There has been talk of triplets and quadruples, of a kind of historical looting and, obviously, something will have to give way. Only not yet. Manchester City will likely be happier with this draw as it keeps them above Liverpool, with another Premier League game chalked up, although Pep Guardiola’s side were lucky to have been out of sight at the half time. And to have pinched it at the end.
Liverpool saw their 10-game league winning streak come to an end, the streak that had helped them reduce City’s lead at the top to just one point. In January it was 14, although City played two more games. “A false lead,” Guardiola called. But, liverpool say it wasn’t the worst result for them.
There was heart-pounding drama, with Liverpool digging deep to find a pair of equalizers, with Sadio Mane’s second early in the second half giving them something to keep the dream of four trophies alive. Diogo Jota had scored their first goal.
City, who had led through the exceptional Kevin De Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus, made their move at the very end. As a substitute, Riyad Mahrez had just bent a free kick against the outside of the post. Now, deep in stoppage time, he was played by De Bruyne. With Alisson off his line, he moved inside to set up the chipped finish only to throw it too high. Liverpool could breathe. At least until the two teams meet in the FA Cup semi-finals on Saturday.
The rivalry between the clubs was relatively short-lived, igniting in 2017-18 – the season in which Liverpool knocked City out of the Champions League – but it burned with rare ferocity; each leading the other to new heights. In the context of the Guardiola/Jürgen Klopp love-in, there were good reasons to say that these teams are now the best in Europe. The desire to be the best framed at every moment, in every duel.
City drew first blood and, if De Bruyne’s goal was undermined by luck, his shot from the edge of the box taking a massive deflection off Joel Matip and flying past Alisson, it was the reward of the positivity of his team at the start.
Guardiola had settled into an enterprising 4-2-1-3 formation, with Bernardo Silva providing a safety measure to the left of Rodri and De Bruyne given a free role behind centre-forward, Raheem Sterling. Wingers Jesus and Phil Foden were pressed high. It was De Bruyne who took Jesus out 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 free-kick from City and it looked like he slipped away from Fabinho a bit too easily before offloading with his left foot. Liverpool were rocked by City’s speed and aggression and yet they were level in the 13th minute after their first push forward.
What a push it was, Andy Robertson deftly darting towards the far post after his side worked the ball from right to left and Trent Alexander-Arnold returning from a volley for the first time for Jota to drive home. Should Ederson have saved? Admittedly, he was slow to descend.
The City goalkeeper had twice been terribly flippant in possession up to that point and he would outdo himself in the 23rd minute when he faked a clearance and almost allowed the ball to hit his own goal. At the very last, he played his pass as Jota slipped. Ederson seemed addicted to thrills.
City dominated the first half, making repeated inroads via high balls into the channels, exploiting the spaces behind Liverpool’s full-backs. De Bruyne and João Cancelo fired past the near post after entering from the left while City’s second goal was also the result of them entering behind Liverpool’s high defensive line.
Cancelo whipped in a cross from the left after Liverpool cleared a corner and, while there were four sky blue jerseys in an offside position, the fifth at the back, which was Jesus, was not. He was level with Alexander-Arnold and he headed his arrival into the roof of the net.
City could have had more before the break. Rodri missed John Stones trying to head squarely after a free kick and Robertson stuck a toe to thwart Sterling after a cross from Foden. Aymeric Laporte made an important sliding tackle to stifle Jota but Liverpool knew they had to do more.
What makes Klopp’s side so special is that they often only need a glimmer to turn the tide – a few assists, a moment of inspiration. They found it just after the restart only to have Guardiola slump in his seat in disbelief.
The spaces were there behind the defense of the city. Now Liverpool have found one, Salah drifting inside on an Alexander-Arnold pass to free Mané, who had sliced Kyle Walker. The first time was adamant and Jota closed in shortly after, Ederson stretching to save, City’s defense again in tatters following a cross from Salah.
The result turned out to be balanced on a knife’s edge, the margins so thin – as evidenced by the VAR lines coming out to deny Sterling in the 63rd minute after running into a De Bruyne ball to finish. There were millimeters in it.
Risk-taking was pronounced on both sides. The back lines remained high and it looked like any of the attacking players could run to steal it in the closing stages – if only the pass could be chosen. It was a striking sight. Mahrez would have the big chance in open play. How he will still want his time.