: Marc Atkins / Getty Images

City’s war of attrition in Madrid had provided the framework for much of the building, and this prompted Guardiola’s sweeping rotation, but it was not if they could take this line. Liverpool are also embarking on a punitive program and they have home league games next week against Manchester United and Everton, their two biggest rivals.

Still, the relative strength of the starting line-ups seemed to have given Liverpool the advantage, with Klopp remembering his big guns after Wednesday’s Champions League match at home against Benfica.

It was Ibrahima Konaté, one of the few Liverpool starters who was not considered a first-choice, who put his team in front. Red smoke drifted across the stadium from flames lit inside the Liverpool end and their supporters sang their songs with full sound. At an early stage, they thought it was their day, and the feeling only intensified when Steffen suffered his moment of horror. City simply did not show up at the start, even though Grealish, who played as the false nine, had a shot in the fourth minute blocked by Virgil van Dijk.

The mood had crackled at first, though it was shameful that part of the city’s support refused to remain silent during the silence before the match for the 33rd anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. Liverpool supporters bulged at them and the referee, Michael Oliver, had to cut the memory short.

Bernardo Silva gives Manchester City hope with his late goal against Liverpool.
Bernardo Silva gives Manchester City hope with his late goal against Liverpool. Photo: Justin Setterfield / The FA / Getty Images

Konate’s goal was all about his power and desire – but it was made by the most perfectly fluid of swinging corner kicks from Andy Robertson, an invitation to the central defender that would have been obscene not to. Konaté over-muscle Jesus and then rose higher than Nathan Aké. It was a towering finish; Konaté’s third goal for Liverpool and his third in three games.

City had seen the edge in the initial exchanges and got an attempt to play completely wrong from the back in the sixth minute. Was it a sign of Steffen’s indecision? While Klopp held on to Alisson after starting his No. 1 in the previous round at Nottingham Forest, Guardiola joined Steffen after selecting him in all but City’s previous domestic cup tournaments this season.

Liverpool’s third goal just before half-time was the prosecution’s presentation B because Steffen was terribly slow to get down and over on Mané’s volley, which was cut towards the near corner. The Liverpool build-up had been a piece with their enjoyment of the first half, all secured touches and moves that were too fast for City. The excellent Thiago slipped in between two sky blue shirts before swapping passes with Trent Alexander-Arnold, and the flying pass straight to Mané was made to measure.

City, struggling to suppress electric Luis Díaz, needed something at the start of the second half and they got it. Fernandinho won the ball and released Jesus up the inside right channel. He made a nice shot inside Fabinho and then sent a square pass to Grealish, who made a difficult finish look easy.

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City were another suggestion now: they pushed themselves higher and played with more intrusion and aggression – even a tone of anger. Could they find a second to ignite a competition? Jesus ran on to a Sterling touch to work Alisson on the nearest post, and they created the big chance after 71 minutes – one-on-one for Jesus after a Grealish through ball. Alisson went down to block.

Before then, Fernandinho flirted with a red card as he stretched into a poor tackle on Mané – he got away with a reservation – but after Salah almost took advantage of Oleksandr Zinchenko’s loose back header, City made their final gasp. That was not enough.

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