Liverpool and Manchester City play out tense stand-off after Riyad Mahrez’s dramatic late penalty miss

Liverpool 0-0 Manchester City: When Leroy Sane won a late spot-kick Anfield held its breath but, after grabbing the ball, Riyad Mahrez cleared the crossbar with a rash effort

Miguel Delaney
Anfield
Sunday 07 October 2018 18:06
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Liverpool 2018/19 Premier League profile

One of the worst penalties you’ll see, but perhaps the best reflection of this dismal let-down of a showdown. Riyad Mahrez’s blazed 86th-minute penalty was also one of the few moments of actual action in this drab match, that otherwise offered a whole lot of nothing, right down to the effect on the title race.

This 0-0 draw between Liverpool and Manchester City – the first ever between Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola – leaves so much as it was, but that at least might leave Liverpool a little more satisfied given they were on the brink of defeat. It only left Gabriel Jesus disgusted, as he had insisted on taking the penalty. Mahrez has now missed four of his last six penalties, which begs the question as to why he was allowed take it, not to mention the fact he is a new player in a team of so much technical talent.

Hey, it at least offered something to talk about from this match. The only people that could otherwise have been any way excited by it were a soaring Chelsea, who went level on 20 points with both sides after their earlier 3-0 win at Southampton.

It felt all the more disappointing for everyone else because last season’s matches really had it all. And yet this was also the irony.

One obvious reason why the match was so tepid was because of the ironic influence of all those explosively entertaining games. They were so open that they weighed on both managers’ thinking.

Wary of once again being caught on the break by Liverpool, Guardiola got his side to play the more conservative possession game he tried at Anfield in the Champions League, but with more success. It just meant a lot less pace to the match. On the other side, though, Liverpool were obviously nowhere near as rampaging as they were in April to try and break that.

And part of that is likely because of Klopp’s own compromises, both in the long term and short term. The German has obviously been trying to recalibrate these team so that they can more steadily navigate an actual title race, but he rearranged his side even more here.

Raheem Sterling and Joe Gomez battle for the ball 

This was again how that overthinking weighed on this match. Klopp expected City to target Trent Alexander-Arnold through Leroy Sane, so removed the full-back and broke up the Virgil van Dijk-Joe Gomez central defensive partnership… only for Guardiola to not start Sane at all.

That all contributed to the stalemate, and maybe even why Van Dijk made such a poor decision for the penalty late on. Lovren was meanwhile almost responsible for a penalty much earlier. On 20 minutes, he went in clumsily Sergio Aguero, and it probably should have been given.

Lovren did fare better with one brilliant challenge on Jesus later, but the former was a rare piece of first-half action.

Leroy Sane wins a penalty from Virgil van Dijk’s challenge

It also gives rise to a rare question and challenge for Klopp.

Now that Liverpool are expected to actually challenge, it means they can’t quite free-wheel through the season in the way that has been so wondrous over the past two seasons. Every decision now has more weight, more pressure, and the effects of that will be telling.

The effect it had on this game was to slow it right down, something that suited City much more.

There were spells when Liverpool did try to get up to their 100mph best, but they were mostly only producing wayward gales rather than the hurricane that swept City away last season.

Riyad Mahrez fires a penalty over the crossbar

It wasn’t all that much better at the other end. That Champions League first leg saw Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain score a screamer that arrowed so beautifully into the net. Here, from a similar position, Fernandinho instead just blazed the ball into the stands.

The first effort on target didn’t actually come until the 62nd minute, and was ironically from Mahrez, although substitute Naby Keita – on for the injured James Milner – may have prevented Sadio Mane getting a shot off in a goalmouth scramble.

Salah was beginning to show glimpses of his old self, with how he was causing problems with his running, but still displaying too many of the problems that have beset him in this new season: an apparent inability to finish.

He shot wide early on, failed to get onto a lob over the top – one that was difficult but that he would likely have made a much better effort of last season – and then blasted the ball into the stands in the second half when it seemed set up for the kind of lift a fully confident Salah would have taken.

Mahrez reacts to his missed spot-kick (Reuters)

He couldn’t live up to last season. Neither could this game.

Mahrez did surpass Salah’s poverty of finishing, though. After Van Dijk – of all people, further emphasising how out-of-sorts so much about this game was – had rashly gone in on substitute Sane when he didn’t need to, Martin Atkinson rightly pointed to the spot.

It was an accurate call. It was anything but an accurate penalty. It was anything but a good game.

The hope is that might at least put the pieces in place for a title race that is finally firing late on in the season, but this otherwise a massive let-down of a showdown.

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