The Biggest game in Football?
Draw a breath after possibly the best 45 minutes of football we’ve seen this season in the Premier League. The first half was as forgettable from a Liverpool perspective and one that almost cost them dearly in this rivals battle. We rarely see a team play like City did at Anfield, going toe to toe with Klopps men. The courage that City have show when playing away from home anywhere in the world has to be applauded. Three away games Pep Guardiola has seen his recruits play Chelsea, PSG and now Liverpool and they have been equally impressive for each outing.
Outside of the Champions League this game is always one that catches the eye in the footballing calendar. The respect off the field had been rolled out to all that can read this week. Pep respects Jurgen, Jurgen also respects Pep. Fanciful nonsense because in reality as each manager shows the steely determination that courses through the veins of their respected squads when the whistle blows. This is a game that shows the true character of each manager. Unyielding. Unrelenting. World-class.
It was apparent that City planned to sit back for the first 10-15 minutes to soak up the tornado that Liverpool was expected to bring. Instead the Reds provided a decent opening 10 minutes but were more of a gust of wind than a tornado. City grew in stature and confidence after realising that the onslaught was not coming. Foden had the freedom of Anfield and made great use of it. Every time possession was turned over the threat of Foden was getting closer to giving City the goal they deserved and desired.
As the half grew City came out of their shell even more. Bernardo Silva was a perhaps unlikely leader but his clever twists and turns were causing Liverpool huge issues as they failed to deal with him. As soon as he drew in three then four Liverpool players into a small section of the midfield alarms began to sound. A sublime pass through the backline to Foden seen a dangerous challenge from Milner. VAR couldn’t change the official decision and a huge sigh of relief was let out from everyone in red. Liverpool were surviving but only just.
A game of 2 Halves
Jurgen Klopp could be seen mouthing “Be Brave” in the first half. The message was clearly lost on his troops. He did however manage to send his team out with renewed hope for the second half. Liverpool immediately grabbed control of the game and with an extra 20 yards positioning they began to take the game to City. The high press was relentless and neither side were now allowed any time or space in the opponents final third. Jota began to find some half space between the lines but the difference was the delivery to him.
The game was on a knife edge with Liverpool’s midfield pushing higher up to apply pressure. The City counter attack looked more dangerous if not ominous. This was the trade off. Blink once and you could lose out huge. City were the first to concede. An interchange on the halfway line was met with Mo Salah facing Cancelo. Salah lifted the ball past the fullback and strode towards the City defence. A clever run by Jota was matched with an even better run by Mane who at full flight was too quick for Diaz. Mane retained his composure and slotted past Ederson.
Both sides traded blows for ten minutes but it was City who struck back when Jesus took a diagonal line across the midfield and went past Jones and Fabinho. He delivered to Foden on the right side of the box who snapped the ball across the ailing Becker in goals.
Big Game Players
The term “World Class” can get bandied about quite a lot these days. It should mean being exceptional where almost everyone else is not at that level. Mo Salah delivered a piece of world class at the moment where it mattered most, against the team that is considered the best in Europe right now. He picked up a nothing ball with his back to goal. Surrounded by four City players he pivoted and turned in a space that was not really available and danced his way past the defence. Laporte was the last man to fall as he got twisted to the ground as Salah deceived the stadium by choosing his right foot over his left. When the ball hit the inside of the net you could hardly believe what you just witnessed.
Liverpool were ten minutes from securing a season defining win. But City were not to be outdone on this occasion. Not should they have been for their efforts. Kevin DeBruyne might have felt this game was passing him by at times. He was not his commanding self in and out of possession. But when the moment came he delivered. Foden again sole a yard on the right flank and pulled the ball back for Jesus to score. Instead it avoided the Brazillian and landed at the feet of the Belgian. He struck with power and the ball deflected past Alison. Nobody could say that they didn’t deserve this piece of luck. It just felt right.
Keeper Versus Keeper
While watching this game i couldn’t help but wonder what the score would have been or could have been without these two keepers. Ederson played a 70 yard pass to Foden from his 6-yard-box that was outrageous. His ability to pick a pass and be playmaker from the back is unrivalled in world football right now. At the other end Alison Becker made some incredible saves with his hands, feet and body to deny the City onslaught in the first half.
For Brazil to have both of these keepers that are only approaching their prime is almost a sin that one of them will miss out leading their country. But for Liverpool and City they will sleep easier knowing that they have the best two shot stoppers in the game right now.
Struggled to effect the game
For some players this game was too big. It was too frantic and the level needed to influence the game itself was perhaps too much to ask in the cauldron of Anfield. Jack Grealish gets the first mention for that. Pep decided that Foden was the man to get at Milner and therefore Grealish was shipped into the false 9 position instead of his preferred wide left. This did not suit the Englishman as he struggled to get to grips with what was required. It was no surprise that he was made surplus to requirements when the first sub was introduced.
For Liverpool Curtis Jones was in the same vein. This game required big characters and although he seen plenty of touches of the ball it is the mental side that he struggled with. Safe, sideway passes. Afraid to lose the ball and perhaps to take risks. This is why he is lagging behind Thiago and most notably Harvey Elliot in the pecking order. This is what defines great players. Games like this when you need to flex your muscles and show what you are about. It will be a valuable learning experience for him to go 90 mins in this game.
The Respect of Managers
We had plenty of soundbites this week about the mutual respect for these managers. Though i am sure that is indeed the case the both of them showed why they are where they are. Both were incredibly animated. In fact Pep’s blood pressure must be through the roof when he plays at Anfield. As he seems to feel the effect of a bad decision ten fold. Not that he wasn’t correct when he insisted Milner should see Red, because he was. The raw emotion he displayed when they equilised was enthralling. This is a manager that assembled possibly the greatest club team of all time with Messi as the crown jewel. Still feeling this type of pressure.
Klopp wears his heart on his sleeve. You can see how important this result and performance was to both as they struggle to break each others dominance on the domestic league. No quarter was asked or given. Show me a manager with none of these qualities and i’ll show you an unsuccessful manager. There is a steely determination inside both of these giants that cannot be quenched.
What does it tell us?
I think a game like this answers a lot more questions for Liverpool than it does for City. With good performances in their last 3 games City have proven that they are as good if not better this season. The question mark over a proper out and out striker now seems to be case closed. City need a striker. At the highest level, be it the Champions League and one off games they have a better chance of coming undone. It’s incredible that they can be so good but still have room for improvement but the facts do not lie. A narrow win over Chelsea despite a superb display and this result against Liverpool shows that they create but they do not finish.
For Liverpool they needed that second half. Questions are now answered over their mentality after least seasons highs and lows. They have shown they can emulate what they achieved when they had a full compliment of players. Long-term they will need to keep their first 11 fit to challenge over the full season. But signs are positive that they can match the very best. In Mo Salah they have in their possession probably the most in form player in Europe right now and that bodes well for the season ahead.
We are in for a great league this season with both these sides and perhaps Chelsea all competing for top honours. It will be a survival of the fittest and on yesterdays display it could be the best challenge we have seen in recent years.