Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp’s intentions could not have been more obviously positive – but there will be little doubt he will be happier with a draw at Etihad Stadium than his Manchester City counterpart Pep Guardiola.
Klopp left the game’s biggest selection question hanging in the air when asked would he pick the tried and trusted Roberto Firmino or in-form £45m signing Diogo Jota after his Champions League hat-trick against Atalanta.
When the teamsheet dropped it prompted raised eyebrows as Klopp plumped for Jota. And Firmino. And Mohamed Salah. And Sadio Mane. It was, when Liverpool sprung forward, a genuine four-man forward line.
In this battle between the Premier League’s two most recent superpowers, it flummoxed City early on, bringing Salah’s successful penalty before Guardiola got a handle on Liverpool’s tactics, Gabriel Jesus equalising before Kevin de Bruyne missed a penalty.
The recent heavy programme, a Champions League midweek and a persistent Manchester downpour slowly reduced the energy and quality before both Manchester City and Liverpool settled for a 1-1 draw.
It will have left both Guardiola and Klopp feeling less than fully satisfied, City’s manager because victory over Liverpool is always both a valuable psychological and footballing blow in the title equation and the latter because it meant his side could not leapfrog Leicester City at the Premier League summit.
Klopp, however, will surely be the happier man despite his latest complaints about the fixture slog that left his high-energy Liverpool side, or at least quite a few of them, running on empty long before the end.
It also ended in yet another injury, this time for Trent Alexander-Arnold, who will miss England’s forthcoming games and which brings us to the reason Klopp, when his natural desire for victory every game subsides, will be more pleased with a point.
Liverpool faced plenty of questions when Virgil van Dijk was consigned to the rest of the season on the sidelines after knee surgery and Thiago Alcantara, the marquee summer signing who set the tempo and brought the composure to Bayern Munich’s Champions League-winning side, suffered injuries in the Merseyside derby against Everton.
Klopp has since lost Fabinho, an outstanding replacement for Van Dijk as well as a world-class midfielder – but the results have kept coming.
Liverpool had won five games in succession before this visit to Etihad Stadium and youngsters such as Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips have played their part.
Here, though, Klopp needed experienced hands such as Joel Matip and Joe Gomez and they did a superb job in keeping City at arm’s length for long periods.
Liverpool visibly tired in the second half and Manchester City, a team still containing so much class and creativity, assumed control of possession and territory.
They still struggled, despite this, to crack Liverpool’s defensive code, the clearest second-half chance coming when Jesus slipped their attentions and should have done a lot better than direct a cross from Ferran Torres wide.
Guardiola will hardly be disconsolate, although De Bruyne’s missed spot-kick will irk him. This already looks like the sort of title race where seatbelts should be fastened for the twists and turns to come.
Manchester City have not been at their best so far this season but do not be fooled by that 11th place in the Premier League table.
Guardiola and his players will rightly feel they have a huge chance to reclaim their title amid the chaos and unpredictability that may well envelop this season, but his brow will have been rather more furrowed than Klopp’s.
The German will have been delighted that for all Liverpool’s attacking riches, and he started with plenty of them, there is also a stubborn streak of steel, organisation and resilience that makes them so difficult to beat on these big occasions.
Liverpool’s manager likes to win every game at every level every time. He knows, despite his great successes and the arrival of the Champions League and the first Premier League title in 30 years at Anfield, this cannot be done.
There are days and games when circumstances and the quality of opponents mean a point will do. This game at Manchester City was one of those occasions.
Source: BBC Sport