It was billed as ‘Challengers v Champions’ on the big screen, but what the world saw was not an epic. Rather, the conservative approach of Liverpool and Manchester City – both known for being lethal – was a testament to just how lop-sided the Premier League remains.
Who Has the Psychological Advantage Following Anfield Stalemate?
Though the sides will clash again on New Years’ Day, it is a sad indictment of modern times when the first round of October league matches becomes a title decider. Yet, that is where the Premier League finds itself in the 27th year of its life and both teams knew they could not afford to yield.
Three’s a Crowd
The presence of Chelsea at the top of the league is also a complicating factor, with the addition of Jorginho into the roster enabling the Londoners to compare favourably to the City squad of 2017/18, if only in the passing department. Though Liverpool and Manchester City were unusually conservative in the late stages of Sunday’s much-hyped clash, the goalless draw was not without entertainment or drama.
The backstory was perfect: City (still outright league favourites here) came to Anfield on the back of a fifteen-year winless run, having seen their Champions League hopes destroyed for another year in their last visit back in April. Despite being top of the league, marginal favourites Liverpool had not seen Mo Salah hit the same heights as last season, but this was to be the indomitable Egyptian’s moment.
Though there was a natural element of dissatisfaction with the scoreline itself, there were several moments that give a clue as to which team now has more of a psychological advantage going forward. Liverpool enjoyed most of the possession and play in the first quarter of the game, but sporadic moments of wastefulness on the ball nearly granted City the initiative.
City Methodology Still Reigns
The forced substitution of James Milner for a Naby Keita just coming back from injury undoubtedly affected the Reds for the worst. Though Keita has yet to reach full fitness, the sense of composure provided by a man of Milner’s experience was sorely missed thereafter. Liverpool looked unusually nervy at a ground where they usually carve teams apart through pure speed, instinct and chemistry over the type of skill that City collectively boasts.
Almost inevitably, City managed to find a way back in, but if the three points were going across the M62, it was going to be done the patient Guardiola way. In Merseyside’s very own ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, City were the graceful-yet-dangerous Muhammad Ali to Liverpool’s hard-hitting George Foreman, waiting interminably for the ideal moment to pounce.
That theme would continue after the break, but inevitably it was Salah who had the greatest chance to break the deadlock soon after the interval, but he fired over when clean through on goal. Cue the inevitable comparisons to ‘last year’ from Sky’s expert commentators.
Reds Show Weaknesses
Where Liverpool are concerned, the long-term psychological ramifications of that miss have yet to truly transpire, but City knew that they had escaped a serious setback. Subsequently, the champions grew in confidence. Of course, Riyad Mahrez’ penalty miss was the object of ridicule on social media, and rightly so, but those with the sight to look beyond that will still know that City left the field the happier of the two sides.
Liverpool’s reliance on a quick-fire start and the composure of James Milner to distract from the Reds’ wingmen had been royally shown up. People can make what they will of City’s winless run at Anfield, but the fact remains that Guardiola’s men played below par in their most difficult (or at least second-most difficult) game of the league season, and were one competent penalty taker away from snatching it at the death.
Ultimately, City have proven that their title will not be given up so easily, having played poorly by their own stratospheric standards, but to no ill effect. Even long before the Premier League’s inauguration in 1992, that key characteristic of an English champion has been ever-present. Certainly, if they can get a point from bogey ground Anfield, without putting in a particularly good performance, then all signs point to a continued lack of red ribbons around the Premier League title.