A late penalty miss from Riyad Mahrez spared Virgil van Dijk’s blushes as Liverpool and Manchester City shared the points in a cagey affair at Anfield on Sunday afternoon. It could have been a match to show once and for all who the more likely title hopefuls were. The line that Sky Sports went with in the build up was literally “Challengers vs Champions”.
There were genuine surprises in the Liverpool line up for today as Trent Alexander-Arnold, after a tired looking horror show on Wednesday against Napoli, was dropped in favour of bringing Dejan Lovren back in at centre back and shifting Joe Gomez to right back. It wasn’t a decision the fans (or me) was particularly happy with as the Gomez/van Dijk partnership has been our best feature this season.
The first 15 minutes of the game we looked lively and more like our high pressing selves than we did in the entire game on Wednesday. That was about it in terms of the Liverpool we all know and love. City started taking control and didn’t give up control (completely) for the rest of the game.
Pep Guardiola, wary of Liverpool’s attacking threat, had obviously instructed his players to slow play right down in order to stifle any momentum their opponents tried to build. It worked very efficiently as, with very little possession and not much reward for their chasing, the Liverpool players started to show the signs of fatigue that have been evident in the last few games. This wasn’t the gegenpressing, 100 mph football that has been common place at Anfield in recent times.
Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino all looked completely off the boil with not much of a threat coming from any of them. James Milner was taken off in the first half with a knock and his absence, combined with Firmino having an off day, showed as the press retreated further and further without their tireless energy to keep it going.
Defensively we looked mostly solid with both van Dijk and Lovren winning tackles. Both, however, could have given away penalties with Lovren kicking out at Aguero and van Dijk handling the ball (although he was fouled in the process). On another day the referee might have awarded those and then we would have had to fight to get back into the game.
It definitely seemed like Jurgen Klopp was happy to take a draw from this game as we did not see Daniel Sturridge until the 70th minute and we didn’t see Xherdan Shaqiri at all. This bothers me somewhat. This is a City side that haven’t won at Anfield for 15 years. They hate coming to play us in our backyard. There’s an argument that we should have gone for it, we’re more solid defensively now than we were last season and we managed to win then so why not now? The subs we did make didn’t have much effect as Naby Keita never seemed to get into the game when he replaced Milner and Sturridge didn’t have much of a chance to influence as by that point it was clear we were setting up shop and settling for what we had.
All the defensive work could have come crumbling down in the 85th minute as, with Leroy Sane travelling along a path to nowhere on the left side of the penalty area, van Dijk made a very silly challenge which caused the German to go down and referee Martin Atkinson to give a penalty. Originally it looked like Gabriel Jesus, brought on for Sergio Aguero earlier in the game, was going to take it but Riyad Mahrez stepped in and took the ball for himself. It’s a decision Liverpool fans will be delighted with as Mahrez leant back and skied his spot kick into row Z. He’d missed 3 out of his last 5 penalties so why they let him take it is beyond me…
I’m certainly not complaining however!
It finished 0-0 and to be honest the International break couldn’t come at a better time for Klopp’s men. They need to go away for a bit, get their heads back in gear, and come back ready to steamroll a simple looking run of teams (Arsenal excluded). We’ve come out of the hard part with 20 points out of a possible 24, an unbeaten record and the joint best defence in the league. Huddersfield next up in two weeks, onwards Reds!