Jeremy Doku and Trent Alexander-Arnold were both somehow excellent, Liverpool finally returned the favour to Alisson and Bernardo Silva is something special.
1) After the typically grandiose build-up, the slightly too sleek, manufactured edge to a rivalry built far more on mutual respect and healthy competition than people want it to be, and the handy post-international break trail to a gargantuan Saturday lunchtime clash between first and second in the Premier League, it was fitting to see Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp call it even again after 100 more minutes of battle. Both can lay a claim to being among the very best the sport has ever produced but after a 1-1 draw between the country’s two best teams of the past few years, Lightning McQueen remains the clear GOAT.
2) It was a curious game perhaps best summed up by the man of the match being announced as Jeremy Doku over the Etihad stadium tannoy, shortly before Gary Neville anointed Trent Alexander-Arnold – there is not enough time to get into the ‘opposite number’ debate – as his pick.
And both were fair choices. Doku was the match’s persistent threat, electric on the left with more chances created than anyone, more dribbles completed (11) than the other 26 players combined (10) and more tackles made than any player bar Bernardo Silva; Alexander-Arnold scored a sublime equaliser, led the game for interceptions and held his own in that one-on-one after some shaky early moments.
That contrast between opinions suited a match in which perspective will be the king when examining the result. Both Manchester City and Liverpool have as much cause to see this as one point gained as they do two points dropped, depending on their chosen agenda.
3) Doku, though. Honestly. He is such a ridiculously effective footballer that it is easy to forget he has replaced a five-season veteran in Riyad Mahrez so seamlessly. The recent desperation to paint Manchester City and Guardiola as foolish in letting Cole Palmer go are best-advised to watch Doku in action again, because the Chelsea forward would have had a restricted diet of minutes up against the Belgian this season, and no argument to change that situation. That transfer was brilliant for all parties and that is fine.
In the opening stages we sat at the great Doku tree, watching him receive the ball on the left, glide past one and often two defenders and deliver a low, driven cross which Liverpool barely repelled.
As the game went on, one of his rarer traits became more prevalent: he barely ever loses the ball. For someone so apparently reliant on dribbling, trickery and pace, the amount of times Doku turns back and lays off the ball when the circumstances dictate is surprising. Instead of trying to force the issue he recognises a locked door and passes to start again instead of running straight into it.
Around the hour mark he was the furthest Manchester City player forward when countering from a Liverpool corner. Alexander-Arnold recovered well and allowed his teammates to flood back in support but Doku slalomed through a couple of them and simply recycled the ball wide when others would have sprinted, head down, into no man’s land and wasted the opportunity. The overwhelming majority of his passes were backwards but he was comfortably the most dangerous player on the pitch.
4) The game’s other narrative threat was goalkeeping distribution.
For 10 minutes, Liverpool passed around the back comfortably against a high Manchester City press, picking the right options and executing them confidently. Then Alisson not only chose the wrong pass but played it awfully, playing the ball to Phil Foden on the edge of the area.
The subsequent save was straightforward but it set the tone for the rest of the Brazilian’s game. He was almost caught in his own area by Erling Haaland – no thanks to Curtis Jones – while the opening goal came from his slip when trying to release Mo Salah with a sidewinder.
Things did not improve – and it was not all down to Manchester City forcing the issue. In the 78th minute and under no pressure, Alisson lumped the ball out for a goal kick after Alexis Mac Allister broke up an attack and played it back. Then stoppage time brought two more woeful kicks in quick succession before an apparent hamstring twang, which the hosts could not quite punish with a dramatic late corner.
Alisson has saved Liverpool on more occasions than they’d care to admit. For once, not only was he their worst player, but they managed to return the favour and bail him out.
5) The composure of Ederson at the other end hardly helped in terms of a comparison. The Manchester City keeper was peerless with his foot on the ball, peaking just before half-time with a glorious low ball to break the first two lines of a Liverpool press and create a chance for Foden.
Ederson also dominated his area when claiming corners with ease, which was a far less predictable chink in Alisson’s armour.
6) That brings us onto the regrettably important disallowed goal. Any Liverpool momentum had largely dissipated by the time Ruben Dias tapped the ball into an empty net to seemingly double Manchester City’s lead in the 67th minute. The hosts were hardly dominant at that stage, but they didn’t have to be to look secure enough.
So when Julian Alvarez whipped a corner in and Alisson spilled the ball after an aerial challenge with Manuel Akanji, the result seemed certain. Yet Chris Kavanagh spotted an infringement and replays corroborated that to the extent that the referee made no clear or obvious error. Akanji had placed a vague arm on Alisson’s as they both jumped, and that was ammunition enough to rule it out.
