2021 European Apertura Top 25 (11 of 25)
On a Sunday when Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich all lost, this was still unquestionably the match of the day—and frankly, of the season to date. Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Pep Guardiola’s City had entered the weekend in 1st and 2nd place respectively, though Chelsea’s win the previous day had moved them to the top of the table. Known for his radical tactical surprises in major games, Guardiola’s only trick here was in which left wing he used as a false nine, opting for Jack Grealish over the anticipated Phil Foden.
City deployed a relatively flat midfield three, and after an impressively strong opening 5’ from Liverpool, a shift in City’s pressing strategy allowed them to dominate the rest of the half. As had been the case recently, Bernardo Silva played a pivotal role in playing the ball out from the back. He also produced the first half’s moment of sublime brilliance: a mazy, circling run that beat five defenders before passing feeding Foden behind emergency right back James Milner, though Foden couldn’t lift his shot over an aggressive Alisson Becker. Just after the half hour mark, Milner was lucky not to give up a penalty as he clipped Foden on the edge of the box; and just before halftime he received a yellow card for bringing Foden down again.
Liverpool started the 2ndhalf strongly, creating a more evenly matched affair. Much like City had focused on Liverpool’s left flank, Liverpool’s attack was now focused down the right. Just before the hour mark, Mohamed Salah skipped past a tackle by João Cancelo and fed Sadio Mané for an opening goal that was only Liverpool’s second shot on target in the game and City’s first goal conceded in just over nine hours of Premier League play. With just over 20’ to play, Gabriel Jesus cut in from the right and passed to Foden on the right side of the box, who hit a lovely far post equalizer from a narrow angle. About 5’ later, Silva again dribbled out of the back only to be taken down by Milner in what probably should have led to his second yellow. Guardiola was understandably irate, and Silva eventually received a yellow for dissent; Klopp, for his part, quickly replaced Milner to avoid further trouble.
Not long after, Salah produced the second half’s moment of sublime brilliance. Fed up the right by Curtis Jones, he turned both Cancelo and Foden, then pulled the ball under his left foot only to punch it out with the right, putting Silva on the ground and giving him access to the box. He then beat Aymeric Laporte with a Cruyff turn and finished up with a shot closer to goal but similar in angle to Foden’s equalizer, restoring Liverpool’s lead. Salah’s genius looked to have snatched a win, but with just under 10’ left, Kevin DeBruyne started an attack by passing from the center circle to Foden at the top left corner of the box. When Andy Robertson cleared Foden’s pass inside to a breaking Kyle Walker, De Bruyne was waiting at the top of the box to stroke home a 2nd equalizer for City, aided by an unfortunate deflection off Joel Matip.
But the game wasn’t over. With just under 5’ left, Salah received a short pass off a free kick and launched the ball to Fabinho unmarked at the far post. With Ederson drawn out in a failed effort to punch it clear, Fabinho had an empty net before him—only to have Rodri block his effort with a brilliant and game-saving recovery tackle. City had several good chances in injury time, the best a counter-attack with Virgil van Dijk cutting out De Bruyne’s attempt to feed a breaking Walker into the box, but it ended in a deserved tie. That left Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester City in the top three spots of what looked to be an epic title race for the Premier League. Tactical Analysis from: Total Football Analysis, Holding Midfield, Breaking the Lines, Football Made Simple (YouTube), The Coaches’ Voice, Proven Quality.
EDIT: In the original post, Mané’s opening goal was incorrectly described as an equalizer.