MANCHESTER, England — It was epic, frenetic and unpredictable until the end, when Riyad Mahrez had a chance not just to win the game, but almost certainly the Premier League title. Instead, the Manchester City substitute sent the ball high over Liverpool’s crossbar and the 2-2 result means we’re no closer to knowing which of England’s top two sides will be crowned champion.
What was certain, however, was that it had been a game with everything, including VAR’s intervention to correctly rule out Raheem Sterling’s 63rd-minute goal for offside. By this stage, Liverpool had twice canceled out a City lead to level the scores: Kevin De Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus scored for the hosts, with Diogo Jota and Sadio Mane salvaging the away side to good effect.
The end-to-end 90-minute bottom line is that, with both sides having seven league games to play, there is also the not inconsiderable question of next Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. (Live stream: 10:30 a.m. ET, ESPN+) – a single point separates the clubs that have dominated the Premier League for the past five years.
“It was like a boxing match,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said. “You have your arms down for a second and you get a massive blow and you shake a bit. It was a great game and a result we have to live with and can live with.”
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City retain the lead and their remaining fixtures suggest Liverpool need a surprise result to play in their favor and claim top spot. Apart from visits to Wolves and West Ham, there is little to worry about for Pep Guardiola’s players heading into their season finale at home against Aston Villa, who are managed by the Liverpool legend Steven Gerard.
Liverpool have a tougher run-in. They should facilitate the work of troubled rivals Manchester United and Everton at Anfield, but these encounters are always charged with emotion and unpredictability; a home game against Tottenham on May 7 is also likely to be a hit and miss, while Klopp’s men also have to face Gerrard’s Villa.
As each team has shown in this match, their top tier are at a different stratosphere to every other team in the division, so City’s success in avoiding defeat and retaining top spot could ensure this proves to be. be the decisive day of the title. race.
But while both teams showed their incredible quality, there were also rare glimpses of nerves and mistakes from Liverpool defenders Virgil van Dijk, City goalkeeper Ederson, Liverpool striker Mohamed Salah and City’s Raheem Sterling. On an occasion when they needed to be at their best, it was perhaps unsurprising that top performers suffered some weird swings.
Jota’s persistence almost forced Ederson to concede an embarrassing own goal in the first half and Van Dijk uncharacteristically downed De Bruyne in the second half with a cynical foul, which was worth the ensuing booking, given that it stopped the City midfielder’s charge towards the goal.
Salah was in and out of proceedings, his best moment coming 40 seconds after half-time when he created Mane’s goal, while Sterling made too many bad decisions in key positions before being replaced by Mahrez with a quarter of an hour remaining.
Elsewhere, there were plenty of outstanding performances to make the occasion so absorbing. For City, Joao Cancelo was unbeatable and unstoppable at left-back as he owned his side of the pitch, while Aymeric Laporte also produced a number of crucial blocks at the back.
Liverpool’s Joel Matip was perfect in central defence, as was his goalkeeper Alisson Becker, who made big saves on Sterling and Jesus as City advanced in the early stages.
But the big winner, on a day when the teams were dividing the points, was Guardiola, the City manager achieving everything from his starting line-up to forceful press tactics and substitutions; replacing Sterling with Mahrez was a key move that increased the threat in the closing stages.
It has become a bone of contention that Guardiola is reputed to overthink tactics and selection in the biggest games. Despite being a serial winner, recent examples in the Champions League – last season’s final against Chelsea, when he started without a defensive midfielder or striker, being an obvious opportunity – saw him allow the opposition to get into his head.
Selecting Jesus from the start was another surprise here, but Guardiola was rewarded with a rare goal and incredible work rate from the Brazil international, whose energy lifted the crowd and his team-mates around from him.
The pace of Jesus, Sterling and Phil Foden on the City front line caused countless problems for Liverpool and it wasn’t until the second half, after Mane’s goal, that Klopp’s side came to a standstill. stabilized and got back into the game.
Even then, City still carried the biggest threat and looked the likeliest winners, as a draw was a good result for Liverpool, at least on the day. However, it probably wasn’t in a larger context, as captain Jordan Henderson admitted.
“We’ll have to wait and see,” the Liverpool captain said. “They don’t drop a lot of points, we know that. We have to focus on ourselves and win as many games as possible. If they slip, we have to be there right behind them. We will continue until the end. It’s not the end of the world, we are still in the race.”
Henderson was a young Liverpool player when a slip tipped the balance of a title race, so perhaps an oblivious reference to Gerrard’s mistake against Chelsea in 2014 is a reminder that anything can happen in the final stages of the season.
But City are on course to win their fourth title in five seasons and midfielder De Bruyne knows his side simply need to maintain their form to lift the trophy on May 15. “Today we played very well; I think we had the upper hand,” said De Bruyne. “That’s how we have to play the rest of the season. I know people say whoever wins wins the title, but it’s too difficult, the schedule is too difficult for both teams to win every game, but we will try.”
There are 21 points left to play. If either party fails to claim them all, they will end up in second place.