If there was ever any doubt that Liverpool and Manchester City will be in a ferocious Premier League title race this season then this epic encounter settled that. It will take some effort to prevent either of these sides finishing in first place.
City will wonder how they did not win, given their supremacy and the chances they created and the fact that James Milner should have been sent off before he was substituted, but then so will Liverpool who, twice, were in front and showed a determined defiance.
For all the attacking power one of the highlights was a remarkable intervention by Rodri, at 2-2, when it appeared Fabinho was certain to side-foot into the unguarded net. Instead Rodri came from nowhere to block.
City were the better team but Liverpool had the best player. Mohamed Salah has been outstanding this season and contributed here with a fantastic goal and an almost equally wonderful assist. It was Lionel Messi-esque. Both interventions were moments of brilliance.
It also highlighted even more City’s lack of a reliable striker as they wasted chance after chance especially in the first-half. Jack Grealish played through the middle and it did not work as he was replaced after 65 minutes by Raheem Sterling who also unsuccessfully attempted to fulfil the role.
Nevertheless they have now gone to Chelsea and Liverpool in successive weekends and largely dominated, taking four points.
Liverpool had been utterly over-run in the first period, must have had a ferocious telling off from Jurgen Klopp during the break and were transformed after it. Just before the hour they claimed the lead. Salah created it, quite remarkably, beating Joao Cancelo’s half-hearted challenge and driving towards the City goal before slipping the ball through to Sadio Mane. With a sight of goal he fired his shot across Ederson and into the net.
Anfield was rocking. Roberto Firmino came on and the Kop was in full voice. Their team was pouring forward and it seemed City would pay. Instead they equalised with a fine goal of their own as Gabriel Jesus collected possession and ran infield before spraying the ball to Phil Foden. His first touch was deft, his second was to strike a crisp right-foot shot, low and hard and back across Alisson and into the net. It was in truth the very least that City deserved.
But Liverpool reclaimed the lead with the pick of the goals. Salah’s strike will be analysed, cherished, watched again and again as he held off three City players, surged forward to beat Aymeric Laporte and then hit a powerful cross-shot that was past Ederson and into the net before the goalkeeper could react. Salah has been simply unstoppable.
On the touchline Pep Guardiola was stood motionless. He must have been bewildered as to how his side were again behind and also how Liverpool still have 11 players on the pitch as Milner should have been dismissed. He could have been red-carded for a foul – which was not even given – on Phil Foden as he ran through and was cautioned for a later challenge on him. In the second-half upended Bernardo Silva but referee Paul Tierney did not act.
And so it looked like Salah had won it for Liverpool. But back surged City with Foden, again, heavily involved as he pulled the ball back across the Liverpool area. Jesus tried to reach it but it ran to Kevin de Bruyne who arced a first-time shot that deflected off Joel Matip and beat Alisson to draw City level.
City had clearly identified Liverpool’s vulnerability down the right, with 35-year-old Milner at full-back in the absence of Trent Alexander-Arnold, and attacked it relentlessly. Foden was pushed out to the flank and it was a mis-match.
Foden should have scored after being slid through by Bernardo after a brilliant, mazy elusive run that took him away from Jordan Henderson and Andrew Robertson. But Foden had a touch, allowing Alisson to smother his subsequent shot.
Then Cancelo, also impressing down Liverpool’s right, found De Bruyne who drove the ball first time but also beyond the far post. It carried on with Grealish working his way goalwards only to miscue his shot high over the crossbar from a tight angle and Foden crossing deep with an unmarked De Bruyne making a mess of a diving header also sending it ballooning over the bar. Finally Alisson again thwarted Foden after he once more got in front of Milner.
And so somehow Liverpool survived to half-time. They had started brightly but were overwhelmed with the midfield not able to get a grip and Henderson and Curtis Jones struggling in the face of City’s strangulation. They resorted to long balls.
Would City rue not taking their chances? Their approach play was sumptuous; their finishing was so wasteful while, for Liverpool, it was a surprise to see Milner return for a second-half that rolled out into an astonishing contest.