19 March 2017

Liverpool 1-1 Manchester City

Milner 51' [pen]
Agüero 69'

I don't understand how two good teams can play so well and so bad at the same time but this is Liverpool and this is Manchester City.

It seems an insufficient summary, but that game was dumb. Enthralling, wide open, seemingly in 2x fast forward and fun, but still dumb. Which is in keeping with both sides' modus operandi.

Both sides went for the throat: City through Sané and Sterling's speed down the flanks, Liverpool through its constant pressing and counter-attacking, with the three-man midfield especially impressive.

Both sides missed multiple chances, especially as the game went on. Every player ran as hard and as fast as they could until they couldn't anymore; I think poor Yaya Toure died during halftime. Players were falling all over a slick pitch, and I really did not like this rendition of Ragnar Klavan On Ice. Michael Oliver ignored four penalty claims in the first half – two for each side; two concrete, one probably, one maybe – as well as a clear-as-day Yaya Toure red card for cleating a prone Emre Can in the chest. Toure rugby-tackling Wijnaldum after a delightful dance in the box and Milner sliding into the back of Sterling's leg less than three yards from goal were absolutely hilarious no calls.

So I suppose it's fitting that Liverpool opened the scoring with a penalty not long after halftime when Clichy, trying to recover after (surprise!) slipping, barged into the back of Firmino and almost kinda sorta got the ball too, a penalty claim better than half and worse than half than we saw in the first 45 minutes. Milner, in his 450th league appearance, scored his 50th league goal, sending Caballero the wrong way. He has still not lost when scoring.

City tilted a bit after conceding, spared a second by Caballero wonderfully denying Firmino and a couple of John Stones tackles, but unsurprisingly came back, the equalizer from Agüero after yet another City attack down Liverpool's left. De Bruyne found space out wide and delivered a perfect low cross, and this time, Agüero finally got behind Klavan just enough to tap in.

And from there, the cavalcade of missed chances. Agüero tearing away from two defenders, receiving the return from Sané only to slip eight yards from goal, with the follow-up pegged off the post by de Bruyne. A wide-open, six-yards-out Lallana unable to tap in a bouncing ball, wonderfully set up by Wijnaldum and Firmino. Mignolet charging out to just barely do enough to stop Sterling from getting through, somehow not conceding a penalty in the process. Firmino blasting into the side-netting on yet another fast break. Agüero heading wide at the near post, then shanking a close range volley.

Between them, City and Liverpool failed to score six clear-cut chances, and that's not counting the aforementioned Agüero slip or Lallana whiff because neither actually got a shot off. Between them, City and Liverpool took 26 shots and only the last, a speculative half-volley from Agüero in the 94th minute, came from outside the box.

So, I guess 1-1 is fitting, but 3-3 or 4-4 would have been even more so.

In isolation, a point is a perfectly cromulent result at the Etihad, especially considering the pattern of play. Again, Liverpool's midfield was really, really good – Emre Can doing things! Gini Wijnaldum away from home! – and everyone else bar maybe Coutinho (sigh, again) was pretty damn alright as well. Liverpool chances aside, Stones and Otamendi did really well, and prevented even more and better opportunities. Agüero, Sterling, Sané, Silva, and de Bruyne are a damn handful, especially in this form, and Liverpool limited them to just one really well-created and taken goal. Pretend I didn't mention multiple clear-cut chances just two paragraphs ago.

And Liverpool now will finish their league campaign unbeaten against the top six, the first time Liverpool have gone unbeaten against City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, and United since 1995-96. When, incidentally, they finished third, another one of those "what could have been" seasons.

But with context, it's a bit disappointing. Because Liverpool had a lead. Because Liverpool had lots of good chances to score. Because a different referee might have given Liverpool more (or, to be fair, given Manchester City more). Because Liverpool only sit fourth by four points over United and six points over Arsenal, and both of those sides have two games in hand. Manchester City, still ahead of Liverpool by a point, has an extra game to play. As does Tottenham, three points ahead of Liverpool.

And Liverpool are out of top six sides to play. Everton's next, but then we've got the Stokes, West Broms, Bournemouths, Southamptons, and West Hams of the world. And we know how those have gone.

But we'll worry about that after the international break. Everyone take a deep breath.

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