Man City send new message to Premier League rivals with Liverpool FC draw

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It wasn’t what Manchester City dreamed of, but it will do.

A wasted penalty from Kevin De Bruyne robbed Pep Guardiola’s side of the opportunity to complete their comeback over an excellent Liverpool side that showed they have the tools to defend their Premier League title in a high quality 1-1 draw at the Etihad.

Yet the resilience and excellence on display from the Blues suggests that they will put up a much tougher challenge than they did last season when they finished a mammoth 18 points off top spot. In a season that is already immensely challenging, a point will certainly do at this stage.

Guardiola’s recipe for Champions League progress – win your home games – works as well for the Premier League. Building up a feeling of invincibility at home discourages visiting teams before they have even kicked a ball, while beating your rivals at home gives you a free hit to try to take points off them in the return game.

The absence of fans may have tweaked the dynamics of home and away, but it hasn’t fundamentally changed them – just as the manager still expects a tough race to the title even if early indications that no team will be able to scale 100 points prove correct. Five points behind Liverpool when they kicked off, and with Leicester, Chelsea, Tottenham and United all winning at the weekend, this was still a six-pointer.

More important than winning was not losing though – something the Blues have got better at.

If City very much picked up where they left off when football restarted in July with their reliable unreliability – able to thrash champions Liverpool and then lose at Southampton in the same week – this season has been different.

They are harder to beat, losing just once in 11 in all competitions and unbeaten in eight weeks, yet have also found it harder to break down teams with West Ham and Leeds two of the teams able to frustrate them.

However much they actually are, Liverpool was always going to be seen as the acid test of whether City’s attacking frustrations have been a trade-off of greater defensive solidity or a problem in their own right.

The champions surprised the Blues before kick-off as Klopp sacrificed a midfielder in order to accommodate all four of Roberto Firmino, Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, and Diogo Jota. An attacking line-up turned into an attacking start as Liverpool twice invaded City’s box in the opening two minutes, looking to exploit the pace behind the defence.

That was rewarded inside 15 minutes when Kyle Walker needlessly cut across Mane in the box and Salah smashed home the opener. City were furious that Craig Pawson had not awarded them a free-kick before that when Raheem Sterling was too honest for his own good yet they had more than enough time to get back and deal with the threat.

The start unsettled City, who were effectively given a taste of what all visitors to the Etihad usually have to suffer: a high, quality onslaught from the opening whistle that requires patience, organisation, and clinical forward play to emerge with a result. It took until the 25th minute before they even got a sniff at Alisson’s goal, with Kevin De Bruyne capitalising on a mistake to play in Raheem Sterling at the far post who had to take a touch and then saw his effort from a tight angle saved.

That encouraged the home team, and they were rewarded after half an hour when De Bruyne fizzed the ball into Jesus’s feet in the box. His first, flicked touch outsmarted Trent Alexander-Arnold and his second poked the ball into the net.

For all their problems, this City team have improved this season with their resilience and learning to play their way back into games. Unfortunately, this was an awful moment for one of their old problems to resurface.

De Bruyne was seemingly the man to save all their problems when he took up spot-kick duties last season, scoring that important goal at the Bernabeu. He did the hard work here, crossing into the box where it hit Joe Gomez’s hand just before half-time. It looked like a penalty, it sounded like a penalty, and eventually after not being given initially the referee pointed to the spot having had the chance to review it.

Alisson dived the wrong way, only to see the ball fail to ripple the back of the net as it became the first spot-kick missed completely in the league since Riyad Mahrez against the same opponents two years ago.

As Guardiola was famously captured saying in the documentary, if you want to be the best team in the world you have to score the ******* goals. In a game where you are not going to get as many chances, missing penalties is as criminal as giving them away.

Getting the big moments wrong is only going to make it more difficult to come out on top when there is so little between the teams, and Jesus rightly had his head in his hands after ghosting into the box only to head Joao Cancelo’s delicious cross wide after the break.

As both teams cancelled each other out, neither goalkeeper was seriously troubled as the game played out to a draw despite the liveliness of Bernardo Silva off the bench in the final half-hour.

Ultimately three points would have been ideal, and City will not win the league if they continue to miss their big chances.

Given where they have been last season and even earlier this season though, this should provide further encouragement to Guardiola as they head into the latest international break.

They have just one defeat in 12, they are pretty solid in defence, and they have emerged unscathed from their first meeting with their biggest threat to the Premier League title to mean that they will be two points behind Liverpool if they win their game in hand.

If they didn’t know already, Klopp and all the other manager know that City have – with room for improvement – given themselves an early platform to be in this title race until the end.


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