Man City, Liverpool keep Premier League race open, but point is more useful to Guardiola than Klopp



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MANCHESTER, England — It was epic, frantic and unpredictable until the very end, when Riyad Mahrez had the chance to win not only the game, but almost certainly the Premier League title. Instead, the Manchester City substitute sent the ball high over the Liverpool crossbar and the 2-2 result means we’re no closer to knowing which of England’s top two teams will be crowned champions.

What was certain was that this had been a game with everything, including the intervention of VAR to rule out Raheem Sterling’s 63rd minute goal for offside. By that point, Liverpool had twice undone City’s lead to equalize the scores: Kevin De Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus looked after the hosts, while Diogo Jota and Sadio Mane brought the away team back up to par.

The result of 90 minutes from start to finish is that, with both teams having seven league games to play, there is also the not insignificant issue of next Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. (Live streaming: 10:30 a.m. ET, ESPN+) — just one point separates the clubs that have dominated the Premier League for the past five years.

“It was like a boxing fight,” said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. “You put your arms down for a moment and you get a huge knock and you shake a little bit. It was a great game and a result that we have to live with and live with.”

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City retain the advantage and their remaining games suggest Liverpool will need a surprising result to move in their favor to claim first place. Aside from visits to Wolves and West Ham, Pep Guardiola’s players have little to worry about between now and their season finale at home against Aston Villa, led by Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard.

Liverpool have it harder. They should be taking it easy with troubled rivals Manchester United and Everton at Anfield, but those games are always charged with emotion and unpredictability; a home game against Tottenham on May 7 could also be dangerous, while Klopp’s men also face Gerrard’s Villa.

As each side showed in this match, their top tier lies in a different stratosphere than any other team in the division, so City’s success in avoiding defeat and retaining top spot could make this the Decisive day in the title would be race.

But while both teams showed their incredible quality, there were also rare glimpses of nerves and mistakes from Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk, City goalkeeper Ederson, Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah and City player Raheem Sterling. At a time when they needed to be at their best, it may have come as no surprise that top performers faltered every now and then.

Jota’s persistence almost forced Ederson to concede an embarrassing own goal in the first half and Van Dijk unusually chopped De Bruyne in the second period with a cynical foul, which was worthy of the subsequent booking as it caught the City midfielder’s attack. stopped on target.

Salah was in and out of proceedings, his best moment coming 40 seconds after halftime when he created Mane’s goal, while Sterling made too many bad decisions in key positions before being replaced by Mahrez with 15 minutes to go.

Elsewhere, there were plenty of excellent performances to make the occasion so captivating. For City, Joao Cancelo at left back was unbeatable and unstoppable as he controlled his side of the pitch, while Aymeric Laporte also produced some crucial blocks at the back.

Liverpool’s Joel Matip was faultless in central defence, as was his goalkeeper Alisson Becker, who made big saves over Sterling and Jesus as City surged forward in the early stages.

But the big winner, on a day when the teams split the points, was Guardiola, with the City manager doing everything right from his starting line-up to energetic high-press tactics and substitutions; Replacing Sterling with Mahrez was an important decision that increased the threat in the closing stages.

It has become a point of contention that Guardiola is considered to think too much about tactics and selection in the biggest games. Although he is a series winner, recent examples in the Champions League – last season’s final against Chelsea, when he started without a defensive midfield and striker, an obvious opportunity – have seen him get the opponent in the head.

It was a surprise here too to select Jesus from the start, but Guardiola was rewarded with a rare goal and incredible work speed from the Brazil international, whose energy lifted the crowd and his team-mates around him.

The pace on the front lines of Jesus, Sterling and Phil Foden gave Liverpool numerous problems and it was only in the second half, after Mane’s goal, that Klopp’s side held their ground and pulled back into the game.

Even then, City always carried the greater threat and seemed the most likely winners, to the extent that a draw was a good result for Liverpool, at least on the day. It probably wasn’t in the wider context, though, as Captain Jordan Henderson admitted.

“We will have to wait and see,” said the Liverpool captain. “They don’t drop a lot of points, we know that. We have to focus on ourselves and win as many games as possible. If they make a mistake, we have to be right behind them there. We will carry on to the end. It is not the end of the world, we are still in the race.”

Henderson was a young Liverpool player when a slip tipped the balance of a title race, so perhaps an unconscious reference to Gerrard’s mistake against Chelsea in 2014 is a reminder that anything can happen in the closing stages of the season.

But City are on track to win their fourth title in five seasons and midfielder De Bruyne knows his side just need to stay in shape to take home the trophy on May 15. “Today we played very well; I think we had the upper hand,” said De Bruyne. “This is the way we have to play for the rest of the season. I know people said whoever wins gets the title, but it’s too hard, the schedule is too tough for both teams to win every game, but we’ll try.”

There are 21 points to play for. If either side doesn’t claim them all, they will finish in second place.

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