Two years ago, Manchester City missed a penalty in an autumn draw with Liverpool but had no need to rue it when they went on to win the league.
They can but hope history repeats itself. If there was something both unexpected and cruel in the excellent Kevin de Bruyne proving the culprit, there was also an unfortunate action replay.
The last player to fail to even hit the target with a Premier League spot kick was Riyad Mahrez in that 2018 stalemate at Anfield. It felt potentially costly then and, again, City eschewed the chance to register a statement win. In a game of two penalties, only Mohamed Salah scored from 12 yards.
De Bruyne nevertheless was the catalyst for a comeback. Liverpool’s terrific start had set Jurgen Klopp on course to become the first manager to register 10 wins against Pep Guardiola. Instead, he had to settle for a first point in four league visits to the Etihad Stadium.
The draw felt fair in a terrific game featuring some brilliant football. The high-speed attacking illustrated why they have been England’s two best sides over the last three years and, if this was a relatively low-scoring affair, that was attributable to some defiant defending. For City, Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte passed their greatest test as a partnership so far.
Their task was rendered all the tougher as Klopp had gone on the offensive. It may be early to strike a knockout blow in the title race, but he picked a side with plenty of punch.
If Klopp’s principal decision had seemed to revolve around Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota, he resolved it by playing both. It gave Liverpool a bold look, with four out-and-out forwards. The commitment to attack was apparent within the first 40 seconds, when Firmino sprang the offside trap.
That early statement of intent was rewarded with the lead. Kyle Walker had conceded a penalty against Leicester and gave away another in similar circumstances, cutting across Sadio Mane and catching him. Salah powered his penalty past Ederson.
And yet such matches tend to come with a touch of controversy, and this was no exception. City were irritated that Jota had not been penalised for a foul on Raheem Sterling just outside the Liverpool box seconds earlier; for them, it had unwanted echoes of Fabinho’s opener at Anfield last season, just after City had been denied a penalty.
Referee Craig Pawson had tried to play an advantage, but it is an understatement to say that none materialised for City.
It took them time to respond from that setback. It took City 25 minutes to conjure a chance, but when they did it was a fine one, created in wonderful fashion. De Bruyne bent a low cross to the on-rushing Sterling at the far post. He eyed just a second league goal against his old employers, but Alisson made a point-blank block.
It was, though, an illustration of the danger of De Bruyne. City’s assist king added his sixth in four games with a pass on the turn to Gabriel Jesus. The Brazilian’s first touch left Trent Alexander-Arnold on his backside. His second was a shot that he poked past Alisson.
Three games into his interrupted season, Jesus has three goals and Guardiola was justified for parachuting him back into the team.
Then De Bruyne’s influence was apparent again as his cross struck the left arm of Joe Gomez. Pawson initially ignored City’s appeals, then heeded VAR’s advice to go to the monitor and view the incident. He awarded the spot kick but De Bruyne dragged his effort wide of the post. It was only the second missed penalty of his career.
Each had the opportunity to edge ahead again. Ederson saved a shot from the overlapping Alexander-Arnold and redeemed himself with a stop from Jota after his poor punch created the opportunity.
But the finest chance fell to City and Jesus. Joao Cancelo is showing an ability to fashion chances from left-back and when he crossed, Jesus ghosted unmarked into space, only to head wide. Liverpool’s defence, already without the injured Virgil van Dijk, was depleted further when Alexander-Arnold limped off so they could take solace in their solidity when City’s push for a winner was in vain.