Liverpool and Manchester City still look to be the teams to beat after a thrilling draw at Anfield which leaves neither top of the table – but one seemingly destined to be come May
This was the latter 2010s rivalry at its best.
Two clubs with an increasingly – and seemingly growing – dislike for each other off the pitch have the ability to put on such a show when they meet on it, but until the last 18 months we didn’t realise just how much various, what you’d previously consider outside factors, are needed to put on this type of matinee performance.
It was after all nearly two years since Liverpool and Manchester City met in anything outside laboratory conditions, those sterile, clinical environments in which tactical precision could be honed and precise passes could be made with a precision unaffected by the pressure of the situation.
So technically excellent, City were always going to thrive in those, beating a dazed Liverpool 4-0 just a week after the Reds had mathematically secured the league title in July last year, and winning 4-1 at an empty Anfield this February as the bereft hosts were still looking for fit centre-backs.
In between came a 1-1 draw at the Etihad last November which did at least look like a City vs Liverpool fixture for much of the first half, before the players became tired and the game petered out with no fans in the stadium to urge the performers on.
This is a game which always deserves an audience, and the crowd at Anfield was treated to a pulsating contest which both sides will feel as though they could and should have won – Liverpool for the scoreboard situations they got themselves into, and City for the swagger they displayed.
Because after taking their time to come into the game, Pep Guardiola’s side were absolutely electric in the first half.
Bernardo Silva waltzed around the entirety of Walton Breck Road at one point, and he more than anyone could be entitled to wonder just how his side weren’t ahead at the break. Phil Foden in particular proving guilty of couple of big misses.
Liverpool were always going to get better in the second half, and in Mohamed Salah they have a player who takes it as a personal affront when he isn’t the man being talked about in a big game.
Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
His burst into life to tee up Sadio Mane just before the hour was the type of turbo-charged event that these games are made for, and then after Foden’s clinical equaliser came Salah’s jaw-dropping goal.
Mouths were aghast all around Anfield as the Egyptian controlled and wriggled and swerved and then scored, a brilliant goal up there with anything he has done in a Liverpool shirt and anyone anywhere is capable of.
City didn’t get to where they are today by standing and applauding such moments though, and it would have been incredibly harsh on them if they didn’t get anything from the game, with the point secured by Kevin De Bruyne’s equaliser the least they merited.
“You’ve just seen the champions!” came the chant from the away end at full-time as both exhausted teams left the field.
“We’re still in the game. We’re going for the title and we have what it takes,” roared Salah on Instagram.
You get the sense that both are right.