IAN LADYMAN: Jurgen Klopp’s Achilles heel is his lousy offside trap… Liverpool were lucky to escape with a draw as Man City failed to capitalise on defensive blunders
- Manchester City drew 2-2 with Liverpool in the Premier League on Sunday
- Kevin De Bruyne gave City the lead but Diogo Jota levelled the scores
- Gabriel Jesus restored the lead before Sadio Mane restored parity
Right until the final seconds, an acute sense of jeopardy remained. Rarely has there been a Premier League game on which so much seemed to hang with so much of the season still left to play.
This was early-April yet it felt like the end of May. Everything on the line. From that point of view, it was a quite remarkable afternoon.
As we reached the final 15 or 20 minutes of the game, we waited for that moment that often comes in games like this. That moment when both coaches and both teams sub-consciously settle for what they have. Take a point. Go home and get ready to start again next week.
Jurgen Klopp puts his arm around Pep Guardiola during Sunday’s Premier league clash
It happens all the time but it did not happen here. There was not even a sniff of it. The substitutions that were made all reflected that. No thought of sending on an extra defender or midfielder to try and shut the game down. Instead millions of pounds of attacking talent entered the fray. Jack Grealish, Riyad Mahrez, Roberto Firmino, Luis Diaz.
That says everything about the way these two teams approach the subject of winning games. If you go down then you go down swinging.
In the end, it could have been Liverpool on the canvas. Jurgen Klopp’s team were better in the second half. Gone was the chaos of their first half football.
Still, though, they gave up the ball one time too many deep in stoppage time and in an instant Mahrez was away and clear at the other end. It had been a pattern of the game. Liverpool’s defence running in sand in the wake of City forwards that had breached what had been not so much an offside trap but an open door flapping in a spring wind.
The city and liverpool players shake hands following the full-time whistle at the Etihad
Mahrez should have scored and had he done so, the game would have been City’s and with it perhaps the title. City have seven games remaining and it would have been a lot to expect them to lose two of them.
But the Algerian’s chipped shot was executed poorly and finally the referee’s whistle took the pressure from the grip City held around Liverpool’s throats.
There was much to like about Liverpool here. Their spirit and belief and resilience were admirable. Their technical levels remained high amid the pressure and the frenzy. Witness, for example, the fizzing cross field pass from Thiago Alcantara to Trent Alexander-Arnold that preceded the first equaliser. And indeed the through pass from Mo Salah to Sadio Mane for the second.
Still, though, they were inferior team over the course of a riveting afternoon. Only for one ten minute period – immediately after Mane’s goal in the second half – could Liverpool say they controlled the direction and tempo of this game. For the remainder, City were simply the better side and that is why Pep Guardiola and his players may have laid their heads down last night feeling that maybe this was an opportunity missed.
In the first half in particular, Liverpool were forced to suffer that rare sensation of knowing what it must feel like to play against them at Anfield. City have suffered at their rivals’ hands before in this way but here it was the players in red caught on the spin cycle of the washing machine. City smothered Liverpool for long periods with the ferocity of their press and Klopp’s players did not cope. They made mistakes with the ball in bad areas and a defensive line breached by teams like Chelsea in the League Cup Final and West Ham and Brighton in the league was exposed persistently.
Liverpool were in the game at half time and that was as much as they could have hoped for. Beyond that it was more balanced, a little more even. Mane’s goal at the start of the second half was the quickest City have conceded after half-time in the league for almost 18 years.
As the world looked on, this was a spellbinding game. It was an afternoon to show once again just how far Guardiola and Klopp have taken the English domestic game. For those who wish to join this race for English supremacy in years to come, it will surely be a case of waiting for regression. For it seems implausible that anybody else can reach these levels.
Across the field, individual duals were fought with more than points at stake. This was about pride, too. After one successful challenge on Phil Foden, Alexander-Arnold punched the air as though he had scored a goal. At the end, Virgil van Dijk stretched out a toe to clear a cross from his six-yard line. A minute later, he lunged desperately at Kevin de Bruyne and fouled him.
This was a day with everything on the line. That was how this game was set up and that was ultimately how it felt. For once the football more than justified the hype.
These teams play each other again at Wembley in the FA Cup on Saturday, by the way. It is hard to imagine it matching this spectacle but there has to be a winner that day. With that mind, it may be advisable to clear the diary.