Clash of Titans

On Sunday 8th November, Manchester City faced Liverpool at a rather wet Etihad Stadium in what was sure to be a thriller and it did not disappoint. Before kickoff, the Citizens sat 12th in the league with 11 points, whereas Liverpool sat 4th with 16. The Reds had a lot to play for before kickoff after being pushed down to 4th, thanks to wins from Southampton, Tottenham and Leicester.

Manchester City had won their last 3 home games against Liverpool by an aggregate score of 11-1, but hadn’t won 4 consecutively against the Reds since March 1937. Liverpool have started the season, defensively, very poor having conceded 15 goals in their opening 7 games, as many as they shipped in their first 26 games last season.

Liverpool lined up as a 4-2-2-2 with in-form Diogo Jota and match day regular Roberto Firmino leading the line. Behind them sat the the formidable duo of Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah, with the deep midfielders being Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson. The back four saw Joel Matip return to the starting line up, playing along side Joe Gomez and fullbacks Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold. In between the sticks was Alisson Becker, after his clean sheet midweek against Atalanta in the UEFA Champions League.

Pep Guardiola made 5 changes from the team that beat Olympiakos on Tuesday night with Ruben Dias, Aymeric Laporte, Joao Cancelo, Rodri and Gabriel Jesus all coming in and Ederson, Kyle Walker, Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gündogan, Raheem Sterling and the in form Ferran Torres all keeping their places in the squad.

The game kicked off under the floodlights of a wet Etihad Stadium. Before the match Jurgen Klopp called it the “Most difficult game in the world of football” but his side started well. Within the first minute a ball was played over the top to Firmino who tried to take it around an onrushing Ederson, but he took it too far and the ball went out of play. Less than a minute later, Trent Alexander-Arnold attempted to play a ball into the box but it was cleared out and Manchester City broke. It was a very open affair, the first 5 minutes that was, with the Reds having the majority of the ball and the better chances.

10 minutes in and Liverpool were playing silky, jaw dropping football down the left side of the pitch, Mane cut inside Walker who stuck out a leg and tripped the Liverpool man – Craig Pawson pointed to the spot – PENALTY! Manchester City players were outraged. They believed Sterling had been fouled at the opposite end of the pitch in the build up to the penalty being awarded, but VAR was having non of it and confirmed the on field decision. Salah placed the ball on the spot and fired it past Ederson into the back of the net to make it 1-0.

A Kevin De Bruyne free kick 5 minutes later led to another VAR check as Laporte was brought down in the box, but no penalty was awarded and a goal kick given instead. A few minutes later, Joe Gomez was caught out after trying to hold a high line when a ball was played through to Sterling. Had it not been for a solid defensive clearance from Matip, Sterling would have been 1 on 1 with Alisson and could have made it 1-1. Another poor bit of play from the Reds saw Wijnaldum dispossessed in his defensive third, before a ball is fired across the box to Sterling who takes one too many touches and has his shot blocked by the keeper.

Half an hour into the first half and the Citizens got their goal, curtesy of Gabriel Jesus. The ball is switched to Kyle Walker, Wijnaldum comes across to try close him down and leaves a huge gap in between himself and Henderson. De Bruyne exploits the space and the ball is played into him. He threads a ball into Jesus who, whether it be luck or a piece of world class genius, turns and toe pokes it past Alisson before he has time to react. 1-1!

City kept up their dominance and a De Bruyne cross found the arm of a turning Joe Gomez. It’s never a penalty as his arm cannot be anywhere else, but after consulting the pitch side VAR monitor Craig Pawson points to the spot for a second time. Kevin De Bruyne steps up and fires the ball wide of Alisson’s post keeping the score at 1-1, which in all honesty is justice served.

Liverpool were the team that ended the first half on top though as a struggling Dias is out muscled by Mane who failed to capitalise.

The second half kicked off and 2 minutes in Joel Matip is booked after crashing into De Bruyne and winning non of the ball. It was a very measured start to the second half from both teams and this favoured Manchester City as they looked to dictate play. A ball is whipped in and onto the head of an unmarked Jesus but it goes wide. He should have scored and put the Citizens in the lead, but failed to capitalise on a glorious chance to get his second of the match. Moments later his number 9 counterpart, Firmino, fires a shot over the bar raising more questions as to whether he should be starting for the Reds up front. The shot should have at least been on target and many Liverpool fans will be wondering what the future hold for Roberto Firmino, who was substituted shortly after for Xherdan Shaqiri. Just before the substitution however, Manchester City had another chance after Wijnaldum comes across and out of position to tackle Sterling, he plays it into the path of a now unmarked Kevin De Bruyne, who riffles it over the bar to keep the score at 1-1.

Seconds after Shaqiri comes onto the field, Liverpool have a penalty shout dismissed by Craig Pawson and VAR, which in my opinion was the correct decision. The ball is fired at Cancelo’s arm from close range and there’s nothing the Portuguese international could do to get out of the way. Manchester City made a change after this, with Ferran Torres making way for the more experienced Bernardo Silva. This was followed by Trent Alexander-Arnold collapsing to the ground, holding his calf, and subsequently being replaced by the vastly experienced and versatile James Milner. During his time in Manchester, Milner collected 2 Premier League winner’s medals and made this 3 medals last season after winning it with Liverpool.

Kyle Walker was pushed into the spotlight soon after the changes as he burst down the flank, only to be dispossessed, sparking a Liverpool counter. Some lovely one touch football followed, but the attack lead to nothing. A flurry of attacks from the team in Sky Blue followed, but nothing of note to mention as they failed to trouble the Liverpool back line. The Reds were caught out several times after as they failed to do the basics. Passes were sloppy and they failed to win the second ball on numerous occasions, but a smart bit of play from Salah led to a Liverpool free kick as he drew a foul from Laporte, who received a yellow card. A bit of world class defending from Joao Cancelo arose in the 82nd minute as he went to ground, hooked the ball around himself, jumped back to his feet and cleared to deny Salah an opportunity at goal.

4 minutes of stoppage time was allocated by the fourth official and during the first, City took a quick free kick but failed to get the ball forward with any speed, instead having 6 players behind the ball ready to recycle possession, clearly being satisfied with the single point on offer. A chaotic last few minutes followed with Walker being booked after stopping a counter attack, coming from his misplaced pass and Ruben Dias giving away a cheap free kick, 30 yards out from the Manchester City goal. The ball was lofted in by Shaqiri but it was headed away by a Manchester City defender leaving Craig Pawson to blow the full time whistle on what was a rather interesting day at the office for 2 title favourites.

Liverpool end the weekend in 3rd place, 1 point behind leaders Leicester City. Manchester City finish the weekend 11th, only kept outside the top half on goal difference.

But what’s next for the 2 title favourites? Well Manchester City head to North London to face Tottenham after the international break on Saturday 21st November, whereas Liverpool host Leicester City on the same day to decide who goes top of the Premier League!

featured image credit sky sports