Pretenders Liverpool miss chance to put pressure on champions Manchester City

Frank Dalleres
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Liverpool FC v Manchester City - Premier League
Salah wasted the best chances that came Liverpool's way against Man City (Source: Getty)

On an afternoon of few chances at Anfield, Riyad Mahrez was guilty of the most conspicuous miss, blazing a late penalty high into the stands when a winning goal and all three points beckoned for Manchester City.

But in a few months’ time, when the battle for Premier League supremacy between two of the three joint leaders has taken several more twists, perhaps Liverpool will be the side who look back on this 0-0 draw with more regrets, and City with more contentment.

Because aside from during a brief opening spell, Jurgen Klopp’s men failed to wreak anything like the sort of havoc that they repeatedly visited on City last season.

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If Liverpool are to keep pace with a City team that registered 25 more points than them last term, then winning matches like this feels like an essential part of that process.

After all, it was the Reds’ breathless victories over Pep Guardiola’s otherwise largely unflappable side at Anfield in domestic and European competition last term that marked them out as the most likely pretenders to their throne.

Owing to a combination of their own continued lacklustre attacking play and City’s much-improved marshalling of the hosts’ threat, they proved unable to repeat the trick.

Liverpool FC v Manchester City - Premier League
Mahrez missed a late penalty for City and had their best chances (Source: Getty)

Guardiola, on the other hand, will feel contentment at ending a three-game losing sequence to Klopp’s Liverpool and a performance that suggested lessons had been learned.

He should also feel confident of amassing more points than his title rivals in the remainder of the season, given the gulf between their final tallies last term.

They ought to have won this one – Mahrez’s spot-kick shocker aside, they had the clearer sights of goals – but this represented a sort of progress nonetheless.

Mahrez would have been a fitting match-winner, given that he registered City’s clearest chances when an unexpectedly cagey game began to open up after half-time.

In the 61st minute he ran onto David Silva’s pass and beat Alisson with a left-footed shot across goal that drifted just wide, while moments later the Brazilian goalkeeper denied him at the near post.

Guardiola refused to blame Mahrez, who insisted on taking the penalty instead of Gabriel Jesus, with regular taker Sergio Aguero already having been withdrawn.

Klopp's Liverpool are now winless in their last four games (Source: Getty)

Liverpool’s most threatening moments involved Mohamed Salah, but the man who scored 44 goals last season again looked the less assured finisher of this campaign.

Salah hurried a fourth-minute opening, sending his snap-shot wide, and when other notable chances arrived in the second half his shots lacked the easy finesse he seemed to have perfected not so long ago.

One chance to open the body and bend a trademark finish towards the top-left corner ended up too close to Ederson, while when he ran on to an Andy Robertson ball over the top he lashed over when a cooler head might have spotted the City keeper off his line and tried a lob.

Salah’s toils should not be seen in isolation, of course; they reflect the blunted edge of Liverpool’s play in recent games.

Having started the season with seven successive victories, they are now without a win in four matches – albeit following a testing run that has taken in successive fixtures with Chelsea – who joined them and City at the top of the table with a 3-0 win at Southampton – and a trip to Roma.

None of their famed attacking trident of Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have netted in that time, while Liverpool simply haven’t overwhelmed opponents in the manner of previous years under Klopp.

More widely, that might well reflect a more controlled approach, an ability to turn their intensity up and down when required, but that gear change has been lacking lately.

Liverpool FC v Manchester City - Premier League
Guardiola's City arrested their three-game losing run against Liverpool (Source: Getty)

If there is a concern with City it is that questions remain over their performances against quality opposition this term.

They despatched Chelsea and Arsenal with ease in their first two games, yet both teams were getting to grips with new managers and in any case ought to have been beaten more handsomely than 2-0.

In their biggest matches since then, against Lyon and Hoffenheim in the Champions League and in this match with Liverpool, they have drawn two and lost one.

With Kevin De Bruyne set to return in the coming weeks and their apparent Achilles heel against Liverpool addressed, however, Guardiola can rest easy for now.