Jurgen Klopp’s side may not have delivered a fatal blow but first-half goals from Mohamed Salah, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sadio Mane provided a healthy advantage heading into next week’s second leg at the Etihad Stadium.
Concerns about windows being smashed on the Manchester City coach, with thousands of Liverpool fans lining the streets on their approach to the ground armed with smoke bombs and flares, were nothing compared to Pep Guardiola’s annoyance at the wheels coming off in the opening 45 minutes.
Liverpool, who beat City 4-3 in the league here, were ahead after 12 minutes when James Milner played a sumptuous ball down the touchline and even though there was a hint of offside as Salah broke on the halfway line City were powerless to prevent what happened next.
The Egypt international played in Roberto Firmino and although Ederson blocked his initial shot the loose ball fell to Salah who had the presence of mind to wait just long enough to see where the defenders were scrambling to before firing home his 38th goal of the season from close range.
Guardiola had deployed Salah’s rival for player of the year, Kevin De Bruyne, alongside holding midfielder Fernandinho in an attempt to control the game from deep.
The Belgium international barely had a touch of significance as Liverpool swarmed all over the centre of the pitch, winning every second ball with an energy and tenacity their visitors could not match.
Leroy Sane scuffed a shot wide when he had options either side of him but surprisingly that was City’s best chance of the half.
Klopp’s side were far more clinical and when Firmino appeared to be fouled by Vincent Kompany, referee Felix Brych played on and Milner swept the ball inside to Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Advancing a few steps the midfielder repeated his feat of January against City, albeit with a much fiercer effort from 20 yards which Ederson barely saw never mind getting near.
City were dominated like never before this season – not even in their previous defeat here – and their creative duo of De Bruyne and David Silva never had any time on the ball.
Their desperation was evident towards the end of the half as long, high balls were pumped into the penalty area without reward.
By then they were 3-0 down after Mane out-jumped men much bigger than him to head in Salah’s inswinging far-post cross.
Had Virgil van Dijk’s header looped in and not narrowly wide in added time it would not have flattered Liverpool.
Guardiola experimented with Aymerick Laporte, a £57m centre-half, at left-back against Everton at the weekend and he was barely troubled by Theo Walcott.
However, he endured a torrid time against Salah and it was a relief for him – and a worry for Liverpool – when the Egyptian was forced off with an apparent groin injury early in the second half. The tide turned after the break with City enjoying the sort of dominance to which they are accustomed but they could not carve out a decent chance with Silva’s uncharacteristic poor control in the six-yard box indicative of the pressure they were under.
Jordan Henderson’s booking for a foul on former Reds winger Raheem Sterling rules him out next week but it could not spoil another special night under the lights at Anfield.
Liverpool captain Henderson said: “We knew the atmosphere would be brilliant, it was from the start and I felt we did that. Front foot, high intensity and it was a good first half from us. Overall, I think we defended brilliantly. Everybody chipped in with the hard yards and we got our just rewards at the end with the goals.”
Oxlade-Chamberlain added: “We knew we had to start fast. I think we won the game in the first half and then we had to defend in the second half.”
Guardiola said: “We arrived with a huge personality, except 10-15 minutes in the first half when we lost a bit of control.”