Manchester City 1 Liverpool 1: Match Review

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WATCHING it back. Watching it back. Overwhelmed and overwhelming. Ninety tough, tough minutes. Even knowing the end, the twists and turns take your breath away.

What a game of football. What a joy to be alive. Manchester City and Liverpool duked it out at the Etihad yesterday and for the third time this season the Etihad was the setting for a defining game of the season. Manchester City have taken two points from those games when they could argue they deserved all nine. It’s the striking thing about their campaign — City should have beaten Chelsea which may well have halted their momentum. They failed. They deserved to be out of sight against Tottenham but they were pulled back. They could easily have taken all three points this evening against Liverpool but the points were deservedly shared. Across the course of the campaign the Etihad has been the place to be at. Which makes the empty seats all the stranger — it was always likely to be another spectacular occasion. And it was.

It was played with a tempo and urgency which up to this season was a rarity but has come to define the games between the top six. Yet this could well have been the quickest and hardest to date — the damage it did to its players, constantly being asked to do one more shuttle, one more sprint. It left Yaya Toure with little option but to submit around the hour mark, bleary eyed, a man who had no more to give, a colossus eroded to dust. The price of entry to games like this now more than he can manage. He isn’t the first casualty of these games — Michael Carrick was given the big hook at Old Trafford when Liverpool went there earlier in the season. These are good players, players who have touched the sky and who can think their way through most normal games.

These aren’t normal games. This wasn’t a normal game.

Like all the great games it ebbed and flowed. City start on top in the pouring rain, getting to grips with the game first, but Liverpool getting to grips with the weather helped them haul themselves back into it. Liverpool started the half jabbing just to keep City at arms length but they ended it swinging, having forced their way on top. Emre Can was integral to that, sliding around like a puppy on a wet and windy walk. He revelled in the challenge that the game became, wanted to win his battles and show no fear resulting in him bounding back to his feet possibly saving Toure from a red card when he lost control. The Reds should have had a couple of penalties and a goal by the break. Simultaneously Liverpool could have gone in behind, down to 10 and have given a penalty away themselves.

After the break, after James Milner converted the most Protestant of penalties, Liverpool were in the box seat against a Manchester City side coming off the back of a trip to Monaco. A case of two points dropped from that position? That sort of shout seems churlish. And yet.

That’s the thing about games like this. They don’t give themselves over easily to could haves and should haves. The coulds and shoulds rebound back on you. Throughout the second half Liverpool couldshould have made it 0-2 and 1-2; Liverpool couldshould have found themselves 2-1 or 3-1 behind. The chances didn’t stop falling to either side, the decisions the referee had to make at 100 mph didn’t stop being required. As an aside, imagine refereeing that game, Michael Oliver left pulling for tugs; imagine making high-profile decisions when your lungs are on fire, and these sides won’t stop sprinting, passing, attacking, competing. Oh for a quiet five as the ref, oh for a quiet five as a supporter, heart racing. Football that elicits black spots in front of your eyes, bruised knees all round when Adam Lallana failed to connect in front of goal.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Sunday, March 19, 2017: Liverpool's Manager Jürgen Klopp during match against Manchester City in the FA Premier League at the City of Manchester Stadium. (Pic by Gavin Trafford/Propaganda)

Both managers appeared to be pleased with their players and so they should have been. Their players played their football with full commitment. No backward steps on show. The question couldshould be whether that is always the right type of football. I’m of the view that it is but that doesn’t mean me and they are correct. Both sides have weaknesses that will surely be addressed but there isn’t a huge amount of interest in correcting them with shape and approach from either manager. Both put their team on a tightrope.

As a positive Sadio Mane and Raheem Sterling showed what players of their type can bring to a football team even if both had questionable end product on the day. Liverpool need at least one more of that type and have a front three where if goals pay the rent only Mane can be said to do his share. For me, Philippe Coutinho remains structurally more of an issue than Roberto Firmino in this, but I could be wrong. However, if Leroy Sane and Coutinho both struggled as left-sided forwards I would argue that one was very well marshalled by Nathaniel Clyne whereas the other failed again to make the contribution expected apart from when he dropped deeper and picked the ball up with space to carry it into. The issue that Coutinho has is that he’s not really perfected a 6.5/10 90-minute performance in that position whereas both the players next to him can be alright and contribute. They are both attackers, Coutinho an attacking midfielder.

And yet. In a game that confounds Coutinho plays the Liverpudlian ball of the match to release Firmino (for a chance he should do better with — told you I might be wrong) and a contender for ball of the match full stop up against Kevin De Bruyne.

And yet, and yet. And yet these aren’t normal games. They are glorious games, the games that you should remember for years to come and yet whether or not this is the case for the Reds will be defined by what happens next for the rest of this season and going into next. For Liverpool whether or not they finish where they deserve — second or third — will be defined by the mundane from this point, by the normal. These games, these abnormalities are done and their record within them is marvellous. They have the minimum points they deserve from those 10 games — easier to argue they deserve more than less.

