1. The mind games started last weekend. Pep Guardiola praised Liverpool as the best team in Europe. Jurgen Klopp fired back at Guardiola, saying that Manchester City are the “best team in the world”. Guardiola tempered that statement, saying that Klopp was just being kind in his praise.
  2. Regardless, every player, pundit and supporter understands the stakes: with Liverpool seven points ahead of City and six points ahead of Tottenham, three points for Jurgen Klopp’s side would essentially end the title race.
  3. To try to take the pressure of his team, Guardiola played the “nobody believes in us” card in saying “I know today nobody trusts us.” Yet Klopp knows better from a side with City’s quality. He warned his team that City would play with a thunderstorm of intensity and pressure throughout the match.
  4. The starting lineup reveals holes in both sides, starting with Manchester City. With Benjamin Mendy injured and Fabian Delph suspended for card accumulation, Guardiola broke up his centerback pairing of John Stones and Aymeric Laporte in moving Laporte to left back. Klopp went back to his tried and tested midfield three of James Milner, Gini Wijnaldum, and Jordan Henderson at the expense of Fabinho and Naby Keita. Fabinho’s omission is especially surprising considering he has been one of Liverpool’s best players in recent weeks.
  5. As Klopp predicted, City are threatening early through high pressure on Leroy Sane’s left side. City’s press forces Alisson to mis-kick a clearance. The pressing in this match is exactly how we imagined.
  6. The first moment of controversy comes in Fernandinho clashing into Andy Robertson off a 50-50 challenge. It wasn’t a dirty or spiteful challenge, but the intensity and pressing in this match is giving way to its own form of brutality within otherwise skillful players.
  7. Liverpool’s first chance starts from an interchange in play between Alisson and Robertson in their own third. This is the danger of both sides’ ability to go from getting pressed deep into their own third to creating a scoring chance in a matter of seconds.
  8. You cannot call that style of creation a counter attack as the sequence is more deliberate and controlled throughout - it’s more of an incisive passing with speed into open space.
  9. No team in the world is better are killing the tempo of a match with the ball, then quickly striking for a chance. City are looking for aguero and sterling over the top after inviting Liverpool’s high pressure.
  10. Bernardo Silva does a lot of work defensively.
  11. And that’s the first turning point of the match: Salah moves centrally after beginning the match on the wing and plays in Sadio Mane, whose shot clears off the post. Stones then clears twice - once off Ederson and then again off the line with Salah on his back. The video replay shows just a piece of the ball still on the line. One wonders how, without goal-line technology, the ref would have made that decision in the past as it looked like it was in depending on the angle.
  12. Regardless, City continue to take control around the 20th minute, with David Silva’s trademark cut back into the penalty area but Virgil van Dijk clearing the danger. City almost had another chance through Sterling’s cut back to Silva, but again, van Dijk clears.
  13. Vincent Kompany receives a yellow card for his last ditch tackle on Salah. He did go to the air with both feet, and it could have been a red considering Salah was clean through.
  14. Of course, Aguero would pop up with an impossible goal in a big match. He originally went down in the box to try to win a penalty, got up as play continued, then beat Dejan Lovren and Alisson on a turn. He had no business hitting that shot with that type of accuracy and power on his left foot, but then again, is there anyone better at creating a chance out of nothing inside the box than Aguero today?
  15. As we begin the second half, it was revealed that Stones’ wayward goal-line clearance was 1.12 cms from being a goal. If City do end up coming back in the title race, you can already imagine the t-shirts and memes in production.
  16. Sterling is so deceptively strong on the ball and looks impossible to move off the dribble. His 1 v 1 matchup with Robertson is entertaining just surely on seeing who wins the battle for pace.
  17. Klopp finally puts Fabinho to reinforce the midfield, an in effect, reinforce Liverpool’s attack. The move changes Liverpool’s shape to a 4231 with Firmino as an attacking midfielder and Salah alone in attack.
  18. Liverpool haven’t had a shot on target since the 20th minute, showing how effective a high press can be not only in winning possession but snuffling out chances.
  19. On the topic of pressure, City’s press comes from closing down Liverpool’s passing angles. Liverpool have been more patient throughout the match in waiting for their pressing triggers.
  20. Kompany clears two chances off the line, including one from Firmino. Outside of his challenge on Salah in the first half, Kompany has been steady throughout. Undeterred, Firmino strikes to level the match. The buildup between Trent Alexander-Arnold playing a ball to Robertson in City’s attacking third is a modern setup of attacking, aggressive fullbacks.
  21. Following the goal, Ilkay Gundogan comes in for David Silva, who was uncharacteristically quiet this match.
  22. City strike back with a Sane goal from another difficult angle. But the goal was started by Sterling, who has been the best player on the field. And what a run from Aguero to take van Dijk away from the penalty area and give Sane space inside the box. Salah, Firmino, and Mane have received most of the attention in terms of attacking trios this season, but that interplay between Sterling, Sane, and Aguero showed their own form of movement, space creation, and decision-making.
  23. Alisson saves the match for Liverpool coming off what was the best sequence in the match. There was a long spell of Liverpool possession, slowly inching towards goal with horizontal passing, looking for little pockets of space in front of City’s backline. City retrieve the ball and strike on a quick counter attack ending with Alisson’s save from Sterling.
  24. Ederson then responds with his own brilliant save off Salah’s shot. That chance was started off a 50-50 challenge between Firmino and Fernandinho. Guardiola throws off his cap as Firmino probably fouled City’s defensive midfielder.
  25. Silva caps his all-around performance with a yellow card.
  26. How appropriate is it that this match, so filled with possession, quality, and counter attacks, is ending with Liverpool desperately lumping long balls into the box. City win, and they end the day just four points behind Liverpool in the title race.
  27. As for man of the match, Sterling was impossible to take off the ball and he never seemed to lose his speed when challenged. Each decision he made in space created more danger and progressed City’s attack. Considering the stakes, this is one of his defining matches.
  28. City’s pressure wasn’t necessarily a thunderstorm, but a looming danger. In fact, that looming feeling described both sides with and without the ball. Each side could obviously press and a turnover would result in immediate danger. But it was in those moments between Ederson and Alisson pinging the ball back and forth between their backline, or Fernandinho or Wijnaldum receiving the ball in the middle third, when each side was most dangerous in turning those slow lulls into quick strikes of attack. Both teams could create a chance from anywhere in the field in a matter of seconds. This was, of course, the prototypical match that was “great for the neutral”, but there was something about the quality, intensity, and tempo over 90 minutes that elevated the match into something more than an experience.