Liverpool maintained their unbeaten start to the season with a 0-0 draw with Man City, which raised a number of talking points.
Liverpool 0-0 Man City
Premier League, Anfield
October 7, 2018
Too Tight to Separate
It was a heavyweight clash which had many expecting goals galore with the recent encounters in mind, however it ended up being a battle at the back and a scrappy affair reminiscent of the title struggle between Arsenal and Man United in the late ’90s.
Neither side were prepared to give each other an inch with the potential repercussions lingering at the back of their minds, effectively ensuring they cancelled each other out.
The fact neither team registered more than two shots on target across the entire game said it all, and painted a clear picture that the battle for the title will be decided in the games against the rest of the league.
While City were able to conquer all levels of competition last season, the Reds struggled against those in the bottom half as well as against their rivals on the road.
It is a different story so far, however, with Liverpool have only dropped points to Chelsea away from home despite a tricky start to the campaign.
The season is long and twists and turns will await, but there is not long to wait for the second meeting between the pair as a New Years Day clash awaits—but between then and now a lot can change.
True Captain’s Performance
Jordan Henderson noted in the pre-game programme that “we’ll give everything to show a positive response” following the midweek defeat to Napoli, and while the potency and clinical edge is still a work in progress, the Liverpool skipper did not disappoint.
He divides opinion on a game-by-game basis, but was a clear standout during the stalemate and was key to the Reds’ threatening start to proceedings before becoming integral to the defensive stand as City attempted to make their move.
It was a true captain’s performance. On numerous occasions he was the man to make key tackles and interceptions, not to mention his persistent closing down of the City players in possession—and he is not all backward and sideways passing as many would lead you to believe.
In games where space is readily available Henderson thrives and leads from the front, he was continually looking to spread the ball and find space beyond City’s defence and was accountable at every turn.
With competition in the deep-lying role likely to ramp up over the coming weeks, Henderson has done his chances no harm in holding onto his spot.
Lack of Midfield Drive Remains Cause for Concern
Liverpool’s key to overcoming Pep Guardiola’s side in recent meetings has stemmed from the drive Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has injected in the middle of the park, but in his absence there was no heir to the throne in the starting lineup.
With the front three struggling to fire on all cylinders so far this term, the penetrating runs and passes that a creative midfielder—like the England international—possesses offers the front three the chance for their star to shine brightly.
It is an area which has been a cause for concern for the Reds for much of the campaign, with the tried combination of Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum and James Milner yet to prove they can consistently offer a route to goal.
Milner’s injury early in the first half gave Naby Keita the opportunity to add the explosiveness required, but it still took over an hour to register a shot on target—although the visitors did similarly struggle in the opening stages.
It is a symptom of Liverpool’s recent form which has lacked the potency which supporters have come to expect, but a break from club duty could offer the perfect opportunity to hit the reset button.
The question which will continue to linger, however, is the time it is taking Keita to make a statement of intent to justify his return to the starting lineup.
There is no doubt he has all the tools, but he again failed to make his presence known.
Defenders Stars of the Show
Liverpool have commonly drawn comparisons to having three different models of cars representing each third of the field over recent years, with the attack and midfield far superior to that of the defence.
The tables have turned, however. The campaign has yet to see Liverpool hit the heights of last season as the forward players have yet to hit their stride.
It ensures the defence has had to be resolute and drag the team over the line—a prospect which would have been met with resounding disbelief this time last year.
Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk have been receiving mass plaudits for their performances instead of the likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino like many had grown accustomed to.
Despite Jurgen Klopp introducing Dejan Lovren to the fold they again took the headlines and were resolute against what is a fearsome attack.
The Croatian defender could be criticised for his sloppy tackle on Sergio Aguero which, on another day, could have been given as a penalty, but overall he rose to the occasion and did not disappoint.
It is a welcome change to know that while the midfield and attack struggle to find their feet that they won’t have the added pressure of needing to outscore the opposition as the back line has them covered, even if changes to personnel have been made.
The foundations have been laid and Liverpool now have a superior defensive model, just an oil change is needed to get all engines firing at the same time.
An Extremely Valuable Point Earned
It was a game where neither team were eager to throw all their cards on the table, hesitant to give the impetus to each other such were the potential repercussions—the visitors still visibly scarred from recent meetings.
With two defeats in cup competitions and the first set of points dropped in the Premier League over the last week, it would have been easy to overreact if Liverpool failed to pick up any points—which a late penalty threatened to do.
However, the Reds remain undefeated in the league and the next block of six games following the international break are relatively kind for Klopp’s men.
On the domestic front they come up against three teams currently in the bottom four of the table, with Arsenal the headline fixture before national duty calls once more, with a double-header in the Champions League against Red Star Belgrade sandwiched between.
Conversely, Man City face the prospect of facing both Tottenham and Man United.
It has not been an easy start to the campaign and Liverpool are exactly where they need to be, and when the fluidity finally returns they are bound to be a completely different animal.