We need to remember and cherish these occasions. That means beating Bournemouth after the derby and then going to Stoke and getting something and doing the business from there till the end of May. Cherishing these occasions means them leading to more of them, to Champions League football back at Anfield, to more good players coming to play for this manager in this environment. These aren’t just football matches, they are adverts, for Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool, for Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. As players, come and do this. As supporters, come and adore them.

Not the Kings of Europe. Not yet. But Liverpool need to put themselves in the position to have the chance to become the Kings Of Europe. They genuinely deserve that chance.

Up the and yet Reds. Cherish them. May they keep making it a joy to be alive, may they have the chance to do that even more regularly next season.

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14 Comments

  1. Jimmy Corkhill

    It was helter-skelter to say the least, I’m scared to watch it back.

    Had an Evertonian yesterday, at least 75 years old, saying that it was one of the best games he’s ever seen as a neutral.

    It was fucking mad to be fair.

  2. Robin crimes

    After the Arsenal game my mate was perplexed. He said ‘yeah it’s a good result but it just leaves me with more questions’. I was slightly annoyed by those comments. Yesterday I felt the same though. How can Can be so good in the games against the top sides yet so poor v lesser teams. How can Gini be so unbelievably good for 65% of games then go missing for a few. Matip swings from majestic to worrying. The truth is we can say the same for Coutinho, Firmino and Lallana. It’s frustrating. We’re clearly a very very good side. I’d question if there’s anyone better on our day. We’ve all had an attempt to pinpoint the problem but we’re just speculating. Character, defence, keeper, players with subtle changes of position, player combinations not working, fatigue etc etc. I wish we knew for sure because this team can win things.

  3. The kind of game that almost results in me being taken ill.

    I was almost hyperventilating When Sane flashed it across the face of our goal and Sterling somehow contrived not to score. I love that Milner fouled him and got away with it. The best teams get away with stuff.

    I was similarly unwell when De Bruyne lashed the post and Aguero blazed over when a goal seemed a certainty.

    None of this, however, can compare to how City’s fans must have felt when Lallana missed that howler.

    A superb game of football against a side I am quite fond of with a manager I very much like. Pep and Klopp’s touchline antics were also enjoyable.

  4. Jonathan Husband

    Amen to that article.

  5. Troutbeck_Red

    I love these reds but they need to be more ruthless in front of goal. We have done well against the top 6 and I would take this years results next year now, and yet out of the 5 draws Liverpool have had their moments and chances and not taken them, against spurs Coutinho early doors and Mane’s offside goal. United both at home and away we had big chances and they equalise from a goal far more offside than Mane’s at Spurs with 10 to go. Today at 1-0 Bobby F should have scored, at 1-1 Lallana should have made it 2-1. Yes City had chances but that they did not take them is down to them. City would not have come back from 2-0 had Bobby scored. In the end a draw is a fair result but goals change games and we have missed big chances away at Southampton (Bobby F) Bournemouth (Divvy early doors at 0-0) that have allowed teams to come back at us later on when we should be out of sight. These reds have created enough opportunities to be chasing Chelsea close and to have a lot more points than they have but they need to be more ruthless in front of goal.

  6. Crackin read Neil, you’ve taken to this “real Journalism” shite lad.

  7. Empty seats? really? Shame.

    • Yeah, really weird. Such a big game that you just knew would be a cracker, and there were empty seats everywhere.

  8. paul ewart

    Percussive football at it’s best. FWIW I though Sane was the most effective wide player by a country mile. The only one with any end product yesterday until KDB moved wide. As for the structural issues, well, Bobby gives a lot, but there were three or four times when his lack of pace, positional nous cost us yesterday: there are time when you want a centre forward to be a centre forward. This could, of course, be resolved by having another speedster on the left but I’d like to see a more horses for courses approach next season.

  9. Rob Tyler

    Preach.

  10. You can see the blueprint for Guardiola with Sterling and Sane. If Klopp could get another Mane to play on the left, just imagine heaviness of our metal. Coutinho, Lallana, Wijnaldum and Hendo taking turns feeding red meat to those hungry, dead rapid wolves, Firmino doing mad, selfless things in the middle – what defender would want to make choices when confronted with that?

    If there is football in the world to choose from (that doesn’t involve Suarez with Standard Chartered across his chest) than this is the sort that I’d most want to see. Molten clockwork.

  11. Great game, great article Neil.

    Frustrated more than relieved at the result looking back on it.

    It’s advantage to Spurs and United.

    Still don’t get why the Reds are so slow out the gates when they had more time to rest and plan, than City?

    Btw the read in the program that empty seats are part of the feature at Plasticity. :) sorry couldn’t help that.

    Anyways hope Coutinho and Bobby deliver against Everton. Toffees are playing like they own 6th place these days.

    Up the Reds!!!

  12. Right about Can, at the time I thought what if Yaya had done that to Busquets or that little twerp Herrera… Yaya would have been off before the rolling had finished – most probably in their own goal mouth by that point. While it’s admirable that Can got up so quick, not wanting to show pain (that’s how football should be) a large part of me thinks he should have played the ref and got him sent off.

    Anyway, what a match. Onto the derby and then the finishing charge to 2nd place!

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