Title holders Manchester City narrowly defeat Liverpool in thrilling encounter at the Etihad Stadium, narrowing Liverpool’s lead at the top of the table to four (4) points.
The last fixture of the New Year’s first game week saw Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City come out on top against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool in what proved to be a fiery match. The Man City crowd got right behind their team and made it a hostile atmosphere for the Liverpool team. The game felt like a cup final.
Guardiola knew coming into the game that anything but a victory would put his City side in deep trouble if they wanted to become champions for the second year running. His side played a very intense and well organised game, with the likes of David Silva and Fernandinho controlling the ball in the midfield and setting the tempo for the home side. Liverpool found it tough to deal with Manchester City’s control of the game, however, they enjoyed passages of lengthy ball possession, managing to pull off intricate passes with the likes of Salah and Alexander-Arnold, each to create goal-scoring opportunities.
Liverpool was unlucky not to take the lead as Sadio Mane hit the woodwork 10 minutes into the first half. In the same passage of play, City defender John Stones cleared the ball into his own goalkeeper, and the ball somehow did not cross the goal line in the process—with goal line technology showing that the ball was 1.12 centimetres from crossing the line. Fine margins in massive games like these can prove all the difference.
The first half was evenly balanced in terms of goal-scoring chances and shots on goal, however, City enjoyed more of the ball and were building up pressure as the half grew. Finally, in the 40th minute, Sergio Aguero opened the scoring for the blue half of Manchester as he stepped in front of Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren, controlled the cross, and fired home into the roof of the net from close range. Questions were raised at halftime as to whether Lovren should have not allowed Aguero the space for his shot, and if goalkeeper Alisson should have protected his near-post better. However, take nothing away from Aguero’s powerful strike.
In the second half Liverpool grew more into the game as they began to enjoy more possession of the ball for themselves. Liverpool enjoyed most of their possession down the flanks as fullbacks Andy Robertson and Alexander-Arnold burst down the wings to provide crosses into the box. Eventually, Liverpool’s early second half pressure paid off as Alexander-Arnold crossed into fellow fullback Robertson, who put the ball on a plate for striker Roberto Firmino to head home. Liverpool level on the 64th minute.
Liverpool’s goal gave the Merseysiders more confidence in their play as the game opened up further, leaving more space and creating chances for both sides through counterattacking situations. The match was extraordinarily intense as both teams went end-to-end to try and snatch a second goal. A short six minutes after Liverpool’s goal, City was back in front as forward Raheem Sterling drove through the centre of midfield with his raw pace, providing a neat pass for left-winger Leroy Sane, who finished well with his left foot into the far corner, the ball bouncing off the post and into the net. The ball got a slight touch on the way through to the goal, hitting the underside of Alexander-Arnold’s boot. Would Alisson have prevented the ball from hitting the back of the net without this touch? Regardless of this question, the score became 2-1 in City’s favour.
Liverpool tried to move up a gear in search of an equaliser, however, midfield pressing from Fernandinho, Bernado Silva, and David Silva prevented the Reds from moving the ball fluently throughout midfield, making it difficult for the ball to get through to Liverpool’s attack. For the last 20 minutes of the game, Liverpool attacked more heavily, committing more players forward, which allowed City to counterattack with more freedom. Sergio Aguero had a good opportunity to put the game to bed as Raheem Sterling slipped him through. However, Alisson read Aguero’s move to try and go around him. With five minutes to go, Liverpool was bombarding City with crosses into the box as defender Virgil van Dijk moved up front as an aerial threat. Liverpool’s late pressure was not enough as Manchester City managed the game well to inflict a defeat on Liverpool for the first time this season.
What does this mean for the title race?
Klopp’s Reds are still out in front with a four-point lead over Manchester City. It will be crucial for Liverpool to bounce back and grab a win against Brighton in the next round of fixtures as the Reds look to preserve their lead at the top. Manchester City faces Wolverhampton Wanderers at the Etihad next in the Premier League. Guardiola will be wary of the Wolves as they have put up some big results for a newly promoted team, beating Chelsea and drawing with City themselves earlier in the campaign.
Many supporters will be looking at their team’s fixture list to see who they have to play on their run in for the title. Both Liverpool and City still have to face Manchester United at Old Trafford, Tottenham at home, Everton away, and Chelsea at home. Both sides have similar fixture difficulty, however, anyone can beat anyone in the Premier League on any given day, which was proven by Crystal Palace’s shock 3-2 win over the Citizens in December this season.
Both City and Liverpool also have Champions League knockout football to look forward to, as Liverpool face German giants Bayern Munich, whilst City face Schalke. Could going deep into the Champions League affect the title race? Both Liverpool and City have deep squads to accommodate for both the Premier League and the Champions League, however, it will be interesting to see how the managers go about setting up their teams for the Champions League, knowing that injuries could hurt their title hopes domestically.
With a four-point gap between Liverpool and Man City, and a six-point gap between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, the title race is well and truly heating up as the Reds look to end their 28-year drought without a league title.