Thursday, April 25, 2024

Liverpool 1-1 Manchester City: Talking points as Premier League title rivals share spoils in lively Anfield affair

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Liverpool and Manchester City shared a point apiece after a thrilling contest at Anfield on Sunday, with John Stones sending the visitors ahead from close range after a poorly defended corner in the 23rd minute, and Alexis Mac Allister setting the score back level from the spot after City goalkeeper Ederson Moraes took out Darwin Nunez inside the box.

The game

Trying to act like proper defending champions, City came to Anfield with a desire to win, and they attacked the hosts from the first whistle. However, the resistance that met them appeared rather unexpected, as Liverpool frequently showed against Pep Guardiola’s side down the years.

City looked slightly the better team in the opening 10 minutes, with Phil Foden thwarted by Virgil van Dijk and Julian Alvarez’s shot stopped by Caoimhin Kelleher, but the lines gradually moved back towards Ederson from that point on. Liverpool came closer later in the first half as Nunez just missed a sharp ball across the six yards from Conor Bradley.

And then came that moment in the 23rd minute, when Kevin De Bruyne whipped a low corner towards the near post, Stones escaped Nunez and pounced from a yard or two away from the goal.

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The deadlock was broken, but with Liverpool known for a high number of successful comebacks this season, the contest was obviously far from over.

Though the first 45 minutes ended with City in the lead, the Reds had already restored balance on the pitch, matching the defending champions bravely with a makeshift lineup, and in the 31st minute, they came very close to equalizing through Dominik Szoboszlai who hit a free header just off target. Luis Diaz also missed by a foot or two with a low drive from the edge of the box 10 minutes later. On the other hand, City threatened seriously at the start of the stoppage time as Kyle Walker whipped the ball across the box to the far post, where De Bruyne arrived too late.

Liverpool’s performance rose still higher after the break, and from that point on, they were clearly the better team, though their subsequent efforts were rewarded in advance. Minute 47 was running when Nathan Ake intercepted a pass by Jarell Quansah and tried to give it back to Ederson. The backpass was underhit, allowing Nunez to run and beat Ederson to the ball, with the City goalkeeper arriving late and taking out the Liverpool striker. There were no complaints from any City player as referee Michael Oliver blew the whistle and pointed to the spot. Mac Allister was the executioner, and the score was level.

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Slightly against the run of play, City had a good chance to restore their lead some 10 minutes later, but Caoimhin Kelleher did very well to deny Foden from close range. Arguably the best chance of the game fell for Diaz in the 62nd minute, when Mohamed Salah, fresh off the bench, released the Colombian winger through the middle. Diaz had a one-on-one situation with Stefan Ortega, who had replaced Ederson in the City goal as the Brazilian picked up an injury while conceding the penalty. He tried to be smart by chipping the substitute ‘keeper, and missed the target. Two minutes later, Diaz had another great chance, but this time Walker came from behind to poke the ball away before the shot came.

In the 71st minute, Liverpool had yet another opportunity to turn the game around as Robertson, who had come on for Bradley, whipped a low cross towards the six yards where it was met by Nunez, but Ortega came out and made crucial point-blank save. City soon responded by Ake sending a cross in from the left towards the six yards, Kelleher tried to punch it away but somehow hit Foden, and the ball bounced off the City winger onto the crossbar. However, had it gone in, the goal probably wouldn’t have been allowed to stand, as it later became clear that the ball hit Foden on the arm.

Despite being dominated on the pitch, City had a perfect chance to win the game late on as Jeremy Doku twisted Joe Gomez and fired low, hitting the post. Instead, Liverpool pushed hard for a late winner during the eight-minute stoppage time, but all they managed to get was one goal rightly ruled out for offside, and two penalty claims, one rather feeble for which Salah was probably lucky to escape a booking, and what felt (and still feels) like a stonewall case as Doku recklessly booted Mac Allister in the chest. Oliver, however, refused to give Liverpool a second penalty,  and he wasn’t sent to the pitch-side screen to review his decision.

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Manager reactions

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp later spoke about the latter situation, adamant that it should’ve been given. His views on the matter were widely shared, but not by all.

Still, the German was very happy with the way his team played against the opponent he considers the best in the world. The sentiment can only grow stronger by looking at the list of the players who missed out, while Salah and Robertson, in normal circumstances two nailed-on starters, weren’t ready for the whole game.

The attention in that aspect was mostly on Liverpool’s right flank, with Quansah (21) as the centre-back, Bradley (20) as the fullback, and Harvey Elliott (20) on the wing. These youngsters really stepped their game up and proved themselves worthy against last season’s treble winners.

It doesn’t always happen that Manchester City are beaten for possession percentage and the total number of shots taken, but it was the case on Sunday at Anfield.

Meanwhile, City’s Pep Guardiola expressed his view that this game nicely depicted the levels these two teams have reached over the last eight years, and asked for more credit for himself and his players for the fact that City had won five league titles in the last six seasons, while Liverpool took the remaining one.

Guardiola was also asked about a moment of anger from De Bruyne, as the Belgian playmaker protested fiercely to being substituted for Mateo Kovacic with just over 20 minutes remaining.

“That’s good,” he said.

“He’ll have a chance next game to prove it. We needed a player who keeps the ball. Its not about pressing. Kovacic is really good at that. We were happy with Kevin. It’s not a problem. We’re fine.”

The clashes between these two great managers are over, at least when the Premier League is concerned, and those who have been privileged to witness the era will remember them for a long, long time.

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The aftermath

The sharing of the points between these rivals is obviously great news for Arsenal, who now top the table after beating Brentford at the Emirates on Saturday. The Gunners stand on 64 points, with a notably better goal-difference than Liverpool who share their tally. City are a single point behind the two, and it will obviously be a captivating race, likely down to the last moments of the last round.

The next Premier League round comes after the international break, when Liverpool host Brighton and Hove Albion at Anfield, and City face another crucial encounter at the Etihad – against Arsenal.

Before that, Liverpool face Sparta Prague in what should be a routinely done bit of business on Thursday, after winning the first leg of their clash in the Europa League round of 16 in the Czech capital by 5-1, and then it’s a trip to Old Trafford for an FA Cup quarterfinal meeting with their arch-rivals, Manchester United.

As for City, they’ve already booked a place in the quarterfinals of the Champions League by dispatching FC Copenhagen over two legs, but they also have a tough opponent – Newcastle – in the FA Cup at the end of the week. Incidentally, the FA Cup is the only arena where Guardiola and Klopp may yet meet again before the season is over.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.

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