It was maybe a fair enough decision in isolation. But to paraphrase the distant chorus of millions of Arsenal fans: Joelinton, two hands, Gabriel’s back. Did the slight Akanji contact on the arm warrant Alisson ending up in a heap on the ground clutching his toe?
7) Fair play to Akanji for removing any element of doubt in the 86th minute when he actively bundled Alisson into his own net. Slightly more obvious, that one.
Akanji, in that hybrid defensive role against a team brilliant at quick transitions, committed two fouls all game and both were on the opposition goalkeeper. He was great and that is textbook.
8) Even better than that was Julian Alvarez stopping a first-half Liverpool counter-attack by dragging Salah down as Darwin Nunez and Diogo Jota arrived on the other side to provide support, and not receiving a booking for it. Guardiola’s found yet another pure disciple there.
9) The two best moments of attacking play in the first half came from defenders. Joel Matip, tired of having the ball passed to him and sending it straight back from whence it came, decided to take a stroll through the Manchester City attack and midfield and to the edge of their area at one point. Ederson produced a lovely save when Salah’s subsequent cross found the head of Nunez.
Ten minutes later, Manchester City were ahead when one of those errant Alisson kicks landed at the feet of Nathan Ake. He glided past Dominik Szoboszlai and cut inside Alexander-Arnold before sliding Haaland in to finish exquisitely. Marauding centre-half runs are just a delight to watch.
10) The two touches Haaland took before shooting were only bettered by the third, side-footed into the ground and past Alisson. Right foot to control, left to get it out of his feet, left again to score. Drifting in between Matip and Van Dijk, it was ruthless, economical and efficient.
The game’s other disparity was between the Norwegian and Nunez, who lacked for nothing in effort but could not find that edge. One sublime Liverpool move played him in behind thanks to Jones and Szoboszlai but Nunez took about four touches in the area and still could not get the ball out from under his feet as the attack fizzled out.
There is obviously not a great deal of shame in not being able to match Haaland stride for stride in terms of centre-forward play. It will come for Nunez. These fixtures simply underline his current deficiencies more emphatically. Great work to try and distract from that by wanting to knock Guardiola out afterwards, though. That is elite-level awareness.
11) No point in saying how brilliant Silva was; he always bloody is and will never be sold. But that pirouette on the edge of his own area to evade Salah and then poke the ball past Mac Allister to launch a bright counter-attack, immediately after intercepting a Jones pass, was a microcosm of his unique excellence.
You know what… I actually think Bernardo Silva is the best player in the league. 🤷🏼♂️
He plays about 6 positions, technically off the charts, never injured, harder working than almost anyone, tactically perfect. His game basically has no flaws.
— Joe Thomlinson (@joethomlinson) November 25, 2023
12) The Liverpool equaliser really came from nothing. The composite parts in the build up were innocent enough: a misplaced Luis Diaz pass and a five-yard ball from Salah. But Alexander-Arnold’s setting touch was perfect, turning the move into a goalscoring chance for a player of his ball-striking calibre.
Cody Gakpo deserves a shout as MVP of the move. It was the Dutchman who Diaz intended to pass to, and after Salah retrieved that loose ball Gakpo’s run into the area created just enough space and time for Alexander-Arnold to control and shoot.
13) The lack of a winner thankfully renders any outcome bias moot but Guardiola making no substitutions and Klopp maxing out with all five of his was a neat show of differences in approach. That Liverpool bench was laughably stronger in terms of attacking options, though. It’s not as if Manchester City end up chasing too many games but whenever they do, a lot of eggs are in Oscar Bobb’s basket.
14) Less than half a minute before that Alexander-Arnold goal, Liverpool could have been two goals down. Doku beat Matip on the outside and steered another low ball into the area which Haaland flicked at the near post but Alisson saved. Even when the Brazilian is Liverpool’s problem, he forms part of the solution.
15) Patting a professional footballer on the head for being at the very least competent always feels really weird but equally, the supporter panic induced by a back-up having to start an actual match and them not thereupon soiling themselves is bizarre.
Kostas Tsimikas was great. It’s almost as if he hasn’t spent three years at Liverpool under Klopp entirely by accident, and that he can do a perfectly fine job at filling in for and challenging Andy Robertson. Foden and Alvarez were fairly quiet on that side, which might not be a coincidence when Doku’s volume was turned up to 11.
16) Between Guardiola being “incredibly pleased” with his side and Klopp praising the “mentality” of his players after an off-colour first half, at least the two managers were at peak performance even if their teams were not.
Both accepted the game was there to be won if their sides had played better. Klopp broke up Guardiola and Nunez’s tiff because he “loves” them both. Guardiola said he “didn’t watch” the disallowed goal. A reminder that these two teams were said to have a ‘bitter’ rivalry this week. Instead, the post-match magnanimity was mightily refreshing.