At the end of an extraordinary game, little had changed. Manchester City still lead Liverpool by a point. Teams that drew 2-2 in October repeated the scoreline in April.
Over four seasons, these most evenly matched of rivals took their respective tallies to 339 and 338 points respectively. In the broader picture, however, it is advantage City: as Liverpool’s sequence of successive wins was halted at 10, they were left looking for a favour. The equation is altered. If City win their remaining seven matches, there is nothing Liverpool can do to stop them from becoming champions.
But the immediate reaction to the breathless excitement was to marvel at it. “What a game,” exhaled Jurgen Klopp. “Wild. It was like a boxing fight; you put your arms down for a second and you get a massive knock.”
Each showed the power to hit back. For the first time since January, Liverpool dropped points. For the first since then, they conceded twice in a game. Yet they twice came from behind against City, which takes some doing.
Pep Guardiola’s men had the majority of chances and gave Liverpool a taste of their own medicine with their relentless pressing. The Merseysiders nevertheless salvaged a point, with Sadio Mane equalising on his 30th birthday, and illustrated why this had been the defining rivalry of the era. It was high speed, high drama and high quality. “It was good fun – I liked it,” grinned Klopp.
When he enveloped Kevin de Bruyne in a bear hug after the final whistle, it was a sign of mutual respect as well as of a sensational performance by the Belgian. Many another excelled, with Mohamed Salah having a terrific second half and Gabriel Jesus justifying his surprise selection, but De Bruyne again touched the heights.
Klopp’s Liverpool have sought to blow Guardiola’s City away with some electric starts in the past. This time the roles were reversed. Liverpool had not conceded a first-half goal since January, but that run ended, with De Bruyne resembling a man on a mission. He provided the defence-splitting pass for Jesus to tee up Raheem Sterling, whose shot was brilliantly saved by Alisson. It only preserved parity for a minute. When De Bruyne surged past Fabinho and let fly from 20 yards, his shot took a sizeable deflection off Joel Matip to elude Alisson.
Guardiola is no stranger to left field selections against Liverpool. If few predicted that Jesus would start on the right, City could be glad he did. While Liverpool cleared a City corner, the ball fell to Joao Cancelo and a wonderful crosser aimed for the far post where Jesus stole in to lob Alisson.
But Liverpool twice had the resolve to respond. Each goal showcased Klopp’s idiosyncratic blueprint. He wants both full-backs to charge past the midfield and they did, combining to great effect as Andy Robertson crossed for Trent Alexander-Arnold to find Diogo Jota. Another great Klopp success story was picked ahead of Luis Diaz and duly finished, albeit with a shot Ederson should have saved.
After their full-backs teamed up, it was the wingers’ turn. If, at half-time, the temptation was to suggest they needed Salah and Mane to exert more of an influence, they duly did in the first minute. Salah bent in a pass behind the City defence. Mane accelerated on to it to dispatch a shot beyond Ederson.
“The way we started the second half is the disappointment,” De Bruyne said. Thereafter, Salah supplied a second enticing pass when Ederson saved Jota’s effort. He almost scored his first goal in open play since February with a curling shot.
At the other end, Sterling briefly thought he had restored City’s lead, slotting in a shot after another defence-splitting pass from De Bruyne, but he was just offside. Riyad Mahrez could have got an injury-time winner, scooping a lob over the bar. The provider? Inevitably, it was De Bruyne.