By 90Min
January 05, 2019

Dilly ding, dilly dong! The witch is dead! Liverpool have finally lost a game, and thus the Premier League title. Manchester City are back in form, and will now win the aforementioned title, and the Best Game in Premier League History is what decided it. YES! Narratives. You've gotta love 'em. 

Now, some of those statements are hard-lined facts - well, just the first and (maybe) third. And, some of them are spicy hot takes. You're welcome. But, though in actual fact nothing was decided on Thursday night, save for the guarantee of an exciting race, there were lessons to be learned. Comparisons to be made. Players and managers to be assessed. Fortunes to be told.

Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/GettyImages

And, on the whole, everyone came out of it quite well. Well, except for Jurgen Klopp, and his midfield. It was in those areas that the game was won and lost. Now, these were tight margins -- 11mm!!!>?!?!?!?!>@?@ - that's undeniable. But they could also speak to a slightly wider gap between the teams that hasn't yet shown up in the contradictory four point gap at the top.

In terms of the defence, the pre-existing notion that Liverpool's was the strongest bears up, despite the extra concession. Vincent Kompany, with all the heart in the world, is still an unforced error and unnecessary tackle away from being a liability, and neither of their backup full backs are up to the task. Indeed, Aymeric Laporte probably had his worst game in a City shirt. 

BUT. Where City had the upper hand, and where the Reds could be found out in the coming months, is in midfield. Yes, Bernardo Silva was an energetic and creative marvel, and, contrasting with Laporte, probably had his best game in Sky Blue, while Fernandinho gave a pantheon-level central defensive midfield performance. But the Reds' central midfield wilting enabled this to happen.

The combination of industry and artistry that those two showed - unperturbed by their third musketeer, David Silva, who, while at the races, wasn't a frontrunner - was made starker by the lack of fluidity that faced them. 

Despite their superior position and efficiency, it has not been lost on many that Jurgen Klopp's side have not been as slick in possession as last season this time out. So far, they've made up for it thanks to increased gumption and backbone. But the showing at the Etihad showed the first (or maybe second - think Chelsea away) signs that this could hamper them. 

And, for whatever season, the German still doesn't trust his new guns in the centre, when it matters. Fabinho, who has been one of their best players in recent times following a stunted start, was still consigned to the bench at the Etihad, alongside fellow summer recruit Naby Keita, who's been there for the last 270 minutes. 

The resulting old guard midfield of Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum failed to meet their opponents and both counts - industry and artistry. They were neither unable to cope with Pep Guardiola's press, nor hurry them when the roles were reversed. They were as passive as they've been in a big game this season - a trait you would rarely attribute to a Klopp side.

Naturally, some of the buck must lie with the 51-year-old tactician for the selection and set-up. It's almost like, after spending years as the underdog - even when he was winning - his side's supremacy in both points and form blunted his instincts. He opted to sit back and absorb in that first half, backing his defence to hold true and his forwards to snatch something on the break. 

And, to be fair, it was a matter of inches from potentially panning out that way. But that doesn't mean it wasn't the wrong decision. Because City's early pressure imbued both fans and players alike, setting the tone for an encounter which - in the big moments - they would dominate, despite an inferior possession rate.


In all this time, the game passed Liverpool's midfield by. Andrew Robertson completed more passes in the attacking third than any of them, with Jordan Henderson the only one to pip Trent Alexander-Arnold. None of them completed any crosses. 

Robertson and Dejan Lovren were ahead of them all in ball recoveries, with Virgil van Dijk and Alexander-Arnold doing the same in interceptions. They looked tired and idea-less, and in the end it told.

Shaun Botterill/GettyImages

Now, contrary to those initial sentiments, this game wasn't the be all and end all. It wasn't a final. But four points is a lot less than ten, and that midfield is a lot less imposing than their rivals'. Title wins are built on strength across the park, and Liverpool have appeared to have that this season. 


But, despite an €105m outlay on midfield additions last summer, it still looks like a problem area for them. If anything is going to derail their challenge it will be that. Oh, and their propensity for bottling every title run in the Premier League era. But that's another article entirely. 

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Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
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