Liverpool took an early lead but it was a tale of two penalties as the Reds drew 1-1 with Man City ahead of the international break.
Man City 1-1 Liverpool
Premier League (8), Etihad
November 8, 2020
Goals: Jesus 30′; Salah pen 12′
Firmino and Jota
All the game buildup centred around who would play, and where, in the attack.
Jurgen gave us the answer: all four in the lineup, with Jota effectively in a right midfield role, with the Reds’ 4-4-2 out of possession once more in evidence.
We have seen it several times in recent games – Ajax, Atalanta, West Ham – but from kickoff against City, it was the base system in and out of possession.
The result? An absolute swarm on City’s defenders, a block of fast-paced counter options when the ball was won in midfield and an offensive-minded start to the game which saw the Reds quickly take the lead.
In terms of chances, both missed presentable sights of goal and both were arguably better off the ball than on it.
Importantly, given the nature of the game, Joel Matip was back and fully fit.
It did, however, mean yet another partner for Joe Gomez and this duo have rarely played together anyway – and never started together before – so seeing how Matip performed and how they combined was always going to be telling as to the outcome.
Matip individually? Good. A few caught-out moments, of course, first game back and against one of the best attacks around, but basically he did his job well in terms of positional work, clearances and stopping the through passes.
Two more weeks of training now for Joel during the international break and hopefully we can keep him fit for the foreseeable future.
Penalties, penalties everywhere
Without wanting to come across too biased, Liverpool were awarded a stonewall penalty, while Man City‘s was an absolute farce of a nonsense of a sham of a facade of a decision.
On the plus side, Mo Salah is absolutely lethal from the spot, he has a huge amount of confidence when stepping up and he’s rightly seen as the first-choice taker these days.
Keeps him in the hunt for the Golden Boot, too.
However, we’re also now at the stage when penalties are given in nearly every match, which is good for the fast-paced attacking teams, but not so good for those who want more even matches decided by actual football and tactics, rather than shapes and silhouettes and imaginary natural positions.
At least De Bruyne missed.
If there was one player the Reds didn’t want to see going out injured, it was Virgil van Dijk.
If there was one more we didn’t want to lose, it was Trent – often our most important outlet, a set-piece master and another regular in the back line.
He appeared to hurt a calf muscle during the second half, which leaves him perhaps staying home during the international break (which is good for those of a Reds persuasion, if not for Trent himself).
It should be noted that James Milner was excellent after coming on for him.
But if he’s out for more than two weeks, then whether it’s Milner or the more natural replacement of Neco Williams who has to play instead means we’ll be without half of the regular defence yet again.
Thiago and Fabinho should be back relatively soon, but at the moment it’s one step forward and another back when it comes to injury absentees – and that’s without another load of international travel to come.
Break and next phase
So we end this period of league action not on top, but only a point off, with our hardest game of the season out the way without any real damage being inflicted and, perhaps most relevant of all, with a five-point buffer to City still intact.
They are 11th at this stage, but with a game in hand, and one surprising stat which seems to have flown under the radar is that they have scored just 10 goals in their seven league fixtures – the Reds have 18, Spurs 19 and Chelsea 20.
With a bit of luck, no new knocks will be felt or picked up across the next two weeks, one or two could return to full fitness and we’ll be in a good position – physically – to host table-topping Brendan Rodgers and Leicester in the first game post-internationals.
The eight-game month of December will be as horrendous as usual, so it would be utterly great if the Reds could take wins from the next three to be able to rotate and rest a little more as needed, including in Europe.