Liverpool 0 - 0 Manchester City
Liverpool and Manchester City, two of the clubs expected to challenge for the Premier League title this season, shared the points in a scrappy contest at Anfield. Much has been made about the difficult late-September-early-October schedule that was facing Jürgen Klopp’s squad, and truth be told, the extent of those exertions has been emerging in the late stages of Liverpool’s most recent matches. Coming away with a point from this encounter probably wasn’t the worst result.
Before kickoff, Klopp had already made some tweaks in anticipation. Birthday boy Trent Alexander-Arnold, who did not have the best of times against Napoli midweek, was consigned to the bench, and Dejan Lovren was summoned to partner with Virgil van Dijk in the middle of the rearguard. Joe Gomez moved to fullback to accommodate, but elsewhere it was the usual suspects who started this match.
And they did start well enough. In sharp contrast to their recent Champions League foray, the Reds commenced proceedings looking hungry, pressing higher and showing greater intensity. City struggled to cope initially, and there were a number of instances early on when Liverpool dispossessed their guests in awkward positions.
First, Mohamed Salah fed a quick ball to Sadio Mané, but the No. 10 struggled to control the ball. Moments later, Mané got past the City back line and lofted a ball to the far post where Salah was lurking, but the ball was hooked away at the last moment. Andy Robertson was also looking back to his omnipresent best, and his persistence forced an early corner which ultimately yielded little.
That turned out to be the recurring these for the half and much of the match. The forwards showed great industry, as usual, but timing, decisionmaking, and precision were all wanting to some degree, as has been the case recently. As the half wore on, City grew more comfortable, and those misplaced passes from Liverpool’s forwards increasingly became the basis for Guardiola’s side to wreak some havoc of their own.
A mistake from Gomez allowed City to commit numbers forward, and City had a corner of their own. Moments later, Lovren - still easing his way back into the frame following a lengthy absence due to pelvic issue - made contact with Sergio Agüero awkwardly in the box, but fortunately for the Reds, play was allowed to continue. By this point, the match had settled into a somewhat uncomfortable stalemate, briefly threatening to come to boil, but never quite doing so.
Liverpool’s cause was not helped by James Milner having to come off. From the player’s reaction, it was clear that he wasn’t going to be able to continue, and it appears a hamstring issue may sideline Liverpool’s No. 7 for a bit. On came Naby Keïta, who had injury issues of his own midweek. It was probably not the ideal setup for the new arrival to make an impact, and Keïta labored to get into the rhythm of the match for the rest of the half.
Both sides were visibly less than inclined to throw midfielders forward, and the same was probably true of the fullbacks, though Robertson and Gomez still had a few occasions to show some sense of adventure later in the game. It did not help the flow of the match that both sides, typically so fluid in possession, were uncharacteristically sloppy.
When the match restarted, there were some attempts to force the issue via long balls from central defenders, and creativity was still at a premium. Emblematic of the state of affairs was a comical shot from Fernandinho as he ranged to his right that almost went out for a throw. Across both sets of midfielders, the one player who looked most likely to fashion something out of nothing was David Silva.
He almost did so with an intelligent ball on the break that found Mahrez in a good shooting position with only Gomez nearby. Mahrez did well to turn and create space for himself, but the shot eluded both Alisson as well as the post. It was still one of the better chances that had been creating by either side during the match. Liverpool responded just before the 70th with a chance of their own from a long Robertson pass, but it was a tricky opportunity for Salah, who struggled to keep the shot from rising.
Klopp had one additional roll of the dice, bringing on Daniel Sturridge in place of Roberto Firmino, but even this did not stop the match from slowly tipping in City’s favor. Fatigue was starting to show, and City’s midfield now had more room and time to call the shots. A last ditch tackle from Lovren nullified a golden chance for Gabriel Jesus, who had come on for an ineffective Agüero.
There was still time for Silva to almost be a game-changer. Salah was unceremoniously bundled over while in possession, but no foul was called, allowing City to surge upfield. Silva’s pass played in Leroy Sané, and a desperate lunge from Van Dijk in the box looked to have caught the winger. Unsurprisingly, the referee pointed to the spot. Much more surprisingly, Mahrez, who has not distinguished himself in these situations, was allowed to take it, and to Anfield’s relief, he blasted the attempted into the stands.
And with that, Liverpool were able to keep their heads above water during a challenging part of the calendar, but they will need to be better following the break if a title challenge is to emerge.