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Elite teams and slow starts – 5 talking points from Man City 2-2 Liverpool

An exhausting watch as the two title contenders played out another 2-2 draw of the highest quality. Liverpool and Man City simply can’t be separated.

Man City 2-2 Liverpool

Premier League (31), Etihad Stadium
April 10, 2022

Goals: De Bruyne 5′, Jesus 36′; Jota 13, Mane 46′


1. Jota’s selection ‘works’ – but doesn’t

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Sunday, April 10, 2022: Liverpool's Diogo Jota scores his side's first goal during the FA Premier League match between Manchester City FC and Liverpool FC at the City of Manchester Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

All the pre-match discussion for Liverpool was over which of the five attackers would start, with most expecting Mo Salah and Sadio Mane plus either Luis Diaz or Roberto Firmino.

Firmino would’ve been the experienced choice, while Diaz has been the choice more recently, working to good effect in the League Cup final for example.

But it was Jota who somewhat surprisingly got the nod alongside the African duo, with his selection perhaps a sign of Klopp taking an attacking approach.

The Portuguese may have slotted his 15th league goal of the season, but his passing was extremely poor – ending with a 53% completion – and his hold-up play left a lot to be desired.

His sub with 20 minutes to go came as no surprise. Great inside the box, but lacking a lot outside of it.

The introduction of Diaz and Firmino later again showed the excellent rotation of the front five in general, and the latter duo will likely start on Wednesday against Benfica.

 

2. Slow starters

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Sunday, April 10, 2022: Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne celebrates after scoring the first goal during the FA Premier League match between Manchester City FC and Liverpool FC at the City of Manchester Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Let’s be honest, Liverpool were awful in the opening 10 minutes, and could well have been more than the one goal behind at the interval.

The fast-paced Liverpool who blitzed sides early in games is long gone and instead we’re often caught a bit flat – something City seemed to recognise and looked to take advantage of.

The Reds have scored their fewest goals in the 0-15 minutes and 45-60 minutes segments of games this season.

Fabinho was pressed and endured probably his worst 45 minutes in a Liverpool shirt, while Trent’s passing was frequently cut out, Salah couldn’t get into the game, and Henderson looked lost in the middle.

Liverpool were unusually nervy and City had got their pressing correct.

“I think there were a few nerves in there, to be honest” admitted Alexander-Arnold post-match. “There was bound to be, one of the biggest games in Premier League history.”

Every team has weaknesses, every player has weaknesses, City had done their homework and they identified them and highlighted them across the pitch.

 

3. Two elite teams

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Sunday, April 10, 2022: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp (R) and first-team development coach Pepijn Lijnders (L) during the FA Premier League match between Manchester City FC and Liverpool FC at the City of Manchester Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Purely from a Liverpool perspective, the first half especially was about as ‘bad’ as we’ve played this season – but that would fail to take into context the quality of the opposition.

This was two elite teams, probably the best two teams in English football history. Both teams deserve to win the league, as they have for most of the last five seasons.

Pep Guardiola’s side played better against Liverpool’s high defensive line than any other side this season, without any doubt. They knew the game plan and had clearly been coached to specifically avoid getting offside.

But by the same account, Liverpool did avoid defeat by virtue of their high-line when Sterling was ruled offside for 3-2.

Klopp clearly changed things at half-time and Liverpool were vastly improved.

It was an exhausting watch from the stands, but credit should go to every player and coach involved.

 

4. Mane and Salah step up

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Sunday, April 10, 2022: Liverpool's Sadio Mané celebrates after scoring the second goal during the FA Premier League match between Manchester City FC and Liverpool FC at the City of Manchester Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

When the going gets tough etc… Just like last season when the world-class trio of Thiago, Alexander-Arnold and Salah raised their game to drag Liverpool to a top-four finish against the odds, Mane and Salah raised theirs here after the break. It was needed.

Mane took his goal superbly from Salah’s pass within a minute of the break. Salah looked more dangerous, Mane’s hold up play was excellent.

That is, though, now eight games without a goal from open play for Salah, which is a worry. Does Wednesday night offer a chance to rotate him out ahead of next weekend’s semi-final? It might be wise.

They both need to step up now in the final weeks of the season, especially Salah.

 

5. Title ‘in City’s hands…’

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Sunday, April 10, 2022: Manchester City's manager Josep 'Pep' Guardiola (R) embraces Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp before the FA Premier League match between Manchester City FC and Liverpool FC at the City of Manchester Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

We all knew that going into this game, the title was effectively in both City and Liverpool’s hands, with each side knowing that they would win the league if they won their remaining fixtures.

Now, with seven games remaining, City remain a point ahead – and they also have the more favourable fixtures, at least on paper.

But if it wasn’t out of reach when we were temporarily 14 points behind, it’s certainly not now.

We all saw the stat about the one-point difference since 2018, and this game once again proved to show how good these two sides are and how they simply cannot be separated. The debate over which team or manager is better is almost as exhausting as watching these contests – but actually utterly pointless.

We do it all again next Saturday, this time at Wembley when a winner must be decided. Will the victor there get the momentum in the title race, or instead be like a bruised boxer wanting to win the next bout?

Until then, perhaps Atletico can exhaust City a little more…

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