Given how tightly the two sides have been locked into the top two spots in the Premier League over the last few seasons, every clash between Manchester City and Liverpool can be accurately described as The Biggest Game Of The Season. But Sunday’s meeting between the Reds and the Sky Blues was perhaps more deserving of that moniker than any previous iteration. With each team looking at just a handful of games left to play, and one point separating them at the top of the table, there was everything to play for.
Unsurprisingly, the game lived up to its billing. Though a 2-2 draw didn’t do much to help resolve the title race, it did give fans another opportunity to enjoy the best the Premier League has to offer. After a game like that, it feels foolish to waste even a second trying to suss out which set of players is actually superior, or which squad was more deserving of a better result. If you want to spend some time squinting at possession stats or xG numbers in an effort to answer those questions, then go nuts, but your time would be better spent just appreciating what these two teams had to show us.
In its own way, this game provided the same lesson that last week’s Champions League game between City and Atlético Madrid did: it’s the players who make the game. The difference today was that it did not take 69 minutes for the opposing managers’ respective grips on the game to be broken by brilliant play. This game was wide open from the start, and was charted not so much by tactics or the pull of grand soccer philosophies, but by the individual quality of the 22 guys on the field. Players from both teams flowed freely around the field—you were just as likely to see Gabriel Jesus latching onto a scoring chance in the opposition box as you were to see him tracking deep into his own midfield—and the game was always just one well-timed run or perfectly weighted through ball away from seeing its next goal. Aside from Kevin De Bruyne’s opening goal, which sailed into the net thanks to a strange and fortuitous deflection, every other goal was the kind that can only be reliably produced by world-class players.
If you see an attacker alone with that much space in the box while attacking a cross, it’s either because he is a mile offside or because he has just made an inch-perfect run and been rewarded for it with an impeccably shaped and timed pass. Pick any random pair of Premier League players and give them 10 chances to reproduce this goal, and you’re likely to see the flag going up or the ball harmlessly sailing out of bounds nine times. Give João Cancelo and Jesus one shot at it, and you’ve got a ball in the back of the net.
Also, don’t ask anyone but Mo Salah and Sadio Mané to complete this pass and finish:
What’s crazy is how expected moments like these have become whenever these two teams meet. Save for a game in 2017 that saw Mané red-carded in the first half, it’s hard to remember the last time a Liverpool-City game didn’t leave me breathless at the quality of play. You get the sense that even the teams themselves, having spent the last handful of years pushing each other to the highest levels, are starting to objectively appreciate what they produce when they get together. Klopp and Guardiola are two of the most intense managers in the world, and neither has a problem with snarling at the press whenever they fail to win a game. But today they both seemed downright giddy during their postgame interviews on NBC. Guardiola, who gave Klopp an enthusiastic hug at the final whistle, spoke about the “beautiful show” that Liverpool and City put on every time they meet, and then he couldn’t help but wax a little poetic about the quality of the game.
His question at the end is a good one. If you love soccer, what else could you want but a game like that?