In the end, the biggest match of the Premier League season so far more than lived up to the billing. Because not only was Manchester City’s pulsating, back-and-forth 2-1 win over table-topping Liverpool an instant classic; not only was it the Reds’ first loss of the campaign; it also sets up a dramatic end to the best title race in recent memory, with more than four months of matches still to play.
It’s hard to imagine any of those games topping this one.
When England’s best two teams last met in October, it was a dud. Liverpool and City were even on points then, and in retrospect it shouldn’t have been surprising that what was always going to be a cagey contest ended scoreless.
The stakes were significantly higher on Thursday. The Reds entered the match at the Etihad leading City by a whopping seven points. That meant the home team would have to come out attacking, even if it meant risking punishment at the feet of the visitors’ deadly counterattack.
That’s how it played out when the whistle blew, too. But then Jurgen Klopp’s team began to find their feet, and very nearly — oh, so nearly — the opening goal.
Instead, Sadio Mane hit the post after being played through by Mo Salah, and John Stones managed to clear what would’ve been a spectacular own-goal off the line in the 18th minute:
In real time, it looked as though the ball was in. Referee Anthony Taylor immediately looked at his watch for a signal from the electronic eye-in-the-sky that it had indeed crossed the line. None came, and they played on. Moments later, the millions of fans watching from every corner of the globe learned just how close the call actually was:
Mane had another chance to put the visitors ahead against reeling City moments later. But after his volley was squandered, Pep Guardiola’s men seemed to regain their composure. And they took a 1-0 lead into the dressing room at halftime thanks to a brilliant individual goal by Sergio Aguero five minutes before the break.
When the second stanza began, the hosts appeared fully in control. But yet again, Liverpool willed its way back into the tilt. And it managed to find an equalizer through Roberto Firmino off a well-worked sequence in the 65th minute to set up what would be an epic finish to the contest:
The momentum had clearly swung back toward Liverpool at that point. And with the Reds not content to sit back and protect the point (not to mention their lead in the standings), it was defending champion City who capitalized on a counterattack of their own, Leroy Sane firing home the strike that would stand up as the winner with about 20 minutes left to play:
Both teams now have 17 games remaining. Even though Liverpool’s lead atop the table was cut to four, Klopp and Co. still controls their own destiny. The Prem crown is still theirs to lose.
“The boys tried everything, we got nothing for it. That’s how it is sometimes in life,” Klopp said afterward, adding that he felt City defender Vincent Kompany should’ve been sent off for a first-half foul on Salah. “[If we] keep on going, everything will be fine for us.”
Either way, things sure are a lot more interesting following a match that will surely go down as one of the greatest Premier League games ever played.
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