Liverpool vs Man City: Pep Guardiola helpless as fine margins cost Premier League champions dear
As Manchester City’s players waited for their opponents to emerge for the start of the second half, Pep Guardiola and Mikel Arteta engaged fourth official Mike Dean in an animated conversation. It was not, presumably, about how Tranmere Rovers got on at the weekend, but the decision not to penalise Trent Alexander-Arnold for a handball inside his own penalty area moments before Fabinho’s opening goal at the other end.
Guardiola broke off from the conversation but saw Michael Oliver, the referee, jogging out onto the pitch shortly after. He made a purposeful step out towards the official, as if to confront him, but Oliver did not notice him, having his back to the City manager the whole time. Guardiola then retreated, having probably had second thoughts, but he fixed a menacing gaze on Oliver as if to say: “Yeah, you keep running.”
You sensed in that moment that if things did not improve for City after the break, if their title defence was to suffer a third defeat after only 12 games, if the gap was to stretch to nine points, then Guardiola would return to that moment in the sixth minute. The ball appeared to touch Bernardo Silva’s hand as he wrestled it out of the air and slipped through into Liverpool’s penalty area. When it struck Alexander-Arnold, the officials did not believe his arm was in an “unnatural position”. Liverpool broke, scored, then Mohamed Salah added another.
And reader, things did not improve for the reigning champions in the second half. Despite Bernardo Silva’s consolation and long spells of late pressure which threatening a comeback, in truth Liverpool won this game once Sadio Mané rattled in a third goal at the start of the second half, shortly after Guardiola and Arteta’s conversations with Dean. It came by diving - to meet a far-post header, that is - and it means that City’s Anfield curse goes on. They have two wins in 51 visits dating back to 1963. At the time of the last, in 2003, Phil Foden was a two-year-old.
There would be more Guardiola fury at the officials. VAR checked a push by Mané on Raheem Sterling inside the penalty area but Oliver’s on-field decision of no penalty was upheld.When Gabriel Jesus fell to the turf inside the box during the closing stages, he was incensed at the decision not to award a penalty, holding three fingers up and screaming to sky in a state of disbelief. At full-time, he shook the hands of Oliver and his assistants in a less-than-sincere manner.
But Guardiola can have few complaints. When two evenly-matched teams meet and do not compromise on their swash-buckling, attack-minded approaches, these are the risks you take. When you are as good as City are and you go toe-to-toe with an opponent as good as Liverpool, one passage of play can be the difference, one moment can become crucial, one decision can prove decisive.
Guardiola has been accused of over-thinking big games in the past. For the Champions League quarter-final in April of last year, he sacrificed Raheem Sterling to play Ilkay Gundogan wide right. In this corresponding Premier League fixture last October, City were perhaps more cautious and conservative than they have been at any point domestically under Guardiola’s management. Klopp described it this week as “a huge compliment”.
The difference that day was that City and Liverpool were level at the top of the table, with 19 points apiece. Ground could be won but it could also be lost. The goalless draw City left with was not a bad result, regardless of Riyad Mahrez’s penalty. It made sense to play it safe and by May, when they stepped onto the podium to lift that trophy once again, they did not care that the Algerian had missed.
Here, the six-point gap meant City had to go for it. In the minutes leading up to Fabinho’s opener, City had been camped in front of the Kop, claiming some 60 per cent of possession, staking out Alisson’s goal. This was not the careful, low-lying side that visited Merseyside 13 months earlier but one looking to impress its style upon the game and do everything to make up ground on the league leaders. That was why Mané had space to counter-attack, why City’s defence was disorganised for the cross which followed, why Fabinho had so much space on the edge of the box.
Was Guardiola right to set up in the way he did? Of course. City needed to win this game and would not have taken three points playing the way they did last year, unless granted another penalty. But by bravely attempting to beat Liverpool and beat them well, they reduced this contest to a toss-up between one brilliant football team and another, where every lucky break and bounce would count.
Last year, it was the millimetres that meant John Stones’ goal-line clearance came just in time and that Sergio Aguero’s goal counted at Turf Moor. It was the one point that separated them in May. But on Sunday, it was the millimetres that meant the ball hits Silva’s hand before Alexander-Arnold’s, or that mean the full-back’s arm is in a “natural” rather than ‘unnatural’ position. This breathless, interminable, two-season long title race has been decided by fine margins all the way. On Sunday at Anfield, it was no different.
This news item was provided by the The Independent - Premier League website - the original link is: https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/premier-league/liverpool-vs-man-city-3-1-result-player-ratings-fabinho-mane-salah-silva-goals-a9197626.html