A manic and pulsating game that somehow ended all level, without a peak, but one that does actually change things at the top.
Liverpool 2-2 draw at Manchester City means they no longer have the title in their hands, and now need a favor elsewhere.
Pep Guardiola’s side takes better control of the title race, as they remain a point ahead, but might wonder whether they could have won it there and then. They certainly could have won it a few times over in the first half, only for Liverpool to force their way back – and keep themselves in the race – with an impressive display of resilience.
In that sense, a game that had been fairly built up as the pinnacle of football right now didn’t itself have a final lift. Riyad Mahrez put his tantalizing late chip too far over the bar.
We’re still waiting for the real crescendo. Perhaps that’s for the best, and will force this race to even better levels. We may again go to the last day.
It’s not like there wasn’t enough to marvel over here, either.
There were times when it was almost impossible to keep up with the amount going on, especially in the first half, as the Liverpool defenders found.
It was the quintessential game of two halves in that regard, but not just for how differently the teams performed. It was almost two different games in one.
The first was a frenzied affair that had everything bar accurate.
The second was everything you usually imagine from a potential title pay-off, with the sheer tension of it all both weighing over and yet enriching every moment.
Some of that was a mirror of the October 2-2, too, with the same end result.
That Liverpool eventually managed to that is to their credit, but partly because of how bad they were in the first half.
City did look on another plane of performance for a time.
For all the frenzied energy the sheer intensity produced, there was real calculation. Some of it was forensic. Guardiola had clearly been working on a plan to exploit the space behind Liverpool’s wing-backs. It is rare to see it exposed so regularly, but then it’s rare you get great sides as lucratively put together as this City.
They almost displayed all that quality in the opening seconds, with only the finish missing. De Bruyne surged forward to slip in Gabriel Jesus, who squared it for Raheem Sterling. He already found the imposing shape of Alisson in front of him, though, the goalkeeper ensuring an easy chance became impossible. It was another fine save.
It only stemmed the tide.
City were in gear. The confusion that caused in the Liverpool defense initially seemed to say them of the required intensity, as if they just couldn’t fully focus.
That was almost symbolized by two meek Virgil van Dijk headers, that eventually saw De Bruyne open the scoring with that deflected long-range strike. It could have been the start of a deluge. It maybe should have been. City were creating that many openings, getting in behind with almost every ball forward.
The tightrope of Klopp’s offside line wasn’t tied with the same tautness, as Guardiola’s side only got caught once.
It wasn’t the only tightrope on the pitch. There was also Ederson’s, well, entire game. He seemed willing to charge off his line on a hair-trigger and just one of many scarcely believable moments in this match saw him stumble at a pass, possibly as a preposterously confident feint, only to play the ball out to Aymeric Laporte just as it it was about to roll over the line.
That pointed to how, even then, Liverpool weren’t completely overwhelmed. They also first equalized with one of many exquisite moves, Thiago Alcantara’s divine cross-field ball starting a move that saw Alexander-Arnold take the City backline out with a deceptive cut-back. Diogo Jota was coming on to finish. It was only a brief interruption of City’s brilliant onslaught.
The second inevitably came shortly before half-time, and inevitably came from that same space. I cancel this time picked out Jesus with a gorgeously curved ball, the striker leaping to volley past Alisson with a flourish.
By that point, Liverpool just looked fortunate to be in the game. The only note of caution for City was that they could have put the game out of sight. There was barely enough time to even dwell on that.
Within 47 seconds of the start of the second half, Liverpool were back in view, and back in the game.
It came from a striking increase in intensity, that pointed to what Klopp must have said at half-time – and yet was still so easy.
Salah and Mane were given so much time and space to display their quality, and display it they did.
After a first half where the Egyptian had offered almost nothing bar one run, he produced perhaps the moment of the game. His pass from him put Mane straight through, to fire the ball into the top corner.
It was back level, but Liverpool had evidently gone up a few levels themselves.
The game was less erratic. There was a better application of quality, which perhaps inevitably made it less gluttonous in terms of goals, more tense.
It was all about the next big moment, after all. The sense that pervaded was that it wasn’t so much next goal wins as next goal wins the title.
City thought they had it when Sterling was put through to slide the ball past Alisson, only to have slipped offside.
Fabinho then slipped away from proper sanction, when he probably should have had a red card.
As a classic Premier League game, it probably didn’t really have the pay-off it should have. The hope is that it will instead make it a classic Premier League season.
The best could be yet to come, but that’s saying something given the entertainment on show here.
For all the managers will protest, though, they ultimately don’t want entertainment. They want the title.
This didn’t deliver it. But it might have amused its course.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.