LIVERPOOL — They were the top two teams in the Premier League heading into this clash and the feeling of respect was palpable during the entire 90 minutes on Sunday at Anfield. They now sit level at the top of table, with Chelsea, on 20 points after eight games of the season.
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A 0-0 draw between Liverpool and Manchester City showed how closely matched these two teams are, with both Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola setting their teams up to defend first and attack second.
That’s not how they usually do things, at all, but such are the fine margins this season, it proves how much respect they have for one another. After their pulsating clashes in the UEFA Champions League and the 4-3 thriller in the Premier League in 2018, this affair was more pragmatic with possession almost equal and big chances also shared evenly.
City probably asked more questions than Liverpool and such was their quality on the ball, they always looked in control and had Riyad Mahrez not missed his 86th minute penalty kick you couldn’t argue with the reigning champs edging this one.
Guardiola admitted after the game that his team were deeper than usual as they controlled Liverpool’s rapid forward line expertly.
“If you play so quick they are much better than us. We want to create but when you make a mistake. We like to make the process, to build up, to make the spaces, it is not easy. But if it is an open game at Anfield, or any open game against Liverpool, you don’t even have one percent of a chance. They are so good. They play for that,” Guardiola said. “We control it through Riyad, Bernardo, the guys to give the extra pass. It is important to give that pace, that up and down. They are maybe, no, they are the best team in the world in these transitions, offensive, defensive, there is no team better in the world than that. It is built for that. That is what Jurgen feels and the players build, and in that situation they are much better.”
Just ahead of his three-year anniversary at Liverpool, Klopp returned the compliment.
Liverpool’s boss was happy with the way his team played after a gruelling run of games which saw them play PSG, Chelsea twice, Napoli and Man City in the space of just over two weeks.
“It is an unbelievable challenge to face Man City and as the last game it makes the challenge even bigger,” Klopp said. “I am really happy with what the boys did. If you want to win against Man City you have to use a few of these half chances. You need to finish. You cannot defend over 95 minutes, 100 percent but I thought how we defended was brilliant. The penalty and one or two situations that need a really good save, that is true, but we played City now that often and they are just outstanding. In no game, we played so far, the game that kind of level like it was today. Even when we won 3-0 at home and 4-3 at home, it was not like that. Maybe when we won 2-1 at City, they pushed us in our own 18-yard box and we didn’t know exactly how to come out. It is for both teams it was really intense and both showed respect for the other team. Don’t lose the ball in the wrong moment, otherwise you have a big problem. The teams did well and we were a bit lucky with the penalty, of course, that is clear.”
Klopp echoed Guardiola’s sentiments that Liverpool had more than one eye on City ahead of the game, and suggested his team were more reluctant to jump into challenges and press the reigning champs high.
“You cannot ignore City in the preparation for a City game,” Klopp said. “For a higher rhythm you need space and both teams didn’t give any space away. Against City, if you don’t defend half spaces they are constantly between your midfield and your last line, you have to constantly jump from your last line, which you don’t want to do that often. One situation and they are alone in front of your goalie, or alone in the box and they shoot and score an easy goal. That is how they score goals. It is so difficult to defend so I am really happy how we did it. We had a little setback on Wednesday. I watched the game on the flight back. That was really important to see it agains, to adjust a few things. It was so much better today. If would have defended today like we did against Napoli, it is 7-0. No doubt about that. We were back on track even after we had to change Milly [James Milner] which you never want to do, especially in the first half. It was an unbelievably intense period of fixtures, crazy. It makes no sense to moan about it when you are in it but now it is over so I can moan about it. It was unbelievable, playing these teams, it is really difficult. I am happy with the results we got.”
Yet there was a sense of what could have been for Guardiola, as City had two clear penalty kick shouts in each half (other than the one Mahrez skied).
The Spanish coach finished the love-in between himself and Klopp.
“The referee decided it was a foul by Fernandinho. Maybe we need two penalties to score one goal. I would not like to speak about the referees, about the decisions,” Guardiola said when asked by Pro Soccer Talk. “We had a clear chance in the last action so we controlled quite well. We know this club how complicated it is playing in this stadium and how dangerous they are. They are incredibly quick and we controlled them outstandingly, but we didn’t create too much. That is normal because they are so strong. It is a point. We were close, more than ever to winning here but it is better than last season and we compete really really good. We had our chance.”