By Carl Markham, PA
Liverpool kept their bid for an unprecedented quadruple on track as their 3-2 FA Cup semi-final win also ended Manchester City’s hopes of a treble.
England’s top two teams served up another epic encounter but, having drawn 2-2 in the Premier League just six days ago, Jurgen Klopp’s side deservedly came out on top at Wembley.
It was not without a little help from City’s number two Zack Steffen, their designated cup goalkeeper, whose huge first-half error with the score at 1-0 contributed to the game getting away from them.
But that should not take away from the excellence of Liverpool who were as brilliant in the first half as they were passive in the opening 45 minutes at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
Man of the match Sadio Mane scored twice to add to Ibrahima Konate’s opener as they raced into a 3-0 interval lead.
Goals from Jack Grealish, early in the second half, and Bernardo Silva, in added time, ensured Liverpool were never as comfortable as they wanted to be but, despite some concerted late City pressure, the seven-time winners booked a 15th final appearance.
Both sides made seven changes from their midweek Champions League games but the absence of Kevin De Bruyne, an unused substitute after requiring stitches in a foot wound, appeared the most significant considering how the Belgium international had dominated proceedings last weekend.
Klopp retained centre-back Konate, midfielder Naby Keita and forward Luis Diaz from the midweek draw with Benfica, and they were the only three players who had not featured in the starting line-up at the Etihad on Sunday.
A minute’s silence to commemorate the 33rd anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy, when 97 Liverpool fans were killed at an FA Cup semi-final, was brought to an abrupt and premature end when some City fans chose to sing through it and were met with a chorus of boos from Reds supporters.
City subsequently apologised but by the time they had issued a statement their team were already 2-0 down.
Klopp’s team selection was perhaps influenced by their first half six days ago when they were lacklustre and allowed City to dominate.
There was no repeat with Keita providing the legs which were previously missing and Mane, in particular, pushing the press higher and faster.
It allowed City no time to settle, and they found themselves in the unfamiliar position of being dominated from a possession and territorial point of view.
Guardiola’s over-complicated formation, with Raheem Sterling as a false nine but particularly Grealish floating behind the front three, left them lacking in midfield, and it was clinically exploited by Liverpool.
Their first goal, however, came from an increasingly familiar source with Konate heading home from an 11th-minute corner for his third opening goal in as many games, escaping marker Gabriel Jesus at the Reds’ first corner and outjumping Nathan Ake.
If that was bad from City’s point of view what came next was abysmal.
John Stones’ backpass to Steffen looked simple enough but, unlike first-choice Ederson last week, whose coolness under pressure on his own goalline avoided a goal at the Etihad, the United States international was far too ponderous.
His delay was so long it allowed Mane to close him down and put in a tackle which forced the ball over the line.
If that was a deserved reward for the Senegal international’s tireless work-rate his second moments before the break was testament to his enduring quality.
With players from both sides massed on the edge of City’s penalty area, Thiago Alcantara’s vision and technical ability saw him chip a cheeky pass around the blockade for Mane to hit a brilliant, sliced volley which beat Steffen at his near post.
City’s response came just 75 seconds after the interval when they capitalised on Andy Robertson’s loss of possession to release Jesus down the right, with the Brazilian cutting inside his international team-mate Fabinho to tee up Grealish to lash home.
When Jesus threatened again Alisson Becker was forced to save at his near post and with more than half an hour remaining the game was far from over.
Fernandinho, who this week announced he is leaving at the end of the season, had struggled with the pace of the game as City’s only genuine holding midfielder and was fortunate to only be booked for a late, sliding lunge on Mane.
Jesus was proving to be City’s most dangerous threat but, when played through by Grealish, his unconvincing shot was turned behind by Alisson, while at the other end Steffen was grasping at thin air after Oleksandr Zinchenko left a headed backpass short but Salah could only loft a shot into the side-netting.
Silva’s close-range finish in the first of four added minutes cranked up the tension but, despite a couple of even later scares, Liverpool clung on.