Klopp must get front three firing again despite gutsy performance against Man City
By James Pearce
09:17, 8 OCT 2018
It was fitting that 'Seeing is Believing' was emblazoned on Liverpool's shirts.
Nobody expected this kind of spectacle. The two most gifted, attacking teams in the country cancelled each other out on an instantly forgettable afternoon at Anfield.
Last season's four battles between Liverpool and Manchester City were scintillating affairs – generating 18 goals and a ton of controversy. The latest chapter in an increasingly heated rivalry was a snoozefest in comparison.
Before the start of the season Jurgen Klopp had billed the challenge facing the Reds as they seek to wrestle City's Premier League crown from their grasp as akin to Rocky Balboa taking on Ivan Drago.
But the two Premier League heavyweights barely laid a glove on each other before the contest belatedly came to life late on.
City were presented with a golden opportunity to end their 15-year wait for a victory at Anfield when Virgil van Dijk tripped substitute Leroy Sane in the box.
However, Riyad Mahrez blazed the penalty over the bar and Liverpool's unbeaten Premier League record remained intact.
In truth they deserved that slice of luck. A point apiece was the right result. Neither team did enough to merit anything more.
Fatigue undoubtedly played a part after a gruelling run of fixtures with both sides failing to come close to their fluent best.
Respect was another factor with Pep Guardiola, who has now won just one of his last eight meetings with Klopp, clearly desperate to avoid a repeat of City's previous visit in the Champions League back in April when they were 3-0 down inside half an hour.
The Spaniard, who has previously admitted to being “scared” of Liverpool's firepower, wasn't prepared to risk another mauling by leaving his backline exposed. Surprisingly, the champions were set up to contain and frustrate Klopp's side.
Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool talks with Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City during the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City at Anfield
The visitors only really threw caution to the wind in the final quarter and their tally of 51% possession was their lowest in a Premier League game since Guardiola took over.
Klopp got the gutsy reaction he was looking for after the Champions League defeat to Napoli in midweek.
You couldn't fault the attitude and application which was epitomised by the performance of captain Jordan Henderson.
Dejan Lovren wasn't far behind him as the centre-back excelled after being handed his first Premier League outing of the season.
Fellow centre-back Van Dijk also oozed class before his rush of blood when he chopped down Sane, while Andy Robertson was back to his best.
The disappointment was further forward as once again Liverpool's attacking trio of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah rarely set pulses racing.
Firmino has done plenty of damage to City in recent meetings but the man Klopp refers to as “the engine” of his team misfired and remained firmly on the periphery.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp reveals what James Milner said about injury suffered against Man City
Klopp has much to ponder during the international break – not least how to get back some of the swagger and fluency that his frontline showcased last term.
A lack of creativity from midfield is another issue with Naby Keita still finding his feet and Klopp overlooking the claims of Xherdan Shaqiri.
But, crucially, the Reds boss will be looking to make tweaks from a position of strength. Only goal difference separates Liverpool from the Premier League summit with them locked on 20 points with City and Chelsea.
That haul is their joint highest after eight matches in the Premier League era – matching 1996/97 and 2008/09.
Considering that Liverpool have already played Chelsea and Tottenham away, as well as City at home, that's some achievement.
Defensive solidity and organisation has been key. This was the Reds' ninth successive home league clean sheet and they still haven't conceded in the league at Anfield since February.
With birthday boy Trent Alexander-Arnold given a breather, Joe Gomez was shifted to right-back with Lovren brought into the back four.
Henderson, who replaced Keita in the starting line up, used his programme notes to issue an apology to supporters for the Reds' dismal display in Naples.
The Reds skipper led by example as Klopp's side sought to make amends. Liverpool flew out of the blocks and bossed the opening quarter of the contest.
Inspired by the energy from the stands, there was an urgency and intensity to their work which was sadly lacking in midweek.
Salah threatened early on but after cutting inside of John Stones he drilled wide. Mane then got away from Bernardo Silva but his cross was swept clear by Benjamin Mendy as Salah waited to pounce.
With Henderson snapping into tackles, moving the ball quickly and linking up well with Gini Wijnaldum, Liverpool were in the ascendancy.
Raheem Sterling was booed mercilessly on his return to Anfield and once again he flopped. When the England winger did find some space in the box, Gomez was alert to make the block.
It was a tricky day for Gomez and moving him from the centre was far from ideal but he was still too good for Sterling.
By sitting deep and defending in numbers, City weathered the storm and the Reds' grip on the game loosened. Guardiola's men started to show some ambition of their own.
Hearts were in mouths when Gomez's misplaced clearance was followed by Lovren clumsily upending Sergio Aguero. To Liverpool's relief, Martin Akinson waved away appeals for a penalty.
The Reds were forced into a reshuffle before the half-hour mark when Milner pulled up holding his hamstring . Three days after being discharged from a Naples hospital after a back spasm, Keita found himself thrust into the heat of battle.
Early in the second half Klopp's side regained control. They chased everything and Anfield roared its appreciation.
But there was still a lack of spark and guile. What Kopites would give for a fit Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain , who broke the deadlock in this fixture back in January.
City looked the more likely to make the breakthrough with Mahrez drilling just wide before forcing two saves from Alisson Becker.
At the other end Robertson delivered a pin-point pass for Salah but with Ederson stranded he couldn't find the target.
With five minutes to go it looked like all of Liverpool's hard graft would count for little when Atkinson pointed to the spot but the hosts survived.
Mahrez's spot-kick was atrocious - those 15 spy cameras City placed on their team coach will come in handy trying to locate the ball.
There was a warm embrace between the managers after the final whistle.
The next fortnight will give Klopp the chance to take stock. Liverpool still haven't clicked but they are bang in this race.
Liverpool: Alisson, Gomez, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson, Wijnaldum, Milner (Keita 29), Henderson, Mane, Salah, Firmino (Sturridge 72).
Not used: Mignolet, Fabinho, Shaqiri, Matip, Alexander-Arnold
Manchester City: Ederson, Walker, Stones, Laporte, Mendy, Fernandinho, Mahrez, Bernardo Silva, David Silva, Sterling (Sane 76), Aguero (Jesus 65).
Not used: Muric, Danilo, Kompany, Otamendi, Foden.
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Bookings: Wijnaldum, Silva, Aguero, Mendy.
Man of the match: Jordan Henderson. A real captain's performance.
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