Liverpool’s Carabao Cup defence ended in a thrilling loss to Manchester City.
The hosts went ahead after barely 10 minutes when Erling Haaland met Kevin de Bruyne’s cross from the left-hand side to prod home a close-range finish.
Fabio Carvalho redressed the balance for Jurgen Klopp’s side with a well taken equaliser courtesy of James Miner’s threaded pass into the City area.
A lively start to the second half saw Riyad Mahrez put the Premier League champions back in the lead as he scored after controlling Rodri’s lofted ball.
The Reds levelled just a minute later when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s clever pass set away Darwin Nunez to tee up Mohamed Salah’s easy conversion.
But City punished slack defending from Jurgen Klopp’s side as Nathan Ake was allowed to head home De Bruyne’s delivery to the far post unmarked.
Here were the key talking points from the Etihad Stadium:
Welcome back, football
The past 40 days have felt like an eternity for many fans of club football.
An unprecedented winter World Cup hit pause on the traditional calendar just when Liverpool appeared to be belatedly rediscovering their trademark form.
Jurgen Klopp’s side may have surrendered their Carabao Cup crown to arch-rivals Manchester City but the nature of this exit was still a welcome return.
Clashes between these sides continue to go down in modern folklore, with this five-goal thriller living up to the pre-match expectations placed on it.
An end-to-end affair exposed the Reds and City’s respective ring rust, with a mix of World Cup participants and rested stars making up both line-ups.
Yet those imperfections ultimately helped to serve up an encounter which would have given last weekend’s showpiece in Qatar a run for its money.
Domestic football needed to come back with a bang following its enforced hiatus and those inside the Etihad certainly bore witness to a genuine classic.
…but Reds caught napping at the back
Any temptation Klopp may have felt to accelerate the timeline of Liverpool’s returning ever-presents were dealt an immediate blow long before kick-off.
Roberto Firmino missed the relatively short trip to Manchester through a calf injury while illness ruled Trent Alexander-Arnold out of any involvement.
The England international’s absence was arguably the more keenly felt in a defence which found itself routinely exploited during the opening stages.
City’s 10th-minute opener did not even register as a shock after Joe Gomez and Joel Matip toiled in their attempts to contain the prolific Erling Haaland.
James Milner, similarly, struggled as an auxiliary right-back against Cole Palmer, one of the many current jewels in his former employers’ crown.
A hamstring issue which forced off the veteran utility man late in the first half opened the door for a more balance approach after Nat Phillips’ introduction.
Pitting the Bolton born centre-back against Haaland proved a more even contest and provided further stability with Gomez’s shift to the full-back role.
Still, Liverpool cannot have any excuses for the ball-watching that saw Nathan Ake settling this tie courtesy of a free header shortly before the hour mark.
Nunez starting from zero again
Few, if any, players who succumbed in a red shirt will have wanted to be whisked away from the Etihad after this encounter more than Darwin Nunez.
His Liverpool career began to take flight against City way back in late July, when a maiden goal capped off an emphatic Community Shield victory.
Things unravelled from there somewhat for the Uruguayan, with indiscipline and fluctuating form casting a shadow over that impressive early display.
Although his form eventually recovered, scoring seven goals in his last 10 outings, this felt like it was potentially the start of Nunez’s difficult second act.
He left the pitch with well-worked assist but spurned a succession of chances to keep Liverpool in the game and take home the match ball for his troubles.
No fewer than three gilt-edged opportunities presented themselves to the 23-year-old, only for him to shank each one wide of the target from close range.
One swallow does not make a summer, or in this case winter, but Nunez finds himself again starting from zero while still in the infancy of his Anfield career.