Manchester City 2 Liverpool 2
The talk has been of trebles and quadruples, of a historic kind of plunder and, plainly, something will have to give. Only not yet. Manchester City will probably be happier with this draw as it keeps them above Liverpool, with one more Premier League game chalked off, although Pep Guardiola’s team had the chances to have been out of sight at half-time. And to have pinched it at the end.
Liverpool saw their 10-game winning streak in the league come to an end, the sequence that had helped them cut City’s lead at the top to a single point. In January, it had stood at 14, albeit with City having played two extra matches. “A fake lead,” Guardiola had called it. But, again, Liverpool will reason that this was not the worst result for them.
There was pulsating drama, Liverpool digging deep to find a pair of equalisers, the second from Sadio Mané at the beginning of the second half getting them something to keep the dream of four trophies alive. Diogo Jota had scored their first one.
City, who had led through the outstanding Kevin De Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus, made their move at the very end. On as a substitute, Riyad Mahrez had just bent a free-kick against the outside of the post. Now, deep into stoppage time, he was played in by De Bruyne. With Alisson off his line, he jinked inside to set up the chipped finish only to pitch it too high. Liverpool could exhale. At least until the two teams meet again in the FA Cup semi-final on Saturday.
The rivalry between the clubs has been relatively short, igniting in 2017-18 – the season in which Liverpool knocked City out of the Champions League – but it has burned with a rare ferocity; each driving the other to new heights. Against the backdrop of the Guardiola/Jürgen Klopp love-in, there was a strong case to say that these teams are now the best in Europe. The desire to be the very best framed every moment, every duel.
City drew first blood and, if De Bruyne’s goal was undercut by good fortune, his shot from the edge of the area taking a massive deflection off Joël Matip and flying beyond Alisson, it was reward for his team’s positivity at the outset.
Guardiola had set up in an enterprising 4-2-1-3 formation, Bernardo Silva providing a measure of security to the left of Rodri and De Bruyne given a free role behind the central striker, Raheem Sterling. The wingers, Jesus and Phil Foden, were pressed high. It was De Bruyne who released Jesus in the fourth minute and, when the Brazilian crossed low, Sterling had to score. His finish was weak and Alisson saved.
De Bruyne’s effort for 1-0 followed a quick City free-kick and it did seem as though he got away from Fabinho a little too easily before unloading with his left foot. Liverpool were rattled in the face of City’s speed and aggression and yet they were level in the 13th minute following their first forward thrust.
What a thrust it was, Andy Robertson chipping deftly to the far post after his team had worked the ball from right to left and Trent Alexander-Arnold volleying back first time for Jota to sweep home. Should Ederson have saved? Certainly he was slow to get down.
The City goalkeeper had twice been terrifyingly casual in possession up until that point and he would excel himself on 23 minutes when he faked to clear and almost allowed the ball to run into his own goal. At the very last, he played his pass as Jota slid in. Ederson appeared addicted to the thrills.
City dominated the first-half, making repeated inroads via high balls up the channels, exploiting the spaces behind Liverpool’s full-backs. De Bruyne and João Cancelo shot past the near post after coming inside from the left while City’s second goal was also the result of them getting in behind Liverpool’s high defensive line.
Cancelo whipped over a cross from the left after Liverpool had cleared a corner and, if there were four sky blue shirts in offside positions, the fifth around the back, who was Jesus, was not. He was level with Alexander-Arnold and he steered his finish into the roof of the net.
City could have had more before the interval. Rodri missed John Stones when trying to head square following a free-kick and Robertson stuck out a toe to thwart Sterling after a Foden cross. Aymeric Laporte made an important slide tackle to stifle Jota but Liverpool knew they needed to do more.
What makes Klopp’s team so special is that they often need only a glimmer to turn the tide – a couple of passes, a moment of inspiration. They found it straight after the restart to have Guardiola slumping into his seat in disbelief.
The spaces were there behind the City defence. Now Liverpool found one, Salah drifting inside onto an Alexander-Arnold pass to release Mané, who had sliced clear of Kyle Walker. The first-time finish was emphatic and Jota would go close shortly afterwards, Ederson stretching to save, the City defence again in tatters following a Salah cross.
The result came to feel as if balanced on the edge of a knife, the margins so fine – as evidenced when the VAR lines came out to deny Sterling on 63 minutes after he had raced onto a De Bruyne through ball to finish. There were millimetres in it.
The risk taking was pronounced on both sides. The back lines remained high and it felt as though any of the attacking players could run through to steal it in the closing stages – if only the pass could be picked. It made for a gripping spectacle.
Mahrez would have the big chance in open play. How he will want his time again. - Guardian