A stunning 20-minute salvo saw goals from Mohamed Salah, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Sadio Mane give the five-time European champions an unexpected huge advantage going into the second leg.
City now need to create a special European night of their own if they are to have any chance of reaching the semi-finals but they need a performance along the lines of Barcelona against Paris St-Germain last season.
It’s extremely unlikely Jurgen Klopp’s dogs of war will disintegrate in such a meek and meagre fashion. Certainly after their gutsy, determined display last night where they chased, harried, and thundered into every challenge.
“The first half was brilliant,” Klopp said. “It was how football should look. We knew about the quality of City but also about our quality as well. If we could control the game better against a team like Man City and not give the ball away we would be closer to them in the league.
“We defended the passes really good. But I wanted us to play more football. But I am not angry it is all good.”
Anfield has always been a nightmare venue for City — with just one win in the last 36 years — and their European dream again appears to have turned sour against the Liverpool bogeymen.
They were promised a hostile atmosphere before the game and they weren’t disappointed.
But Pep Guardiola showed he wasn’t going to be intimated by turning the teams around and defending the Kop in the first half.
It was a brave move and this side settled quickly in the opening 10 minutes, confidently stroking the ball around at Anfield as they have done at every other ground in the Premier League.
Unfortunately for Guardiola, the one top-tier ground where they came unstuck previously this season was Anfield and again Liverpool had all the answers to their game plan.
City were isolating Leroy Sane with rookie full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold and the German winger caused him problems, forcing the first corner of the game in the 12th minute of the game — it was to lead to Liverpool’s opener.
The Reds broke a lightning quick speed to the other end of the pitch, although Salah appeared to be inches offside as he raced onto a through ball. The ball found its way to Roberto Firmino whose shot was saved by Ederson but Kyle Walker failed to clear and Salah smashed in the loose ball for his 38th goal of the season.
The Kop cranked it up another level but Guardiola stuck to his gameplan and they were almost level 90 seconds later when Sane raced through the middle of the Liverpool defence but prodded his shot wide.
Eight minutes later Liverpool doubled their lead. City were sloppy in clearing again but there was no denying the quality of Oxlade-Chamberlain’s stunning 25-yard strike.
The incredible got ridiculous 10 minutes later. With City rocking on their feet like a stunned prizefighter, Liverpool went for the knockout.
Salah was giving stand-in fullback Aymeric Laporte a torrid time and turned him inside out before chipping in a cross for Mane to head in.
But Liverpool’s night took a turn for the worse five minutes into the second half when Salah limped off to replaced by Giorgio Wijnaldum and he could now be a doubt for the return at the Etihad Stadium.
City also made a switch shortly after with Raheem Sterling coming on for the ineffective Ilkay Gundogan. If the atmosphere had lost any of its intensity, it revved up again with the introduction of the ex-Liverpool man.
It was perhaps a surprise that Guardiola left him out of his starting line-up after such a brilliant season but on his two previous trips to his old home, Sterling had frozen much to the schadenfreude of the Klopp devotees.
But the City boss was short of options with his side looking unbalanced down the right flank and Walker at times being overrun with Andrew Robertson offering incredible support for Mane.
The visitors at least regained their composure, rediscovering their passing game. But chances were seldom when they needed an away goal to give them any realistic hope ahead of the second leg next week.
Nicolas Otamendi looped a couple of headers over the bar but the shaky Lorus Karius wasn’t forced into making a save. They finally did get the ball in the net with five minutes left when Sane clipped the ball past Karus for Jesus to score but the goal was ruled out wrongly for offside.
“We showed up from the beginning, we started with enormous personality but they scored a goal,” Guardiola said.
“We continued to play but they scored two more goals. It is tough. They had 10-15 minutes in the first half when they were better.
“In the second half we tried everything but we couldn’t find a goal. The first two goals, we had control of the game but they scored. I don’t have too many regrets or complaints. Nobody believes but we have another game.”
Liverpool issued a statement last night apologising to City after the visitors’ team bus was damaged by missiles thrown as it arrived at Anfield. The bus was badly damaged and the players were shaken but unharmed.