MANCHESTER, England – After 90 minutes between the top two teams in the Premier League, there was no clear winner and, if anything, Manchester City’s 1-1 draw with Liverpool served as further proof that the race for this season’s title is open to anyone. After a weekend in which Southampton, Tottenham and Leicester topped the table at one point or another, the draw at Etihad Stadium reminded the chasing group that this year they have a chance.
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Liverpool remain a short distance from the top, but whether they will be there at the end depends largely on how quickly they can start keeping a clean sheet. Meanwhile, City will regret Kevin De Bruyne’s missed penalty late in the first half, leaving Pep Guardiola answering more questions as to why his team is not scoring more goals.
Liverpool, without Virgil van Dijk, are conceding too many and City, without Sergio Agüero, are not scoring enough. Make no mistake, these are still the two best teams in England and whoever solves their problem first will be the favorite for the title.
Perhaps crucially, Aguero is expected to return after the international, while Liverpool will have to cope without Van Dijk for many months. Remember, City couldn’t cope when they lost Aymeric Laporte through injury last season.
The only problem they have in common is the calendar and it was noticeable that after an entertaining first half, the quality dropped after the break at the end of a long week that included Champions League commitments.
“I actually like the whole game, but the beginning was probably the best period,” said Jurgen Klopp.
“This is football. Especially against City you have to seize your opportunities or create even more. For the football we played in that period we didn’t have enough. You just have to stay in the game. The energy level of both teams was a proper fight at the highest level. “
Guardiola was also willing to take the positives instead of focusing on what his team lacked. “After the goal we conceded, we were much better,” Guardiola said.
“We tied and the second half was much better. Not many chances. He speaks well for both sides.
“All teams want three points, but one point is one point. We played seven games and lost one. Unfortunately, we tied too much, but overall I think it’s a fair result.”
After a week of debate on whether it should be Roberto Firmino or Diogo Jota, Klopp flexed his entire arsenal and chose everyone from the start: Firmino, Jota, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah. Liverpool started fast but at the moment they don’t win league matches unless they score more than once and that’s all they accomplished on a wet and rainy Sunday afternoon at the Etihad.
They have kept just a clean sheet in the league this season and that was in September against a Chelsea team that played 10 men for 45 minutes. Keeping them out hasn’t been a problem in the Champions League, but in the Premier League their defensive record puts them in the same group as fighters Fulham and West Brom.
Gabriel Jesús’s draw, after a Salah penalty had given the visitors the advantage, was the 16th goal they have conceded in eight games. You have to go back to the 1960s to find a Liverpool defense that has conceded the most at this stage of the season. If Van Dijk’s injury isn’t serious enough, Klopp saw Trent Alexander-Arnold limp during the second half here.
City, however, exposed its own fragility by not taking advantage. They haven’t scored multiple goals in a league game since a 5-2 loss to Leicester in September and have only done so twice all season. De Bruyne’s lack of penalty penalty aside, both Raheem Sterling and Jesús had good scoring opportunities and Guardiola will hope that he will not look back on this game as a missed opportunity when the trophy is handed out in May.
Perhaps even more concerning for Guardiola is the lack of creativity after seeing his team record just two shots on goal. De Bruyne has a heavy burden to inject art, but when he’s on the periphery, as he was in the second half, City tend to leave the spells of the game behind. That killer instinct that Guardiola’s teams are famous for seems to be lacking in this 2020-21 City team.
Both coaches can point to the hectic schedule as reasons their teams are not hitting their exciting prime, as well as the Premier League’s refusal to allow five substitutions. That the best teams are already tired in November will give more hope to coaches who do not care about European football.
“The only problem is that we hurt the players,” Klopp said. “It’s not about us. It’s about the players. We need to talk again about the five substitutes.” Trent will be out of England. What it has, we do not know. You won’t be the only one Gareth [Southgate] has lost.”
Guardiola added his voice, saying: “Today the right-back of the England team is injured, so he is just another player. He is very demanding for the players. All over the world it is a completely different situation.
“All the leagues in the world except this one that likes to be different have five. Playing every three days, the situation is different, it is unusual. It is not to take advantage, it is to protect the players.”
In a title race without a clear favorite, it will all depend on who can best deal with their problems.