If only Kevin De Bruyne had capitalized on a handball from Joe Gomez at the end of the first half and converted from the penalty spot, adding to Gabriel Jesus’ equalizer and completing the turnaround from the kick from Mohamed Salah. Incredibly, he shot wide from the left post.
All of this happened in the first 42 minutes. The rest was less hectic, as two tiring teams struggled to break up.
This made De Bruyne’s failure on the spot all the more decisive and there is a strange comparison to that of Riyad Mahrez at Anfield two years ago, which, by the way, was the last penalty for Premier League to completely miss the mark.
It might not be such a bad omen for City. They were ultimately crowned champions that year, after all. Yet that moment continued to produce a title race that was far too close for the comfort of either Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp.
The standard may have dropped somewhat since then. Nobody expects a 99-point winner and a 98-point runner-up, given this is the most special season. Indeed, City and Liverpool are now entering the international break in November respectively in eleventh and third places and a challenge from elsewhere cannot be ruled out. Nonetheless, they are still expected to emerge from the pack and judging by that, which ends up on top of the other from there, no one would assume.
Whatever the outcome, it wouldn’t have a substantial impact on the title race for a season that only has eight games and yet, you wouldn’t have known from the dazzling start. Implementing a daring four-way attack, Liverpool got off to a particularly good start. The champions found roads behind City time and time again throughout the first half, but only made one count. A lack of concentration from Kyle Walker gave Sadio Mané a split second to enter the penalty area. Mané took it and Walker’s reckless attempt to regain possession conceded a penalty.
City was furious. During the same passage of play, Sterling had attempted to stand after being pushed by Diogo Jota to the edge of Liverpool’s penalty area, then eventually fell to the ground. Keep playing, said referee Craig Pawson. Ederson and Ruben Dias argued their case, but to no avail, leaving Salah to rise and convert as he invariably does.
City was right. Jota’s challenge was just as serious as Walker’s, but that didn’t excuse the awkwardness of their right-back and in any case, he wasn’t the only one struggling with the speed and movement of the attack. Liverpool. On the side of Guardiola, it was necessary to control his guests and quickly. To their credit, they did, going past the last 20 minutes of the first half and finding an equalizer thanks to Jesus.
It was an example of why City have persisted with the Brazilian, despite an erratic spell in Manchester to date. It feels like it has the potential to be a breakout season for Jesus. If that is the case, it will be because of the control and poise he showed in recovering a pass from De Bruyne at the edge of the penalty area, spinning Trent Alexander-Arnold with his first touch and passing Alisson with his second.
Back in the competition, City should have been in the lead at the break, but De Bruyne was rebellious. Pawson initially decided not to penalize Joe Gomez after a cross from De Bruyne hit his arm. Guardiola was furious again and enjoyed a few choice words with the Liverpool backstage staff, but Pawson took another look at the incident using the field monitor and a kick was properly awarded.
De Bruyne did the hardest part, sending Alisson back the wrong way, which made things all the more amazing as his shot flew away from the left post. The Belgian had appeared to resolve the penalty shootout issues that held City last season. This miss was poor enough that Guardiola, who even touted Ederson as a candidate at one point, now has to go back to the drawing board.
The second half did not have the same speed or the same fury as the first. Both teams got tired and struggled to maintain the same pace. Jesus could have done better after meeting Joao Cancelo’s beautifully cut cross with a free head that went past the mark. Cancelo also impressed on the other end, recovering brilliantly to steal the ball from Salah after a daring rear wheel from Mané brought him into the penalty area.
Otherwise, it was a war of attrition, a long and laborious search for the court of space that two teams of this caliber rarely concede. Neither of them found it. The final stages rocked City, with Alexander-Arnold off the start injured and a lazy Liverpool perhaps suffering from a start with such intensity, but there was no other chance as good as De Bruyne’s penalty. One point each was a good result, overall, and perhaps would have prepared us for a close title race.
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