Manchester City maintain their slender one-point lead over Liverpool in the Premier League title race after a THRILLING 2-2 draw at the Etihad, with Sadio Mane netting Reds’ second equaliser.
While they both carried on searching for an opening, it very much seemed as if there came a point at which they had battered each other to a standstill. There were skirmishes from dead balls, and a Riyad Mahrez free-kick clipped the outside of a post, but the game was done. Honours even. Fair exchange, no robbery.
The title will be decided elsewhere. Maybe on the road, maybe with dropped points at home. This, however, was as good as it could get, without being a decider. A brilliant roller-coaster of a game in which Liverpool levelled from behind twice, and that Manchester City shaded on points. But not enough to get more on the day. In some ways it was a fitting end. No-one deserved to go home disappointed, and ultimately no-one did.
If there was any doubt that these were the best two teams in the Premier League, perhaps Europe, and therefore the world, it was swiftly dispelled in the first-half. What a 45 minutes it was. Not just the three goals, but the relentless speed of the play, the physical intensity, the technical expertise.
Manchester City were much the better side, but the fact there was only a single goal in it, speaks not only of missed chances, but Liverpool’s capacity to cause danger even when not at their best.
Every attack, at either end, brought a goal threat – and this time Manchester City’s wasted opportunities could not be blamed on the absence of a striker. Pep Guardiola started Gabriel Jesus and was rewarded with both a goal and an excellent display.
Sunday’s culprit, then, was Raheem Sterling who had several good chances to convert in excellent scoring positions but often seemed to be one stride off the pace. City took the lead in the fifth minute but, by rights, should have been ahead seconds earlier.
That was also in the fifth minute when Kevin De Bruyne put Jesus away and he squared for Sterling, who should have scored but shot directly at goalkeeper Alisson. He was very fortunate that, from the next attack, City scored anyway.
Fabinho made a foul and Bernardo Silva took a smart free-kick which was picked up by De Bruyne. He set off, right to left, before Liverpool had properly regrouped and the Belgian, sensing an opportunity, unleashed a shot which clipped Joel Matip’s right leg and left Alisson stranded.
Almost immediately, City had an appeal for a penalty rejected by Anthony Taylor. Virgil van Dijk and Alisson got into a mix-up shepherding the ball out of danger, and Jesus was upended. Taylor was rightly sceptical.
Had Jesus made a bee-line for the loose ball rather than simply charging at Alisson looking for a collision, he would have had more chance.
Yet Liverpool were always bristling with dangerous potential, even in adversity, and just 15 minutes equalised from pretty much their first attack of note. The goal involved, almost inevitably, their playmaker full-backs.
First, Andy Robertson hit a deep cross from the left, picked up by Trent Alexander-Arnold on the right, cutting it back beautifully for Diogo Jota to finish, the ball ricocheting off Ederson, who should never done better.
That could certainly be said of his next involvement, a routine clearance that he complicated by searching for the right pass, almost ending in calamity as a boot got stuck in the turf with the ball trickling towards goal.
Displaying a coolness under pressure that befitted bomb disposal work, Ederson finally whipped the ball away as it touched the white goal-line and Jota threw himself at it, hoping to get lucky.
After that, it was all City. Rodri should have done better with a free header from a free-kick that he tried to plant in the path of John Stones, instead of going for goal.
Joao Cancelo then worked one to De Bruyne who shot just wide before the full-back cut inside and forced a save from Alisson five minutes later.
Cancelo, much like the Liverpool pair, can be a playmaker from deep, too, and in the 36th minute it was his diagonal pass from a clearance that set up Jesus for City’s second. The striker stole in on the blind side at the far post and converted with power off the underside of the bar. The lead lasted less than 50 seconds after the second-half restart.
Jordan Henderson passed to Alexander-Arnold, finding Mo Salah who played a quite beautiful pass through to Sadio Mane. He had barely been in the game to that point but his finish was quitter superb.
And off we went again, this time Liverpool in the ascendancy. Salah to Jota, forcing a save from Ederson. Virgil van Dijk blocking a shot from Jesus on its way to go. Salah once more, curling one wide.
End to end, like the best of the NBA, and every bit as fast. What a match this was.