Liverpool and Manchester City managed to steer clear of the top of the Premier League in an exciting clash at Anfield on Sunday, with the visitors fighting back twice to win a 2-2 draw they more than deserved.
City had been the dominant team by far in the opening trades but were canceled out by the exceptional interaction of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, the latter opening the scoring just ahead of the hour with a smart strike on Ederson. Salah would make the score 2-1 in an even more impressive way, with a mad run around the right side of City’s box ending with him smashing the ball in front of goal.
This restored a lead that had been briefly undone by Phil Foden’s arrow strike from inside the left channel where City had dominated throughout the game. From that same spot, City scored the game’s fourth goal when a cut was only given to Kevin De Bruyne, whose strike viciously deflected Joel Matip to bring the visitors back.
The goal brought a rare smile to the face of apoplectic Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola when James Milner dodged a second yellow for a trip to Bernardo Silva. Liverpool stepped in quickly to replace ailing auxiliary right-back and ensure they weren’t a downed man against a devastating opponent.
It was a game of the highest standards on the pitch, characterized by a rather astonishing dipping block from Rodri to prevent Fabinho from scoring an open goal after Ederson misjudged a right-wing cross. It would have been a cruel way for City and their excellent goalkeeper to lose this magnificent game, where almost all players gave him an individual performance worthy of victory. This could be the game to set the stage for a fascinating title race between these two with Chelsea firmly in the mix as well.
The city spoils its domination
At the start of this clash, it looked like City’s high-stakes week had finally come to an end. After 15 minutes of play, Liverpool had made 19 passes into the third striker, their visitors having only seven. The home side press seemed to have the opposition blocked with Kevin De Bruyne and Rodri forced into overly ambitious passes on the ground that were recovered too easily.
It seemed to be winning for Liverpool and yet they pulled the collar off… not for the first time in recent weeks. That brief respite was all City needed. Another impetus came from a brilliant run from Bernardo Silva, beating five players (Jordan Henderson couldn’t approach the Portuguese in three attempts) before sliding to Foden to see his shot well saved by Alisson.
In the meantime, the roles had been clearly reversed. City had completed 55 passes in the third attacker against 29 for Liverpool and were leading the shots by seven to one. There was a spell before half-time where the Reds went 10 minutes without a touch in the third striker. Pep Guardiola’s team were ruthless, locking up their hosts.
These games don’t often feature the obvious weak spot Liverpool had on their right flank today. James Milner is a diligent professional who has rarely, if ever, let down his teammates in what will soon be 19 years of Premier League football. But each of those years, the top-flight 573 games, seemed to weigh on the veteran as he was propelled into the right-back role in the absence of Trent Alexander Arnold.
Without the ball, City had no fear of Milner. When they got it, they perfumed the blood in the water. Their attacks were relentless. Foden beat a man 14 years his senior at will and was entitled to a 32nd-minute penalty when Milner dragged him down as he burst into the box. It was the kind of decision VAR would have confirmed if Paul Tierney had pointed the finger at the spot instead.
Only Alisson’s speed off his line deprived Foden of a goal. After denying Bernardo an assist earlier, he repeated the trick just before the break, he did the same to Ederson, who had planted the ball from his goal line on Foden’s boot while cutting to the left . They didn’t particularly block that path to goal in the second half – it was space behind Milner that Foden equalized with 20 minutes left and where the second equalizer came from – they just had enough possession and territory for it to be less. a problem.
Likewise, Jack Grealish’s brief banter on the left at the start of the second half seemed to have instead helped Milner off the hook. At the start of this period, it was time to go for the jugular, to send all their attacks to the flank through the unstoppable Foden. During this period, they might have let the victory slip away.
The magical moments of Mane and Salah
Liverpool couldn’t convincingly state that they had had the best of this game. They certainly had moments but it was City who led on the territory, the issues of possession and pressure. What the visitors didn’t have was a striker in form just as spectacular as Salah’s. Mane wasn’t far behind, but it was a wonderful performance from the Egyptian, as good as he has been in a Liverpool shirt for quite some time.
With little he did a lot. After spending most of the first half feeding on leftovers, Salah feasted on what finally happened to him. A smart move from Fabinho finally gave him a chance to attack his man one on one. Joao Cancelo never had a chance. As the defenders gravitated to No.11, his fellow attacker made one of his usual runs into the field from the left flank, finishing with aplomb as he sent a shot through Ederson.
Here is a high profile retaliation to those career obituaries that were written for the Senegalese forward as he struggled for form and confidence at the end of last season. Just as Liverpool as a whole have returned to their peak form since the return of Virgil van Dijk, so have their forwards. Mane now leads the league in expected goals without penalty. He returns to those places he found at will before his Annus horribilis.
Salah is second in those rankings, which could be higher if he didn’t score so many tough chances. His goal was the best moment of a magnificent clash, made all the more impressive by his willingness to take a shot from a narrow angle on his weaker right foot. Aymeric Laporte certainly didn’t see it coming and seemed completely bamboozled when Salah chose to reduce his angle before taking a pretty bright shot.