LIVERPOOL – It was billed as the best game of the season so far as the two title favorites locked horns at Anfield.
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A 0-0 draw between Liverpool and Manchester City ensued in a cagey encounter where both teams kept their unbeaten record intact for this season, while Riyad Mahrez smashed a penalty kick over the bar late on as City almost snatched all three points.
Here’s what we learned from Anfield.
CITY’S DEEP LINE SHOWED LIVERPOOL TOO MUCH RESPECT
Manchester City passed the ball between their goalkeeper Ederson and two center backs John Stones and Aymeric Laporte time and time again in the first half. They deliberately held a deep defensive line to stop any threat from Liverpool’s rapid forwards in-behind them. That frustrated Liverpool no end, but also diminished City’s presence as an attacking unit. It showed plenty of respect for Liverpool and after being beaten three times in their last four outings against Klopp’s side, you could hardly forgive Guardiola’s pragmatic approach.
City didn’t waver too far from their usual possession-based philosophy, but there was enough of a diversion from their norm to suggest that showed supreme caution as to what Liverpool could do to them. City had just 51 percent possession, which is their lowest amount in a PL game since Guardiola took charge. Even when Gabriel Jesus came on in the second half it wasn’t to give Aguero some much needed support. Yet Guardiola’s team controlled large spells of the second half and they ground Liverpool down with Mahrez twice coming close before he wasted a glorious opportunity by smashing a penalty kick high into the Anfield Road end. City will be happy with a point at Anfield given the fact that Guardiola had lost on both of his previous visits to Liverpool. But maybe, just maybe, Man City gave Liverpool too much respect.
PK CALLS GO LIVERPOOL’S WAY IN EDGY ENCOUNTER
Mahrez wasted City’s biggest chance from the penalty spot but City could have easily had three penalty kicks with Virgil Van Dijk handling in the box in the second half (although a foul on him was belatedly given) and Dejan Lovren clumsily bundled over Sergio Aguero in the first half. The breaks went Liverpool’s way in a tight, tense game. Aside from the penalty debates, there were enough late challenges, clever fouls and angry reactions on the sidelines to suggest this rivalry is growing into something special. Yes, this game wasn’t a classic compared to Liverpool’s 4-3 win last season at Anfield, but that is because these two teams are so evenly-matched and have so much respect for one another that they failed to take risks and didn’t divert from their gameplan during the game.
They each swapped a striker for a striker instead of going for it and Guardiola and Klopp will both be happy enough with a point from this encounter before the two-week international break. Liverpool’s unbeaten run at home is now stretched to 25 PL games, while they haven’t lost in their last 14 games against the so-called “top six” which dates back to January 2016. These two next do battle at the Etihad Stadium on Jan. 1 and we can expect a similar encounter with both teams atop the table. They now sit level on 20 points atop the table with Chelsea and those three are your favorites to win the Premier League. The title race is on.
SALAH’S RUST REMAINS
Mohamed Salah just can’t shake off the rust which has encased his 2018-19 season so far. He had a field day against Man City last season, missing several chances in his first-ever game against them and was then involved in five goals (three goals, two assists) in his next three encounters against City. In truth, he didn’t look dangerous all afternoon at Anfield. In the 63rd minute he cut inside on his left foot and like last season, he curled a shot in on goal. Unlike last season the ball didn’t fly into the top corner as he wheeled away in disgust as Ederson easily saved. We’ve seen that frustrated, almost tormented, look on Salah’s face far too often this season. We saw it again six minutes later as Andrew Robertson played a long ball up to Salah but his first touch was a little off and he skied his effort over the bar and into the Kop. That just about sums up Salah’s season so far as he’s scored three goals in 11 games in all competitions. It was always going to be impossible for him to replicate the season he had in 2017-18, yet the reasons for Salah’s are plentiful. Goalkeepers now know where he wants to finish and defenders understand his movements and runs better. Add in his shoulder injury at the end of last season and the fact that he rushed back to play for Egypt at the World Cup, and there could also be a general lack of sharpness rolled in there.