On more than one occasion, Manchester City had a golden chance to deal a hammer blow to Liverpool’s title hopes – but wasted chances, and a 2-2 draw, keep the race alive
Not for the first time, but deep into added minutes, a Manchester City player had broken clear and had options.
Go for goal or find an unmarked team-mate. On this occasion, it was substitute Riyad Mahrez bearing down on Alisson and, eventually, he tried to chip for glory. Instead, had it been rugby, he would have chipped for a conversion. Over the bar and game over.
And that summed up City’s afternoon; summed up this thoroughly entertaining match. Because while Pep Guardiola’s side still hold the upper hand in the title race, they blew it here, make no mistake. They blew the opportunity to inflict a hammer blow on rivals Liverpool, blew the opportunity to land a clean psychological punch ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final.
Jurgen Klopp’s side had a purple patch early in the second half and showed their customary appetite for the fight but, with Kevin De Bruyne running the show, City had enough chances and half-chances to win with a smidgeon of comfort. In the final third, they lacked composure and chose the wrong option on too many occasions.
The old chestnut about needing a conventional striker will be produced again, but perhaps it was simply that the importance of the contest weighed a little bit heavy. Having said that, the importance of the contest did not stop these two teams producing some trademark, high-quality stuff.
And to say the two goalkeepers entered into the carnival spirit of things would be an understatement. Ederson should really have been told this was time for seriousness rather than showboating. When Sadio Mane hit a long-range shot towards the Brazilian’s midriff, Ederson went down on his haunches and took it under control on his chest. And on another occasion, he let possession drift on to the goal-line before clearing.
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He did not cover himself in glory for Liverpool’s first equaliser although it was a goal made by the clever pass of Andy Robertson, yet another ultra-intelligent assist from Trent Alexander-Arnold and the poaching instinct of Diogo Jota, who finished right-footed from eight yards.
Ederson’s compatriot and opposite number hardly inspired confidence with his distribution but Alisson was blameless when it came to City’s goals. In fact, he had already made a blinding save from Raheem Sterling before De Bruyne’s left-footed drive took an almighty diversion off Joel Matip and went in off the post to give City the lead.
And, after Jota’s leveller, Alisson made himself big when Gabriel Jesus smuggled himself onto Joao Cancelo’s lovely crossfield pass but the City striker converted the chance via the underside of the crossbar and with unusual, right-footed aplomb to put City back ahead.
It was not the first time City had got in behind the defensive line and, in truth, Klopp must have been thankful that the champions were not out of sight at half-time. And within moments of the restart, Klopp’s team were looking City squarely in the eye after Mohamed Salah set up Mane with a simple pass and the Senegal striker emphatically beat Ederson.
Guardiola urged the crowd to try and lift his players but they were as flat as Pep’s players. But they appeared to have picked themselves up when Sterling finished from De Bruyne’s pass, only for VAR to show a hair’s-breadth offside.
That just about summed up Sterling’s afternoon and it was no surprise when Pep put up his number. Alas, things did not go too much better for Sterling’s replacement and when De Bruyne gave him the chance to give City a hefty nudge towards the title, Mahrez blew it.
As did City. They may well still win the title but, if they do not, this was a day they will be left to regret.