FT -- Liverpool are into the FA Cup Final
The quadruple is still on. It's mid-April and we're saying that. What a team!
Liverpool booked their spot in the FA Cup final after defeating Manchester City 3-2, a score that is closer than the match actually was. Rest proved to help the Reds after Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah were able to sit out of their Wednesday Champions League tie against Benfica before playing key roles in the FA Cup semifinal. City, on the other hand, was without Kevin de Bruyne and Kyle Walker after both picked up injuries against Atletico Madrid. Those absences showed.
Liverpool went ahead nine minutes into the match as Ibrahima Kounate headed in a corner from Andrew Robertson. While the header was a good one, the way Liverpool seemed to easily slice through City's defense in the buildup to that chance turned out to be a major warning sign.
It wouldn't take long for Liverpool to get their second as Sadio Mane pounced on a mistake from Zack Steffen to kick the ball into the net. Steffen was caught flat footed looking to play the ball out of the back and Mane reacted more quickly to continue Steffen's Wembley nightmares.
Liverpool got a third right before halftime via another Mane goal. Trent Alexander-Arnold started the attack before Thiago played a good flick to Mane who didn't miss. It was one of a few times that Oleksandr Zinchenko got caught out of position as he wasn't in a good place to protect Steffen and his defense.
City started the second half with a cracking goal from Jack Grealish that Gabriel Jesus assisted. It seemed like the goal would provide hope, but it wasn't to be as that was the high point of the match for City.
Bernardo Silva would score another in the 90th minute as City's attack did improve after the introduction of Riyad Mahrez late but their flurry of chances wasn't enough to stop Liverpool from booking their spot in the FA Cup final as the Reds rode their early lead to victory.
After playing such a tight match only six days ago, this one was expected to be more competitive but the absences for City played quite a role in things. It's fair to wonder why Pep Guardiola waited until the 83rd minute to make a change as fresh legs could've helped when City had a spell of space and possession after the 60th minute, but maybe he wanted to save the legs of his reserves with Premier League matches that are just as important as this one on the horizon. With only one point separating City and Liverpool in the league, every match is a final.
The match does show how hard it is to play your strongest team when competing in all competitions as one off night in quality is all that you need to come crashing out of a cup match. It's something that Chelsea will also face playing Crystal Palace on Sunday after a grueling midweek extra-time loss against Real Madrid sent them crashing out of the Champions League, to see who the other participant in the FA Cup final will be.
The quadruple is still on. It's mid-April and we're saying that. What a team!
Grealish crosses it in and the ball breaks to Sterling... it may not have been meant for him. He opens up his body in an attempt to bend it in but ultimately curls it straight at Alisson.
Moments later Salah is leading a charge upfield, desperate for that goal, but clips a shot wide of Steffen's far post. It looks like Liverpool will survive this.
Mahrez charges down the right, beating Robertson. From the tightest of angles he tries to roll the ball through Alisson. Instead it squirts out to Bernardo Silva, who taps in to draw City within a goal. They have four minutes to find it.
It looks like another match will pass by without the Egyptian finding the net. As time runs out he's determined to change that but his slaloming run ends in a similar fashion to a few other opportunities he has had, an excellent recovery tackle by Ake denying him.
This is maybe City's last chance to set up a grandstand finish. Sterling stands poised for a free kick 30 yards out. He hits it... high over the bar. The Liverpool fans who have never forgiven him for the way he left have another reason to cheer.
Pace has slowed down between both sides while only 10 minutes remain to score multiple goals.
Odd decision making from Zinchenko as he heads the ball into Salah's path but it goes just wide as Salah goes for the chip. Manchester City will feel lucky not to be behind by three goals again.
Excellent work in midfield by Bernardo, who recovers possession with a sliding interception. Suddenly Jesus is in behind, one on one with Alisson. Here is where you see the difference between these two teams, the Brazilian makes himself big enough to block the shot out for a corner. The best one on one goalkeeper in the league comes up trumps again.
City's defense has been under pressure for a lot of the match but that was good defending from Ake to force a corner from a chance by Mo Salah. The danger was cleared from the set piece that followed.
That'll make five yellow cards handed out between the two sides so far with 30 minutes to go.
There's a coming together between the teams after Fernandinho's challenge on mane but the captains talk things out. Tensions are getting high as City begins to kick on later into the match.
A good chance for Jesus in behind down the right, he's convinced he has been pushed too heavily by Van Dijk before getting an off balance shot off and he might have a point. Even though Liverpool have no real reason to push on the gaps down the flanks that were nowhere to be seen in the first half are cropping up in the second.
Jesus' layoff to Grealish was just the spark that City needed. Two more goals to go to bring things back.
Before kick off some City fans could be heard chanting during the minute's silence in memory of those who died in the Hillsbrough disaster. Their club is far from impressed.
"Manchester City are extremely disappointed with the actions of some City supporters during the minute's silence before today's game," a City statement says.
"The club sincerely apologises to all those connected with Liverpool Football Club."
Manchester City has an absolute mountain to climb in the second half as they're behind by three goals. Can they turn things around?
City look like they ran through their energy reserves last week. There's no spark in their attack -- and precious little reason to risk De Bruyne's ankles now -- and the front two of Grealish and Sterling have been non-entities. After scoring their second Liverpool rather chose to take some of the game up but they roused themselves in time for a brilliant third, the passes from Alexander-Arnold and Thiago in the build up were simply stunning. You'd say City have a mountain to climb but they really don't seem all that bothered about doing so.
It's Mane again as he fires some finish past Zinchenko and Steffen from a beautiful ball from Thiago
The front three has the run of things and while the midfield hasn't found them in transition yet, it feels like we're closer to Liverpool getting their third goal than City finding an opener.
It's not even a match where either team has many chances as City has one shot to Liverpool's two but the Reds were clinical with one shot and fortunate that the other goal was gifted to them.
There's no real verve and penetration to the way Guardiola's side are attacking. What you're instead getting is lots of lofted passes out to the flanks, where Liverpool are sat a little deeper than last week just to mitigate the danger City posed there. Meanwhile Grealish is offering nothing close to the ingenuity De Bruyne did as a number 10. Nothing is really going anywhere.
Steffen looks utterly disconsolate as he patrols his 18 yard line, looking down at the pitch one moment and up to the heavens the next. Every time the ball comes back to him there's an "oooooh" that emanates from the Liverpool end. This is going to be a real test for the US international.
Meanwhile the ground is bathed is this hazy pink light from the half dozen flares that have landed on the pitch from the Liverpool fans. It's giving this something of a fever dream feel.
Sadio Mane took advantage of Steffen trying to play the ball out of the back pouncing to double Liverpool's lead!
After his Champions League exploits, Konate puts Robertson's corner into the back of the net for an early lead! Allowing Mane to win a corner so easily did come back to bite Manchester City.
Pushed across to the right with Kyle Walker injured, Cancelo is having al sorts of difficulties early on against Mane, who is constantly Liverpool's chief outball. With one of them he forces a corner and that could have significant repercussions...
Phil Foden floats into space to play the ball to Grealish but his shot is blocked. In the early going, Foden seems fine carrying the creative load in the absence of de Bruyne.
This should be a cracking match between two of the best teams in the world but will the additional rest see Liverpool go through to the FA Cup final?
A deafening cry of You'll Never Walk Alone echoes around Wembley as both sides congregate in the tunnel. Train cancellations have made it quite the headache for fans of both sides to make it to north west London but it's fair to say that as kick off approaches the red end is a lot fuller than the one in light blue.