It was a football spectacle that lived up to the billing. Manchester City and Liverpool gave football fans all over the world a great game to watch as two of the best teams in England at the moment went head-to-head in the battle for the Premier League title.
City have been here before, going head-to-head against the same opponent in two of the last four seasons. The Blues won the battle in 2019 emerging victorious with just a point. But the Reds came back stronger in 2020 and punctuated the Cityzens’ celebrations by finally emerging champions after a 30-year wait.
In the quest to retain the title for the second time in Pep Guardiola’s reign, a familiar foe stands in the way. In the end both teams settled for a share of the spoils after a pulsating encounter in which they gave each other tremendous respect while still trying to carry the day.
Two goals apiece meant they remain first and second on the table as they were before the kick-off. Although City still hold the advantage as they remain top of the table, the race is far from over heading into the last seven games.
That said, here are three takeaways from the game at the Etihad Stadium heading into the final weeks of the campaign.
1. The Title Could Still Go Either Way
Manchester City were eight points clear of Liverpool on the league table at the beginning of the year. It seemed then that the Blues were running away with another league title. But how times change!
In just a matter of a couple of months, the Reds have clawed their way back and now have a real chance of outwitting City to the title again.
The game at the Etihad Stadium was billed as the title-decider by many. It was supposed to be a winner-takes-all. But at the end of the day, the teams could not be separated.
They had to settle for a point apiece and remain first and second on the league table just as they were before the game kicked off. With seven games left to play, it is now a question of “you snooze, you lose.”
Just one loss, in fact, just a draw could be all it takes to lose the league title.
Liverpool have so far shown to be ready to go all the way if City let them.
As was seen against Crystal Palace, a point can be dropped in any game rather unexpectedly. That could be all it will take for one team to outwit the other.
However, the Blues remain in pole position to retain their title. With derby games against Manchester United and Everton, as well as a date with Antonio Conte’s Tottenham, Liverpool have a tougher fixture list in the final stretch.
Man City only need to keep winning to end the season as champions, again.
2. Gabriel Jesus was Good But Could Be Better
In a tightly-contested game that every opportunity counted and just one opportunity taken will make the difference between winning, losing or drawing, Gabriel Jesus played a significant part in the end result of the game.
The Brazilian number 9 has been criticized from several quarters regarding his goal return. His total league return this term stands at seven. He did himself a world of good by getting on the scoresheet. His goal put City 2-1 ahead following a brilliant run to lash on to Joao Cancelo’s well-timed cross.
But the goal was quickly canceled out after the break when Sadio Mane returned the favour by slotting home Mohamed Salah’s intelligent pass across City’s backline.
City had several chances to restore their lead with Raheem Sterling’s finish ruled out for offside. But it was Gabriel Jesus that had the best chances to settle the contest for good.
Unfortunately, the Brazilian chose to go for glory at a time when being a team player would have been better. On two occasions he had the ball in positions where all he needed to do was square a pass to his teammates who were waiting in front of goal to just slot home.
Liverpool’s first goal came when Trent Alexander-Arnold did exactly the same thing by squaring to Diogo Jota who simply slotted home past Ederson.
With Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling waiting to just pounce, Gabriel Jesus chose to take shots that were both off target. Those were golden opportunities for the Blues to hit Liverpool where it hurt most. It could have easily been the end of the title race.
But it’s understandable that the Brazilian will strive to go for glory after being given a rare opportunity to start a big game. He was eager to impress and although playing for his teammates could have been better for the team, one can understand his desire to grab the headlines.
As seen in hugs he got from his manager after the game, Pep Guardiola did not mind. The Catalan boss was happy his team did not lose. Maintaining a one-point advantage means that winning the title remains fully in City’s hands.
3. Pep Guardiola was More Interested in Preventing a Loss Against Liverpool
Pep Guardiola gave Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool too much respect. Again, that's understandable given what the team has done this season.
Let’s just say Manchester City has played many more games with intensity, drive and the desire to win than the fixture against the Reds on Sunday. The Blues rarely kicked into second gear or went all out on their opponent to try and secure a win.
The Catalan boss even resorted to copying Jurgen Klopp’s tactics in an attempt to contain the opponent and prevent a loss. City appeared to have abandoned their normal short-passing game, choosing instead to play long balls.
Asked why he resorted to an unfamiliar style against a formidable opposition, the City boss stated jokingly: “I try to imitate the best, I learn! It was a fantastic game, both teams want to win every game. It was a good game, I had the feeling that with this result, you have to review the game and feel it was missed opportunity, we give them a life.
“But heads up, I said to the team I don’t want one second of sadness. I’m so glad and happy with the way we played. When you do many good things the sadness is there, but I said forget it. We were ourselves, we performed incredibly well and unfortunately we could not win.
“Every week here in the Premier League, we watch Liverpool and we know what they do, in chances created. We conceded so few and created a lot. In general it was a good performance, so happy and glad for my team.”
Guardiola’s excitement at the final result speaks volumes. It was clear what his intentions were in the way he warmly hugged his opposite number in the dugout and proceeded to congratulate his players for the outcome.
That seemed to be the plan from the dressing room and achieving it was seen as success. Only time will tell how smart this was as results in the remaining matches will determine whether City retain their title.