Manchester City retained their one point advantage over Liverpool, who still reside in fourth place, after the sides had to settle for a point apiece at the Eithad Stadium. The top four hopefuls played out a thrilling 1-1 draw with multiple opportunities to win the game hopelessly squandered by both sides. It was a draw characterised by deplorable misses and a sense of injustice after numerous dubious decisions from referee Michael Oliver.
James Milner put the Reds in front, scoring from the spot after Gael Clichy’s high boot on Roberto Firmino was deemed worthy of a penalty, but Sergio Ageuro levelled the scored after half time from Kevin de Bruyne’s inch-perfect cross found Aguero in the six-yard box. However, both sides wasted clear-cut chances to win the game, with Aguero and Adam Lallana particularly culpable. From the miss of the season to debatable officiating, here are five talking points from a chaotic afternoon in Manchester.
The game couldn’t have illustrated the strength and weaknesses of both sides any better. It was an enthralling 1-1 draw that demonstrated the very best and worst of both attacks as both Manchester City and Liverpool’s forwards were guilty of squandering a number of late chances to win the game. In the first half, Raheem Sterling couldn’t find the finishing touch to David Silva’s cross, whilst Fernandinho also missed, but it was in the second half that the real gifts were blown.
The worst, or best, of which fell to Lallana. A fine Liverpool move involving a one-two between Firmino and Georginio Wijnaldum, with the Dutch midfielder dinking a delightful chip back into Firmino’s path, was put on a plate for Lallana to finish and such was the ease of the chance that Firmino began celebrating in front of the away end before the ball hit the net. It wasn’t until Firmino turned around, however, that he realised that Lallana somehow failed to connect and the chance went begging.
Late on, a Sterling lob trailed wide whilst Ageruo took too many touches and let the chance pass him by after great interplay between himself and Leroy Sane. De Bruyne then hit the rebound onto the post. A draw was the end result, though it could have been so much more for both sides.
Milner’s good omen continues
When James Milner scores, Liverpool don’t lose. Fact. Milner has now converted seven of seven penalties this season and only Steven Gerrard (10) has scored more penalties in a Premier League season in 2013-14. However, it’s the unbeaten streak whenever Milner scores that is most impressive.
Milner has now scored in 47 games without defeat (W37 D10), which is the record for the most Premier League games scored in without losing. The Reds will be hoping Milner scores in every game between now and the end of the season to ensure they finish in a top four position.
Michael Oliver’s tough afternoon
The hard realities of refereeing a Premier League game was epitomised perfectly by Michael Oliver’s afternoon at the Etihad Stadium. Trying his best to please both sides with his decision-making, he ultimately strived to disappoint and frustrate both, incurring the wrath of both sets of players and supporters through the day.
Liverpool felt they were denied a penalty when Sadio Mane tumbled under the challenge of Nicolas Otamendi, but this one Oliver got right as Mane inadvertently clipped his own heel as Otamendi made no attempt to challenge for the ball. The second aggrieving decision for the Reds was Oliver’s, arguably incorrect, decision to only caution Yaya Toure with a yellow card for a rash challenge on Emre Can. The Ivorian flew into Can with his boot connecting with Can’s chest.
For Manchester City, they were furious when Sterling crumbled under Milner’s sliding challenge as he was denied a clear goal-scoring opportunity by their former player and the frustration at this decision was evident as City’s players continued the discussion with Oliver long after the incident. To make matters worse, Liverpool were then awarded a penalty, that Milner converted, after Clichy’s high boot was deemed dangerous on Firmino. Oliver got this one correct. The big decisions came extremely thick and fast, but Oliver did well to not crumble under the pressure and maintain control of a game that threatened to pass him by.
Coutinho anonymous again
Philippe Countinho is yet to recapture his stunning early season form following an injury that kept him out for around six weeks across the Christmas and New Year’s period. With a place in the Champions League at stake, Liverpool can’t afford to be carrying passengers. Is it time for Jurgen Klopp to drop his playmaker? He was a ghost during Liverpool’s draw with Lallana filling the void that Coutinho so often occupies.
He’s struggled since returning from injury and has had little impact in recent weeks, epitomised by Klopp’s decision to withdraw him from proceedings for Divock Origi after 73 minutes. Perhaps Klopp should gamble and drop Coutinho after the international break. It allows the Brazilian time to regain fitness before the crucial run-in and it sends a message that even the club’s highest paid players can’t escape criticism.
John Stones “has balls”
John Stones has attracted the lion’s share of criticsm this season, but it’s easy to forget just how difficult it is to be a defender in Pep Guardiola’s attack-orientated system. In another tactical setup, Stones would arguably perform a lot better. However, his performance was one to be proud of in City’s draw, drawing significant praise from his manager.
“Stones has more personality than all of us here together in this room,” Guardiola announced. “More balls than everyone here. I like that. I love him. Under pressure, the people criticise him, so I am delighted to have John. Because it’s not easy to play central defender with this manager.”
Playing alongside an out-of-position Fernandinho and the often erratic Otamendi, Stones did well to control the back four and step up in lack of a defensive leader. His last-ditch tackle, throwing his body in front of Joel Matip’s shot, was indicative of an impressive performance from the 22-year-old under-fire defender.
What did you learn from Manchester City’s draw? Did Oliver get the big calls right? Let us know in the comments section below.