It was a goal worth winning any game. Only not this one. When Mohamed Salah took possession of Liverpool in the inner right channel for 76 minutes, there did not seem to be too much on.
But Salah is in a rare form track, and after getting the position on Rodri was the way he rolled his rivets over the top of the ball to fool past Bernardo Silva, balletically. Salah was not finished. Into the area, he went one way and then the other to bamboo Aymeric Laporte in the tightest spaces before hitting a finish in the bottom corner.
When Liverpool support extensively lost its grip on the plot, a penny for Manchester City’s thoughts. They had just canceled out Sadio Mané’s 59th-minute opening goal with one from the excellent Phil Foden, and after exercising almost total control over the first half, they could have felt it was not their day.
But City were not finished. They refused to topple, and what shone through when they found another equalizer was their mastery as much as their ability. The goal was created by Foden, and when he withdrew from the left and Kyle Walker missed his kick, Kevin De Bruyne’s shot from the edge of the box Joël Matip to hit Alisson in Liverpool’s goal.
It was a game of the highest quality, a thrill between probably the two best teams in England, and it carried almost a late plug at both ends.
First, Rodri stretched into a lifeline to deny Fabinho after Ederson missed a Salah post – the goal was gaping – and then Raheem Sterling, as a replacement for the usual laughers, led a City break only for lack of conviction . He surrendered to Gabriel Jesus as he might have driven on and shot. Jesus’ efforts were blocked.
It would have been impossible to see this program as anything other than a title designer regardless of date and not just because it had functioned as such in the previous two seasons. When Liverpool beat City 3-1 here in November 2019, it ignited a belief that they could end their long wait for the championship, and when City won it 4-1 in February last year, they knew they were on their way too .
Hard and fast conclusions were harder to draw on this occasion, even though the draw favored City. What was certain was that there was much to be removed, by using Pep Guardiola’s false nine experiment with Jack Grealish, which did not work; the brilliance of both Foden and Silva and where City might be with a more secure finish.
From a Liverpool perspective, Alisson was instrumental in keeping them in the game before Salah brought his razor-sharp lead. He provided assists to Mané – his third in the Premier League season – while the goal was his sixth, making him the competition’s joint top scorer.
The foot plagued James Milner in large parts of the apartment and City could be annoyed that Liverpool’s right-back, who remained deputy for the injured Trent Alexander-Arnold, remained on the pitch until his 78th substitution.
When the Foot overtook him just after half an hour on a run towards the area, Milner caught him and the winger went over. The contact was probably just outside the area, so no penalty, but there was wonder as the referee, Paul Tierney, did not whistle himself for a free kick. As the last defender, Milner would have been on rocky ground.
Milner was reserved to pull the Foot back before half-time and Guardiola was ardent as the veteran supported Silva in the 74th minute. Guardiola waved an imaginary card without a slight emotion. Tierney did not swing a real one, though he soon after ordered the annoyed Guardiola.
Guardiola did not care that Grealish had almost never played as a false nine and certainly not for City before.
He just threw the dice – it was pure Pep – and even though history’s most expensive British player struggled to adapt in the first half, City did not. Throughout Grealish, the players in Sky Blue won their duels, they were faster in body and mind, and they created the chances of having taken a decent lead into the interval.
City’s big chance for the first half was followed by an incredible skill by Silva, who performed a 360-degree spin that at various times took him past each of Liverpool’s three midfielders. Silva then darted back inside Fabinho and the middle half, Virgil van Dijk, before playing in the Foot. Alisson made a vital one-on-one save.
City had plenty of other openings before the break, the choice of which was De Bruyne’s header from a Foden post, which he sent wastefully over, and Foden was thwarted by Alisson after collecting a long Ederson ball.
The change in Liverpool at the restart in the second half was remarkable. It was as if a switch had been struck, the energy pouring from them and in return the amount that felt a change in momentum. Jürgen Klopp’s players now seemed to think the job was done and acted more defensively, just waiting for the ref to blow the final whistle.
Diogo Jota extended Ederson and Liverpool scored as Salah beat João Cancelo before starting Mané, whose acceleration was too much for Rúben Dias. Guardiola switched Grealish to Sterling, and Jesus created the equalizer and skated from right to left before playing in the Foot, whose low finish radiated power and precision. The rocking late drama took its breath away.