Four Important takeaways from Liverpool vs. Manchester City thriller

Liverpool and Man City just played the biggest match of the season- which ended in a draw.
Liverpool FC v Manchester City - Premier League
Liverpool FC v Manchester City - Premier League / Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/GettyImages

In what just might be the final matchup between Jürgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, Liverpool and Manchester City drew at Anfield once again. We won’t know for a couple more months whether or not it was enough to get back to a Premier League title, but we do know for sure that the next few weeks will be crucial in the title chase with three teams within a point of the top.

Let’s talk about four important things I saw in the matchup with City, and how they could affect the team the rest of the way.

Lack of decisiveness from forwards

Aside from perhaps the questionable aptitude and/or motives of Michael Oliver, the biggest reason- by some distance- that Liverpool earned one point instead of all three was poor work around the net.

The Reds were dominant for much of the second half and had no business scoring zero goals from open play, but their finishing left them thankful that they were granted a penalty, which was expertly taken by Alexis Mac Allister.

The biggest culprit was Luis Díaz. I don’t want to disparage Díaz too much, as he was Liverpool’s best forward in many ways. He was positive and explosive, and created plenty of chances- he just couldn’t finish any.

Between poor choices and bad execution, Díaz may have wasted multiple league-winning chances on Sunday.

That being said, many Liverpool players committed a worse crime than Díaz’s poor technique; total indecision around the net. Far too many players took an extra touch or attempted an extra pass despite already being in a perfectly fine, even if not picture-perfect, position to take a shot.

A half-chance for Conor Bradley inside the six-yard box stands out as a shining example. No, we don’t want to harp on the finishing ability of a 20-year-old fullback making by far his biggest start yet, but it was a perfect illustration of what we saw from several players.

Not even Mo Salah was immune to this issue. Perhaps he was a bit uncomfortable making such a huge appearance just after missing so much time, and perhaps the voices calling him “selfish” have finally gotten to his head, but the Egyptian King was far too content to lay the ball off rather than take questionable shots or cut inside and dribble into a chance.

Of course, teamwork and creativity are often appreciated, but when you have the freshest legs on the pitch and are by far the best finisher, sometimes you just have to take matters into your own hands- we’ve seen him do it plenty of times before, often against City themselves. 

A great performance from the midfield

Let’s dig into a positive. Even aside from Mac Allister’s goal, he and Wataru Endō were the best players on the pitch- for either team.

It was plain to see, as stars like Rodri, Kevin De Bruyne and Erling Haaland all had uncharacteristically-quiet days, due in large part to the efforts of Liverpool’s midfielders. The Reds held 53% possession, no small feat against City, and topped the defending champions in the categories of chance creation, pass volume and accuracy, and by xG, by a significant margin of 2.70 to 1.56. 

Both players were absolutely monumental in terms of gaining and retaining possession when the ball was up for grabs.

Endō's pass accuracy of 95% on 62 attempts was particularly outrageous, while Mac Allister was perhaps more dangerous coming forward.

In addition to the penalty he scored, he should have earned another one in the waning moments of the match when Jérémy Doku smacked the studs of his boots into the Argentine midfielder’s chest. 

It could even be argued that Endō's remarkable performance forced Pep Guardiola into the shocking substitution of De Bruyne.

He may not have distinguished himself as much as the other two midfield starters, but Harvey Elliott, playing in a bit of a hybrid midfield/forward role, was immense as well, especially when you consider the workload he’s shouldered in recent weeks as other Reds have dealt with fitness issues.

All in all, the second half was an absolute barrage for City’s back line to endure, and the midfield playing on weary legs after a hard couple of weeks of work, was the biggest reason why.

Conor Bradley is ready for the big time

I’m going to talk about why Trent Alexander-Arnold was sorely missed, but in a strange way, that doesn’t mean that Bradley underperformed in any way- in fact, quite the opposite is true.

Other than a moment of indecision in front of the net, a task that isn’t entirely part of his job description anyhow, the youngster stood tall against one of the best sides in the World with the whole season on the line, and helped to bottle up a truly explosive attack.

Phil Foden and Julián Alvarez are both in ridiculous form at the moment, but neither was able to create any sort of impact; Bradley’s efforts on the right flank are a huge part of why that was the case.

Even City’s unpredictable and versatile midfielders, De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva, had occasion to challenge Bradley, and a lesser player in his position may have been problematic for Liverpool, but the Northern Irishman passed the test with flying colors.

Accumulating a FotMob match rating of 7.4 in just over 60 minutes is not easy, but 72% pass accuracy, a perfect 4/4 tackling record, 7/11 duels won and 5 recoveries were enough for the youngster to achieve that mark.

He was an unfortunate substitute casualty when Robertson and Salah were introduced into the game, but he can absolutely hold his head high knowing that his effort was one of a champion.

Klopp’s system needs its outside players

While Bradley defended extremely well, he doesn’t really have the ability of Trent Alexander-Arnold when it comes to supporting the attack. That’s not a knock on him; few players do, especially not right backs.

Klopp’s Liverpool has been defined by an ability to quickly break out and/or switch fields, and absolutely nobody matches Alexander-Arnold’s tendencies to do just that. 

The same can be said of the other side of the pitch. Joe Gomez was absolutely fine in defense, helping to snuff out Foden and even Erling Haaland, but Andy Robertson helps the attack in a way he simply cannot, especially from the left side.

Liverpool immediately became more of a counter-striking threat when Robertson entered the game with a half hour to go, and while it would be foolish to say he was the entire reason that final 30 minutes was spent almost entirely in City’s box, it would be equally rash to say that he had nothing to do with it.

Then there’s Salah, the last remaining forward from the most successful Klopp squads. His pace, dribbling, and playmaking were quite clearly the missing pieces for a Liverpool team that struggled to turn quality possession into quality chances, and when those chances did come, into goals.

He didn’t quite get Liverpool back on the scoreboard, but his impact was evident quite literally seconds after his arrival, as he played an absolutely magnificent through ball to Díaz, one of the chances the Colombian positively should have finished. 

The good news is that Salah and Robertson should be able to play larger roles in the coming weeks, and Alexander-Arnold will likely be back soon as well. Fitness and form will be key for these three players, as their collective ability to be the driving force for Klopp’s unique system will be needed in the necessary quest to finish the season with a near-perfect, if not completely perfect, record. 

Bonus: Liverpool is still a centre-back factory

This isn’t really as much of an insight, because it’s more or less just an affirmation of what we already knew, but this was a true vintage performance from Virgil van Dijk, who made Erling Haaland a complete non-factor. 

With rising star Ibrahima Konaté out entirely, Jarell Quansah proved that he can be the next one in line, even after Klopp is gone.

He played a full 90 minutes, made 11 recoveries, and was just generally a huge part of the effort to contain Haaland. He may not have had a flashy moment like Virgil’s one-on-one with the Norwegian super-striker, but his positioning was sublime all evening, and was really what you’d expect from a player with far more experience than the 21-year-old.