After a game which served anything but what was expected, the Premier League’s matchweek eight ended with an unlikely three-way tie atop the table. In an afternoon of toil, Liverpool drew 0-0 with Manchester City at Anfield.
Jurgen Klopp and the Reds can take some credit for inspiring a rare recalculation by Pep Guardiola. His Manchester City machine played with a compactness and conservative nature rarely seen since the Spaniard took charge. Klopp iss often considered as Guardiola’s kryptonite, but both sides seemed to do little than counteract the other.
What started out as a match that promised the kind of phenomenal pace and quality witnessed when Liverpool played Chelsea last weekend, ground to a tactically tight battle giving neither team much room. As the Reds bright start and high press failed to cut through a deep City defence, chances for either side proved a premium.
The second half mirrored the first, as City opted for patience at the expense of penetration and Liverpool continued to exert more control rather than chaotic counter-attacks. The hope of any drama ebbed away.
Then fatigue found Virgil van Dijk in a late tackle against Leroy Sane. Referee Martin Atkinson showed no doubt in pointing to the spot and it looked like the visitors would snatch a late winner. Yet, Guardiola’s choice of kick-taker, Riyad Mahrez, failed to finish, blasting the ball into orbit and ensuring the stalemate stood. Now both sides share 20 points with Chelsea as the three are separated by goal difference at the top of the league.
Here are four findings from the match:
After starting the season on a tear, Sadio Mane has definitively gone off the boil. Of the front three, the Senegalese looked the most in form early and often saved his front-line partners from greater scrutiny. As this particularly tense period draws to a close, Mane has looked just as ineffectual as his attacking teammates.
Since the first match against Chelsea, Mane’s touch has looked heavy and laboured. There have been multiple moments where he has ever so slightly misjudged the ball or lacked the deftness required to spring behind the defence. He is not alone in his misfiring, as all three up front have been remarkably lacking in coolness in the right moments.
Only against top quality sides has Liverpool’s real lack of creativity in midfield been exposed. With the forwards yet to reach anywhere near the heights of last season, there has been little help from deeper positions. At the minute, the Reds midfield is filled with far more graft than guile. As top quality sides have squeezed space and service to the front three, Liverpool have looked more ordinary.
While Naby Keita may have been considered a remedy, at least in part, he has yet to fully fit into the side. He can be a remarkably sneaky player. However, even were he starting every match, his box-to-box burst of pace lacks that lock-picking flair. The only player that seems capable of filling that role is Xherdan Shaqiri. Yet using the Swiss international requires other tactical changes as well.
Jurgen Klopp opted to make a shift to his back line by starting Dejan Lovren and shifting Joe Gomez to the right side. Gomez has been so strong centrally but his flexibility served the side well. While Trent Alexander-Arnold needed a rest, the decision still surprised many. More impressive apart from one errant clearance that nearly saw Lovren surrender a penalty, Gomez continued as a stand out player.
For his part, Lovren played well enough for his first league start of the season. Virgil van Dijk remained a mountain, penalty notwithstanding. Andrew Robertson also showed some sparks of life that seemed to have left him leggy of late. With Riyad Mahrez’s miss from the spot, the Reds retained their lengthy run of not conceding at home since February.
With seven matches in 23 days, Liverpool head into the international break with eight points from a possible 12 in the league and another early exit from the League Cup. A late loss away to Napoli in the Champions League complicates the continental contest but the Reds have managed this tense trial of fixtures without too much trouble.
Given that the side has yet to play with the power and poise that saw them soar last season, Liverpool, hopefully, will find a way to return refreshed and ready to restart the club campaign. Solutions are certainly required to pull the club from the fits and start that have hampered but not haunted them as of yet.