Liverpool clinched a narrow 3-2 win over Manchester City in the semi-finals of the 2021-22 FA Cup at Wembley Stadium on Saturday (16 April). The Reds have now qualified for their first FA Cup final since 2012 and will play either Chelsea or Crystal Palace in the summit clash on 14 May.
It was a curious game and one that wasn’t as close as the scoreline would suggest. Manchester City, who were without injured talisman Kevin De Bruyne, were well below their usual lofty standards.
Pep Guardiola’s side are known for their fluid passing and retention of possession. Yet they were outplayed by a Liverpool side who weren’t at their very best either. The Sky Blues completed just 78 percent of their passes and had only 49 percent of possession.
Liverpool scraped past a lackluster Manchester City side in a game of two halves
Manchester City endured a nightmarish first half as they were all over the place defensively and went into the break 3-0 down. Centre-back Ibrahima Konate scored Liverpool’s opener in the ninth minute after netting a header for the third consecutive game.
Sadio Mane soon doubled the Reds’ advantage after a horrendous mistake from Manchester City’s second-choice goalkeeper Zack Steffen. The Senegalese superstar added a third on the stroke of half-time with an excellent volley that capped off a wonderful team move from Jurgen Klopp’s men.
However, the complexion of the game changed after the break as Liverpool lost their cutting edge. City failed to find any sort of rhythm in the first 45 minutes yet pulled one back right after the restart through Jack Grealish. Despite the goal, Guardiola’s men appeared off the pace, disjointed and ponderous as they moved forward.
The introduction of Riyad Mahrez injected some life into the Manchester giants, who scored in the first minute of stoppage time through Bernardo Silva. However, it was too late and Liverpool held on to qualify for their first FA Cup final under Klopp. On that note, here are five hits and flops from an entertaining affair at Wembley.
#5 Hit: Nathan Ake (Manchester City)
Dutch defender Nathan Ake was Manchester City’s best player this afternoon. Guardiola started Oleksandr Zinchenko at left-back with Ake slotting in alongside John Stones at centre-back.
Zinchenko, however, had a poor game and, as a result, Ake was forced to deal with the significant threat of the Reds’ main man Mohamed Salah. The 27-year-old defender did an excellent job, though, and kept the Egyptian quiet.
Salah threatened on the break in the last 15 minutes as City pushed forward. However, Ake was on hand to complete vital tackles (3) and clearances (2) on multiple occasions.
#4 Flop: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
Is it time to start worrying about Mohamed Salah? As the Reds enter the most important stretch of the season, the Egyptian superstar’s woeful run of form continues. At the start of 2022, the wideman was arguably the favorite for this year’s Ballon d’Or award. He currently has 28 goals in 41 appearances across competitions this season.
However, the Egyptian star has found the net just once in his last nine games for the Reds. He was well below his standards in this game against Manchester City, despite going up against two second-choice defenders.
Salah was well-marshaled by Ake and whenever the Liverpool star did get a chance to pull the trigger, he was wayward and wasteful.
#3 Hit: Naby Keita (Liverpool)
The most impressive aspect of Liverpool’s performance was the way in which they stopped Manchester City from finding any kind of rhythm and fluidity. Naby Keita and Fabinho were immense in the middle of the park. They snapped into tackles and constantly nibbled at the heels of Fernandinho, Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva.
Keita, in particular, was excellent on the right side of the Reds’ midfield and kept Foden and Silva quiet. The 27-year-old Guinean star was also tidy in possession as Liverpool won a lot of their battles in midfield.
He was booked and subbed off in the second half. However, it was an encouraging all-round performance from a player who has struggled to justify his £54 million transfer fee.
#2 Flop: Zack Steffen (Manchester City)
Guardiola persisted with 27-year-old American custodian Zack Steffen, who had started three of Manchester City’s last four FA Cup games this season. It proved to be the wrong decision as the back-up keeper made an awful error and gifted Mane an early goal.
Perhaps in an attempt to emulate regular keeper Ederson’s clever footwork, Steffen dallied for way too long on the ball near his own net. Mane took full advantage and slid in, winning the ball cleanly and forcing it into the net. It was a glaring mistake and took the wind out of Manchester City’s sails.
Mane’s second goal of the afternoon was a terrific strike on the volley. However, one could argue that Steffen should have done better considering he was beaten at his near post by an attempt that came from some distance.
#1 Hit: Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
Mane’s terrific form in 2022 continued as the Senegalese superstar scored a brace to send Liverpool through to the final. With Luis Diaz starting on the left, Mane found himself playing through the middle yet looked completely at home.
It was a complete performance from the forward, who was a constant menace with his pressing and work rate off the ball. While in possession of the ball, Mane displayed excellent strength and dribbling, driving up the pitch at will.
His first goal was a result of sheer determination and effort as the 30-year-old closed down Steffen and forced the ball in with a lunging tackle. Mane’s second goal, though, was a work of art as he applied the perfect finishing touch to a wonderful passing move from the Reds.
Volleys from distance are never easy but Mane showed exemplary technique to strike the ball sweetly into the bottom corner. He now has 18 goals in 41 appearances across all competitions this season.