Manchester City had not won at Anfield since May of 2003. They still have not. In what will be considered one of the title-deciding games, City drew against a Liverpool side that is still struggling to get into the form they showed last season. For two sides that scored a combined 12 goals between them in their two league matches last season, a goalless draw was the least expected result but that is how the game ended. The last time Liverpool drew 0-0 with City at home was in 1986.
Liverpool were coming into the game after a relatively lacklustre performance against Napoli in the Champions League on Wednesday night. They were expected to be much better at home, especially in such a high-stakes game. The Reds did start very sprightly. For the first 10-15 minutes, it seemed like a Liverpool goal was imminent. Indeed, the beleaguered Mohamed Salah had a very good chance during that period. But, the final shot was found wanting. That was the story for Liverpool throughout the game. As City grew into the game, Liverpool’s defenders were called into service and that meant pressure on the unexpectedly recalled Dejan Lovren. The self-proclaimed “world class” Croat indeed seemed to have given away a penalty when it seemed like he had pushed Aguero in the box. Martin Atkinson did not think it was a penalty and Lovren survived. In fact, he thrived in the second half as he kept the subbed-in Gabriel Jesus in check throughout the Brazilian’s time on the pitch. A penalty was conceded, but it was by Lovren’s defence partner – van Dijk. Riyadh Mahrez, who had earlier had two of City’ best shots, skied it. For Liverpool, while the attackers did show some verve, I felt that the pressing was not as good as Jurgen Klopp would have wanted. In the corresponding fixture last season, Robertson was praised for pressing multiple City players in one move. Nothing of that sort happened today. Liverpool won the ball only four times in the attacking third. The midfielders, already being cited as Liverpool’s weakness, lost possession a total of 48 times between them. The Reds did improve over their performance from Wednesday but not enough to overcome City.
Manchester City came into the game after a routine Champions League victory against Hoffenheim on Tuesday night. But the extra day’s rest did not show on the field as Liverpool pinned them back initially. When they got their footing in the game, they did play their usual passing game but in the entire first half, David Silva – who is City’s main creative outlet – did not receive a single pass in the area behind the striker. City’s defenders did show their quality in keeping Liverpool’s attackers quiet but the midfield fight was scrappy and Aguero, Sterling, and Mahrez rarely got the space to shoot at the other end. Riyadh Mahrez created two of the best chances for City in the second half, wherein one he shot wide from the right of the box and in the second chance he drew Alisson into a desperate save at the near post. But the game will be remembered for Mahrez’s failed penalty attempt, after getting into a small tiff with Gabriel Jesus about who should take it. The meek yet high shot summed up Manchester City’s game. They came to Merseyside, possibly overawed by their record at Anfield or by Pep Guardiola’s record against Jurgen Klopp and seemed content to ensure a draw. Just two possession wins in the attacking third and 40 turnovers (possession losses) for the midfield tell the story of a team that did not want to lose, more than they wanted to win.
Depending on which website one refers to, the xG stats vary between 0.35 to 0.43 for Liverpool and between 1.05 and 1.1 for Manchester City. A very big component for City’s higher xG score is the penalty, which is rated as between 0.75 and 0.80 xG. This means that other City attempts put together amounted for about 0.3 xG. This shows how City’s attacker’s midfield and attackers were not really able to create many attacking opportunities. This is also shown by Project Five Thirty Eight’s non-shot xG, which is rated at 0.8 for Liverpool and 0.6 for City. For Liverpool, the two best chances came from headers – Lovren in the first half and Daniel Sturridge in the second half, both near the penalty spot and both with an xG of 0.1-0.11. Salah had three shots in the box and one of them was on target but the Egyptian is nowhere close to his best form.
In one way, this game was about the two defences. One commentator on Twitter mentioned how Klopp and Guardiola’s sides had played out some high-scoring games when they had lesser defences. But as the two sets of possibly the most expensive defenders in the Premier League faced up, both showed their quality. Not many defences have held up against Sterling and Aguero this season but Liverpool ensure that they did not have much to do today. Similarly, other defenders have had their share of trouble against Salah and company but led by Laporte and Mendy, City’s defenders kept Liverpool’s attackers subdued. Liverpool conceded six chances to City, including one Big Chance – the penalty. City conceded seven chances including the two headers mentioned earlier. Between them Lovren, van Dijk, Gomez, and Robertson put in 18 crosses/blocks/interceptions. Similarly, City’s defenders put in 23 CBI actions – the most memorable of which was Mendy’s interception of Mane’s cross as Salah was getting ready to fire a shot from close range.
Liverpool should be happy that they are still unbeaten after 8 games in the Premier League. One of the toughest sets of fixtures for them are completed and they are still one of the three sides that sit at the top of the Premier League. While the form of their attackers and midfielders is a cause for concern but it is something Klopp can look at after the international break. Their defenders ensured one more home clean sheet and that too against one of the few sides that can outscore the Reds.
For Manchester City, it was a case of relief more than happiness today. Whether it is history or Anfield’s atmosphere, City have not played well at Anfield for a long time and have lost quite regularly. So as Michael Owen put it after the game, City would be happy with a draw. Guardiola would have liked a more attacking game from his team but he will be glad to take a point against the manager he has lost most to.