Liverpool and Manchester City show why Premier League title race will thrill - but defensive depth is worrying for Reds

Liverpool and Manchester City show why Premier League title race will thrill - but defensive depth is worrying for Reds

At the end, Pep Guardiola, his team and their fans were the ones celebrating. Maybe that, more than anything else, tells the true story of this brilliant, pulsating Premier League clash.

“You’ve seen the champions, now f**k off home,” crowed the Manchester City supporters, packed tightly into the old Anfield Road end. 

In front of them, Guardiola gave a smile and a fist pump. He looked happy, focused, determined, themes he would continue in his post-match press conference.

His side could have, should have won perhaps, but the 2-2 draw they chiselled out here will have felt like a victory, given the setting and given the circumstances. "I am satisfied," confirmed Guardiola.

For Liverpool, it was a case of what might have been. They remain unbeaten, above City in the table and below only Chelsea; but as they head into the second international break of the campaign, they know their position should be even stronger than it is.

They led twice, overcoming a terrible first half to raise the Anfield roof first through Sadio Mane and then, spectacularly, through the genius of Mohamed Salah.

With nine minutes to go, the game was theirs, but City are champions for a reason, and when Guardiola’s side needed a response, and a little bit of good fortune, they got it. Kevin De Bruyne’s deflected leveller at the Kop end ensured the spoils were shared.

It was fair, to be perfectly honest. City bossed the first half but Liverpool responded strongly after the break. Both sides had openings, both sides had near misses. Even at 2-2, it needed a remarkable goalline block from Rodri to deny Fabinho a winner. At the other end, Andy Robertson stood firm to prevent Gabriel Jesus from pinching it.

That’s how fine the margins are between these sides, and how fine they will be in this most mouth-watering of title races. In Liverpool, City and Chelsea, we have three heavyweight contenders, and it would be wise not to discount Cristiano Ronaldo and Manchester United as well, even if their recent form suggests they still sit a rung below the others.

Liverpool certainly look like they will be in the mix, although this was their third draw of the campaign, and in all three they had looked well-placed to get the win. Just as at Brentford last time out, they let the game slip in the final 10 minutes.

Warning signs, perhaps? We are used to such levels of consistency from this team, that anything less than perfect tends to stand out. 

Certainly the pre-match concerns surrounding the absence of Trent Alexander-Arnold were realised here. James Milner is as good a professional as there is, and a more than competent right-back when needed, but the veteran was given a torrid time by Phil Foden throughout. 

Foden scored the first and created the second, by which time Milner had been substituted for his own good, having picked up a first-half yellow card and been fortunate to avoid a second after the break. 

As Milner guiltily walked away after upending Bernardo Silva, Guardiola raged at fourth official Mike Dean on the sideline. Jurgen Klopp, meanwhile, simply told Joe Gomez to get ready. It was a wise call. "We planned it anyway," he said afterwards.

Alexander-Arnold, Liverpool hope, will be back for the trip to Watford on October 16, and the Reds need him. Not necessarily for his defensive quality - Foden would have given any full-back a hard time today - but for that quality and range of passing which is so integral to the way Liverpool play. 

Without him, the Reds looked stodgy and scrambled for 45 minutes. They started OK, but by half-time they were on the ropes, unable to keep the ball and grateful to Alisson Becker for two fine interventions to prevent Foden - who else? - from opening the scoring.

Liverpool managed one shot in the first half and it was blocked before it got to within 15 yards of Ederson’s goal. Jordan Henderson, the captain, misplaced 50 per cent of his passes in midfield. City were sloppy themselves, but dominated. "We did it exactly how you shouldn't do against City," Klopp pointed out. "We didn't play football."

Whatever he said at half time worked, though. Liverpool emerged a different side, hungrier and sharper, with far more threat. Just before the hour mark, Salah slipped two defenders on the right flank and fed Mane, 1-0 to the home side.

City still had Foden though, and 10 minutes later he levelled, ghosting in behind Milner to receive Gabriel Jesus’ pass and fire home. Liverpool’s weak spot punished by City’s star man.

Then Liverpool’s star man came to the party. Salah received a pass from Curtis Jones on the left corner of the City box, with four defenders for company.

He beat them all, his nimble feet taking him into the area. Then he beat Aymeric Laporte to chop the ball onto his right foot. Then he beat Ederson. Anfield exploded. A moment of genius, fit to win any football match.

It didn’t. Foden still had a part to play, this time in space behind Gomez and seeing his low cross reach De Bruyne, whose strike went in off Joel Matip.

“Justice,” tweeted City’s official account. Rough justice, Liverpool will feel. Matip was, 

They emerge unscathed though, and have now faced both of their main rivals and held their own. City, too, will take confidence. They won at Stamford Bridge last week and stood up tall at Anfield this time around. "The way we lost in Paris showed me we are a good side," Guardiola said. "And so did the way they drew today."

They’ll be up there come May, no doubt. So will Liverpool, though.