Man City Still Lead the EPL!

Man City Still Lead the EPL

It should have been 3 points, but I will take the draw. Which is the same feeling that I had after the showdown in Anfield between these two teams earlier in the EPL season. For large stretches of both games, particularly in both first halves, the Sky Blue clad Cityzens from Manchester dominated the match with intense pressing, slick passing, and scoring opportunities created. Everything but the extra finish on the extra chance to get all 3 points instead of splitting a point with Liverpool. Pep Guardiola changed some of the style of his team by playing more direct longballs behind Liverpool’s high line, using the speed of Sterling and Jesus, instead of always trying to break them down with intricate passes through and around Liverpool. Manchester City had a chance to go 4 points clear and put their foot on the throats of the Merseyside Reds in the Premier League title race.

Kevin De Bruyne was already the best attacking midfielder in the world with his slick tiki taka passing, linkup play with the back defenders and attacking forwards, and his unique skill to start counter attacking breaks has been a menace in the side of Liverpool since he made his dramatic return to the EPL in 2015. Assists have always been a mainstay of his game. He is sort of like a Steve Nash or Jason Kidd of world Football. However, since Pep Guardiola has challenged him to score goals as well- KDB has risen to that challenge and is showing that he can be a world class finisher as well.

Kevin got the scoring party started early with an aggressive shot that deflected off Joel Matip and inside the post for a dramatic early goal in the 5th minute that let Raheem Sterling off the hook for blowing a wide open early chance 40 seconds prior. The Etihad was going bonkers in a buzzing frenzy and with good reason! However, just 8 brief minutes later, Liverpool were level as Diogo Jota took a cutback pass and buried it in the back of the net. The irony here is that the original pass that was played to start the eventually equalizing move was intended for Sadio Mane, who was grossly offsides. The assistant referee’s flag never went up because Stones cut the pass out and headed it away, so the pass never made it to it’s target. However, that doesn’t change the fact that Liverpool’s first goal was setup by a pass to a player who was way offsides and was definitely moving to make a play on the ball from an offsides position.


With the number of first half mistakes Liverpool made in possession and passing out of the back and with City squandering so many chances, we all knew that there would be some suffering in the 2nd half for City when Liverpool caught up to the intensity of the match. The biggest miss of the first half was probably by the Man of the Match himself: KDB. In the 29th minute, Cancelo played a wonderful close pass in the box that surprisingly found KDB in acres of space after a graceful pirouette. However, he missed the target at the near post to his and everyone else’s surprise. Should have been a 2nd goal brace for De Bruyne with that shot.

Thankfully, a few minutes later our Brazilian buddy, Gabby Jesus, the surprise start of the day, took an amazing cross from Cancelo and made it even better by roofing a right footed strike over his fellow Brazilian countryman Alisson for the 2-1 lead. It was an amazingly well timed onside run for Jesus who had the pace to get there before the goal keeper and the venom in his right boot to strike the mid-air volley. It was a ruthlessly clinical finish that required next level skill. As my Portuguese speaking friends would say: “belo gol.” What a marvelous and beautiful goal it was indeed! The 2nd half was not going to be as easy for City. We knew that going in, and we saw that as soon as the teams came out.

Liverpool didn’t make us wait long as Sadio Mane equalized with a wicked finish after a brilliant through ball pass from Mo Salah unlocked him 50 seconds into the 2nd half. It was literally right out of halftime and Liverpool made it 2-2. Liverpool didn’t create as many chances as City, but they were not wasteful when they did, and they made the Cityzens pay. Gabriel Jesus played very well and had an amazing in the box control shot on target blocked off the line by Virgil van Dijk. Could he have passed it back to De Bruyne? Maybe. But there were many bodies and legs around. Another pass may not have been the answer. Gabriel was in good form and struck it well. Virgil just had his goalie’s back.

The breakthrough came a little later when De Bruyne played a beautiful direct pass to Raheem Sterling that was called back for a harsh offsides call. The way the Video Assisted Referee (VAR) draws these lines measured with microscopic rulers always leaves me puzzled. To me it looked like Sterling’s arm was slightly ahead of Virgil’s boot but his chest and head were slightly behind. Millimeters offside according to the measurement on the replay. In a sport where it’s already hard enough to score goals, do we really want to be chalking off hard fought goals and muting emotional celebrations for marginal differences like that where the players are clearly virtually level and no real advantage was gained by Raheem when he leaned in to run forward? Raheem is just a naturally faster footed player than Virgil and Robertson. Plain and simple.

Sunday’s match had many similarities to the heavyweight showdown these clubs had back in October. The Final scoreline in both matches were 2-2. Mane and De Bruyne both scored in both matches. However, for me one point of contention still has me feeling a bit raw and unsettled. In the first match Jordan Henderson should have definitely received a 2nd yellow card and sent off with a red for egregious tactical fouls that he took to keep City from building up to a scoring chance. On Sunday, Thiago got away with 3 such egregious fouls but was only cautioned with one yellow because Anthony Taylor did not want to send him off and have Liverpool play the majority of the 2nd half with only 10 men. To think, Liverpool fans were upset with Anthony Taylor being selected as the referee. They may need to send him some flowers and an edible arrangement with chocolate fondue after the leniency and grace he showed Thiago in this one.

Riyad Mahrez was brought on as a late super substitute, along with Jack Grealish, for his goal scoring prowess. However, Mahrez had a 90th minute free kick hit the post and a 94th minute shot at the buzzer of stoppage time created by an absolutely amazing forward pass by De Bruyne, that Mahrez chipped over the bar instead of putting it on target. A goal there could have been a title winning last second spectacle. The fact that De Bruyne on tired legs was able to fight off his defender and curl a perfectly weighted pass around to Mahrez to create a last second scoring chance for his team was a sign of his magnificent wizardry. De Bruyne is a world class talismanic player and City will need him to keep his level this high while awaiting the return of Ruben Dias to stay perfect over the next 7 matches. That’s what it will take to win the title this season with Liverpool breathing down our necks. Come on City!!!

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