TIt was a tale of two Alisson errors. One announced Erling Haaland’s opening goal, the other allowed Rúben Dias a throw-in, before Chris Kavanagh – wrongly for this observer – blamed Manuel Akanji for an unlawful attack on Liverpool’s goalkeeper.
The referee awarded the goal and Alisson escaped. Like, who knows? The VAR took a look and found no clear and obvious error. Had the goal stood, Manchester City would have been 2-0 after 67 minutes and in all likelihood a win and three valuable points.
That wasn’t the case, but even then Alisson caused further shock after Trent Alexander-Arnold’s equaliser. Midway through stoppage time, after his defensive line had thwarted a Haaland attempt, the Brazilian threw the ball straight to the Sky Blue players in Liverpool’s half and City could have stormed forward and scored the winner.
They failed and instead they have to regret that Alexander-Arnold was the visitors’ hero. Until his intervention, City were a league above their title rivals. But in the 80th minute comes Liverpool’s number 66, whose bally moves had him racing forward, radar-like precision overtaking Ederson just as City thought the spoils were theirs.
Haaland’s opening goal was an apt symbol of how Liverpool had been schooled on a bright blue winter afternoon. The finish was as powerful as City’s dizzying pass-and-move game. Haaland went right-footed, left-footed, pow, the striker gently shuffled the ball into space before beating Alisson, whose whining free-kick had gone straight to Nathan Aké – the Dutchman’s defense-defining pass into Haaland converting it into a good impersonator of Toni Kroos.
While Alisson was by default a central figure in the exchange, Jérémy Doku was one for a dazzling show, using his clever football brain at a ridiculous pace. But Alexander-Arnold, a right-back whose defensive qualities can be denigrated, stood his ground against the Belgian. As Jürgen Klopp said: “His moments with documentary. You saw how difficult it is against him, he’s a really good dribbler.”
The duel between Doku and Alexander-Arnold was worth the ticket price alone. The City man has broken through the right-back on more than one occasion, which has been a prevailing tactic, but with Alexander-Arnold favoring the opposition half over his own, any die-hard premium defender would struggle against the winger.
“Super aggressive and unpredictable” was Klopp’s winning formula as he referred to Chelsea’s 4-4 draw with City. That happened before the international break, but the problem is this: when City drill the ball around and past those trying to “take the final step” it can be exhausting and demoralizing.
What can be done about it? Jump quickly and hope to tarnish City’s sense of its own invincibility. For example, when Darwin Núñez went behind the home team’s defense in Zephyr mode and should have scored. Instead he dawdled; That and an earlier header were rare Liverpool blows after a blistering start from the hosts, which saw Phil Foden, Bernardo Silva and Doku almost gash the Reds.
Liverpool’s answer to the blue wave of trying a change. Nine minutes after half-time, Klopp replaced Curtis Jones and Diogo Jota for Ryan Gravenberch and Luis Díaz, but his side were still living off of absences. Whenever the almost silent Mohamed Salah made an advance into the city area, Aké and Doku pushed him away.
Alexander-Arnold said: “I don’t think we played particularly well, especially in the first half. When you play against Man City, you subconsciously have a lot of respect for them and the way they play. You automatically think that you can’t get close to the players and distance yourself a little. That seemed to be the problem in the first half and in the second half we definitely put that respect aside and had to try and get a result and we did that.”
Almost – through a defiance that led to their goal, which earned Liverpool a point, but still kept their Premier League record here poor: To find out when the last time all three were won here, you had to look back eight years and one Manuel Pellegrini’s team suffered a 4-1 defeat in November 2015.
Before kick-off, the prevailing wisdom was that whoever won would set an early marker that could prove crucial to the fate of the championship. Or maybe not, because it was only game 13. “They are happy, we are less,” said Pep Guardiola.
The City coach spoke after the final whistle about a conflict with Núñez – “Nothing happened,” he claimed – and Alisson, who was left injured on the pitch.
Klopp said: “I have no idea where it comes from (his problem). I hope it’s not that serious, but I have no idea.” Clueless is too strong for Alisson’s move, but hapless seems fair.