On Sunday, the 2018/19 Premier League champions Manchester City played host to those of 2019/20, Liverpool, at the Etihad Stadium in the eighth round of the English top flight.
It was an interesting contest in a number of aspects, though maybe not as lively and dynamic (for the biggest part) as many would have expected from one between teams led by Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp.
Ederson vs Alisson
These two teams, of course, boast the two goalkeepers from the Brazilian national team in their ranks, and the two sets of supporters have been quarreling for years about which one of them is the better one. The only man who has the luxury of picking between them for his team, Brazil coach Tite, has mostly preferred Alisson Becker between the posts, but it’s fair to say that Ederson Moraes is world class himself.
Be that as it may, the two shot-stoppers both had a very good game, reacting extremely well in some difficult situations and with their presence injecting large doses of confidence into their respective teammates. And as for the quarrels between supporters, neither of them seemed very bothered about them as they walked off the pitch after the final whistle, hugging and conversing in nothing but friendly fashion, and displaying a warm and respectful relationship between two fierce competitors, both at club and international level.
Gabriel Jesus delivers
Plenty has been said in recent months about City’s attacking options, and how they’ve been affected by the injury absence of Sergio Aguero. The 32-year-old Argentina international is a fantastic striker, and as such he seems hard to make up for on one hand, but on the other, City are reputedly one of the wealthiest clubs in the world and pandemic or not, it’s hard to imagine them not having the funds for a suitable replacement. Further more, Aguero is usually deadly when Liverpool visit the Etihad.
Gabriel Jesus, signed from Palmeiras in January 2017 as a likely long-term successor to Aguero, has often seemed to lack a little something of Aguero’s brilliance, as talented as he obviously is. But on Sunday he played a very good game and scored a brilliant goal, setting the score level in the 31st minute.
He was a constant handful for the opposition defence, and he came very close to turning the game around completely in the second half as he latched onto a good cross from Joao Cancelo but sent his free header wide of the target.
The return of Joel Matip from injury was certainly a welcome sight for Jurgen Klopp and the Liverpool supporters, especially in the light of the injury which is set to keep Virgil van Dijk out for the rest of the season. The Cameroonian showed his class on this occasion and made the Reds’ back line look perfectly solid next to Joe Gomez. For as long as these two players manage to keep fit, Klopp shouldn’t have too many worries in the absence of the big Dutchman, at least when it comes to basic defensive tasks.
The only aspects where Liverpool do seem to miss Van Dijk at this point is long passing from the back and attacking set-pieces. Neither Gomez nor Matip are quite as capable of setting up Sadio Mane or Mohamed Salah with 60-yard pin-point precision as Van Dijk is, nor do they pose as much threat in the opposition box from corners.
But when all said and done, Liverpool have survived a very congested patch since the Netherlands captain fell out of the picture, winning five times in all competitions before this match.
Both sides had a penalty given against them in this match, and both felt hard done by the officials on the respective occasions. Whether or not referee Craig Pawson should have awarded a free-kick to Manchester City in the situation which preceded Liverpool’s penalty is certainly debatable. There was contact between Diogo Jota and Raheem Sterling as the City winger went down, but Pawson obviously judged it to have been too soft for him to sanction it.
However, the penalty decision itself at the other end cannot be sensibly disputed. Mane had got the better of Kyle Walker inside the box, and the City fullback reacted too hastily as he brought him down.
As for the one given to City, it was probably the right call as well. Kevin De Bruyne whipped his cross in and caught Gomez on the hand, and even though the Liverpool centre-back appeared to have been trying to move it out of the way, he wasn’t quick enough and his hand did increase the width of his body as an obstacle. Luckily for him and his team, De Bruyne dragged his low shot from the spot just wide of the target.
Firmino and Jota
One of the points fiercely debated in the days leading up to the match was whether Klopp should stick with the off-form Roberto Firmino in attack or put the Brazil forward on the bench in favour of the sensational Diogo Jota. He ended up picking both in a 4-2-3-1 shape, where Jota played on the right, Mane on the left, and Firmino just behind Salah. It seemed like a very offensive approach from the German tactician on paper, but a fierce battle was fought in the middle of the park all the time and there weren’t nearly as many chances one would’ve expected from Manchester City and Liverpool.
Can Firmino play with Jota? It seems he can, though one game, whether it be against Manchester City or not, is hardly a proper sample size for this idea to be tested. On the other hand, much will depend on the state of the players, not just these two, when they return from international duty in two weeks. With midfielder Fabinho and Thiago Alcantara both likely to return by then as well, it remains to be seen what choice Klopp makes when the campaign resumes.
Be that as it may, the point won hereby suits the Merseysiders much better than City, given the current table standings. Liverpool are now in third place with 17 points, the same as Tottenham Hotspur in second and one less than Leicester City at the top. The Blues from Manchester are 10th with 12 points, though with a game in hand on most of the league.
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