- Dillon Meehan
Review and Player Ratings from Pep & Klopp classic – Manchester City 2-2 Liverpool
Once again, the two best teams in world football found themselves trading blows and with the Premier League title on the line, each walked away with a point. It was the first time this season that Manchester City failed to win a game in which they scored first. Following this afternoon’s contest, City stay one point ahead of Liverpool with seven matches remaining.
Pep Guardiola played arguably the strongest possible lineup for today’s match with only a few changes from Tuesday’s battle against Atletico Madrid. Walker returned to right-back so that Cancelo could go back to the left side of the defence. Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez were rotated out, allowing Phil Foden and Gabriel Jesus to join the front line alongside Raheem Sterling.
The lone peculiar decision was to have Sterling play through the middle, with Foden and Jesus flanking him to his left and right.
However, Sterling did an excellent job all match in exploiting the space behind Liverpool’s defence and nearly walked away with the match-winning goal in the 63rd minute. But a VAR review showed that Sterling’s upper body was just offside.
The game started in trademark fashion, with Liverpool’s relentless press causing City to be unable to build out from the back. While at times they were unable to have sustained possession, Liverpool were susceptible to balls played in behind and City nearly took the lead four minutes in after Sterling had a point-blank effort denied by Alisson’s trialling leg.
However, Sterling would be let off the hook. Just seconds after their first attempt on goal, De Bruyne fired a shot from outside the box, Joel Matip attempted to block the Belgian’s shot but instead, it created a favourable deflection for the Blues, causing the shot the go far post past a diving Alisson. Thirty-eight seconds after Alisson’s save, City had a 1-0 lead.
Immediately following the goal Liverpool began to look shaky in possession. The title contenders were unable to build out from the back and routinely turned the ball over in their own half. But City were unable to capitalize and extend their lead, which invited Liverpool back into the game, and they slowly were able to find their footing and regain possession.
In the thirteenth minute, following a good run of play by Liverpool, Andrew Robertson’s cross found Trent Alexander-Arnold running in behind City’s defence. Alexander-Arnold played it first time directly into Diogo Jota making a late run, who beat Ederson for the equaliser.
Following the goal, City begin to retake control of the match, and routinely targeted the space behind Alexander-Arnold to create chances.
City finally retook the lead in the 36th minute. Cancelo regained possession after an attempted Liverpool clearance following a corner. Cancelo immediately looked up and fired in a cross to the edge of the six-yard box to Jesus who ran in behind a frozen Alexander-Arnold. And the Brazilian’s shot clanged off the crossbar, it was Jesus’ first Premier League goal since his match-winner against Chelsea in the fall.
The Premier League leaders had a chance to extend their lead to three in the 42nd minute. Foden played a dangerous ball across the Liverpool box to Sterling crashing in. The former Liverpool winger nearly had an opportunity to grab a goal, but Robertson’s slide tackle nicked the ball just enough to send the ball inches over Sterling’s foot.
At the end of the first half, it was beginning to look like a dominant City performance. But they were unable to take punish Liverpool for their mistakes.
At the start of the second half, disaster struck. Just fifty seconds in, Salah played a ball in behind Walker to Mane. Mane lifted it just over Ederson allowing Liverpool to equalise for the second time.
The goal gave Liverpool a second wind and their relentless press returned. Liverpool continuously found space behind John Stones and Aymeric Laporte and Jota had a close-range effort denied by Ederson. But after ten minutes City were able to absorb the pressure and once again took control of the match.
Following Sterling’s offside goal, City had another opportunity to retake the lead in the 73rd minute, De Bruyne once again played a ball in behind the Liverpool defence. Jesus carried it into Liverpool’s box and elected to not try and square the ball to his teammates and instead fired a shot near post that hit the side netting.
After the run of play, Mahrez came on to replace Sterling.
In the closing seconds of the match, De Bruyne played another inch-perfect pass behind the Liverpool defence into the feet of Mahrez. Alisson found himself off his line and Mahrez attempted to chip the Brazilian but had his effort slightly deflected, and the ball sailed over to the bar and the game ended 2-2.
Following today's match, City will play against Brighton, Watford, away at Leeds, away at Wolves (day to be determined) Newcastle, away at West Ham, and a final match against Aston Villa. Liverpool will end the season with a tougher run of games, albeit most at home. Following Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final, they will be against United, Everton, away at Newcastle, Tottenham, away against Villa, Southampton and a final match at home against Wolves.
City will travel to Spain for the second leg of their Champions League tie against Atletico Madrid on Wednesday with a third match against Liverpool on the horizon in the FA Cup semi-final.
Man of the Match
It was Kevin De Bruyne's best performance of the season and maybe his best performance in a City shirt. If City's finishing was a tad better this would've gone down as an all-time classic performance. It's been a weird season for De Bruyne, but he appears to be hiding his stride at the perfect time.
Ederson - 7
Cancelo - 8
Laporte - 8
Walker - 9
Rodri - 7
De Bruyne - 9
Silva - 8
Sterling - 7
Foden - 8
Jesus - 8
Written by: @IVIeehan
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