Manchester City and Liverpool produced one of the most high-energy and frenetic performances seen in the Premier League for a long time this evening, with both eventually settling for a point in the race to finish in the top four.
The home side – clearly wanting to produce the goods having gone out of the Champions League unexpectedly midweek to Monaco – started very quickly, but Jurgen Klopp’s side managed to match their intensity in typical fashion. This was a big game, and one Liverpool are most suited to.
As the rain lashed down in East Manchester, Raheem Sterling found acres of space, time and time again, as he looked to get at James Milner, who was given very little support from Philippe Coutinho in front of him. Sterling is yet to beat Liverpool in the league since he moved away from Anfield and he looked like a player playing with a point to prove.
Sadio Mane soon won a free-kick in the attacking third of the field for Liverpool, but Coutinho’s delivery sailed over everyone, and went out for a throw-in. That was typical of his showing in the first half, with the number ten struggling for form.
The game was end-to-end from start to finish, and as soon as Liverpool had ventured forwards, it was Manchester City’s turn to do the same. David Silva flashed a volley wide of the target after some good work from Leroy Sane.
Soon after, Yaya Toure was booked for a high tackle on Emre Can. The Ivorian was slightly lucky not to see red given the height of his studs, but Michael Oliver gave him the benefit of the doubt, conscious of the weather conditions affecting both sides.
On 24 minutes, Mane was put through on goal, his pace allowing him to move past Nicolas Otamendi with ease, before the Argentinean clipped his heels. Accidently or otherwise, he was extremely fortunate not to give away a spot kick. It would also have been a red card.
Ten minutes before half-time, Coutinho was replaced on set-pieces by James Milner, who swung in a cross for Joel Matip to head wide of the goal.
City then broke away, with Kevin de Bruyne feeding David Silva. The Spaniard slotted the ball across goal in the direction of Sterling, but the winger failed to get on the end of the cross. Whether he was fouled is a debate which will rage on, but Sterling should have had the determination to put the ball into the open goal regardless – he seemed hesitant at such a crucial point.
Before half-time could arrive, there was still a chance for Roberto Firmino to test Willy Caballero again, but the goalkeeper pulled off a good save. The resulting corner came to nothing.
At the break, it was somehow goalless, and both teams – players and fans – had the opportunity to take a breath.
The second half continued in much the same way. Both sides had penalty claims in the first half, but referee Oliver correctly gave one to Liverpool for a foul on Firmino by Gael Clichy less than five minutes into the second. The French full-back slipped in the build-up, and then panicked, making a rash decision to try and win the ball when it was not there to be won.
James Milner – who was bizarrely booed all game by the home supporters – slotted the ball away with ease, and the Reds led. He has now scored seven out of seven penalties for Liverpool.
The goal gave Liverpool confidence, but there was still over a third of the game to hold on. John Stones headed just wide and Sergio Aguero found some spaces, but Liverpool held firm, and were able to counter-attack.
Firmino missed a one-on-one with Caballero shortly before Aguero equalised. De Bruyne whipped the ball across the box for the striker to poke home in the 69th minute; it was an excellent goal with no blame attached to Liverpool’s defence. Sometimes you simply accept the quality of the opposition was too much.
There was still plenty more time to create chances to win the game for either team. De Bruyne hit the post after a scramble in the box, whilst Adam Lallana failed to connect with a ball from Firmino when Gini Wijnaldum had brilliantly set the Brazilian through.
Neither side was too disappointed with a point, but both could have justifiably felt they should have taken all three. Only in added time did both managers appear resigned to not scoring a winner: until that point, both had gone for it, ultimately with no success.
Next comes the international break, with both sides staying put in third and fourth position, as they were when the game began. Liverpool are four points clear of fifth-placed Manchester United, but have played two more games, and face Everton next at the start of April.
At least the international break gives time for both sets of supporter’s hearts to calm down before the final run-in.
Simon Mignolet, 7 – made a couple of decent stops but was not tested that much considering the end-to-end nature of the game
Nathaniel Clyne, 8 – dealt with the tricky Leroy Sane well and also offered more than enough going forwards, which has not always been the case recently
Joel Matip, 7 – looked in control and was helped massively by Emre Can playing so well in front; came across and covered when he needed to and is always a calm influence
Klavan, 7 – did well when he might have expected to lose his place to the fit again Dejan Lovren; might just have played himself into the Merseyside derby which comes next for his side
James Milner, 8 – just about coped with Raheem Sterling and scored the vital goal when Liverpool needed it; he seemed energised by the boos that came his way from the stands
Emre Can, 9 – did not put a foot wrong apart from pulling back Kevin de Bruyne, for which he escaped a booking; surely his best performance in a Liverpool shirt this season, and perhaps ever
Adam Lallana, 8 – was as good as Can in every way, but missed a huge chance to go 2-1 up when he fluffed his lines; he had a good game, but will probably only be remembered for the chance he messed up
Gini Wijnaldum, 9 – another big performance in a big game, swatting aside the suggestion that he can only play well when playing at home; his strength is vital to a Liverpool team that is not the biggest physically
Philippe Coutinho, 5 – still of the pace, and offered nothing in the first half, before improving slightly in the second; he now has a couple of weeks away with Brazil to find some form again
Roberto Firmino, 8 – won the penalty and was good at holding the ball up all game; unlucky to get booked for a tackle on Silva when he appeared to take the ball early on
Sadio Mane, 8 – caused big problems with his pace, and created multiple chances, but could have been cleverer on the break when trying to get the winning goal; generally very impressive
Divock Origi (73rd minute sub.), 6 – did not do much but was played in a wide position where he is not suited; failed to hold the ball up a couple of times when he could have done more, but also used his pace effectively at times too
Lucas (89th minute sub.), n/a
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