LONDON: Manchester City and Liverpool provided a perfect advertisement for the Premier League in a dramatic, end-to-end confrontation between the teams in third and fourth place . . . but the 1-1 draw was even better news for top four rivals Tottenham and Manchester United.
City had been under more pressure than even the need to bounce back after their disappointing Champions League exit against Monaco. They returned home to confront a dangerous series of matches which could undermine even their pursuit of a place in the top four.
First came a Liverpool side able to rest and prepare without midweek hindrance for yesterdaty’s game then Pep Guardiola takes his team to Arsenal and Chelsea as a prelude to pitting his wits against Arsene Wenger again in the FA Cup semi-final.
Roberto Firmino had recovered from injury to start for Liverpool to test a City defence in which Nicolas Otamendi returned after being dropped surprisingly in Monaco and John Stones made his 100th Premier League appearance.
They kicked off knowing that Manchester United had stepped up to within three points of Liverpool and four adrift of City.
Yaya Toure was fortunate to escape a red card for clumping Emre Can in the chest in an end-to-end first half. Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp exchanged words on the touchline but it all ended in a flamboyant high five between the two managers.
City were lucky when Nicolas Otamendi appeared to bring down Sadio Mane but Liverpool were also lucky when James Milner appeared to foul Raheem Sterling from two metres out shortly before half-time. At the other end Willy Caballero saved well from Adam Lallana.
Liverpool made a devastating start to the second half. Can’s through ball caught Gael Clichy out of place and the fullback brought down Firmino for a penalty which Milner converted against his old club. This was Milner’s seventh successful penalty out of seven this season and meant City had failed to keep a clean sheet in all of their last 13 games against Liverpool in all competitions.
City, deservedly, hit back in the 68th minute with Aguero sneaking in on the ‘wrong side’ of Ragnar Klavan to equalise from Kevin De Bruyne’s superb, defence-splitting through pass. Minutes later Aguero played a return pass with Sadio Mane then slipped only for De Bruyne to hit a post.
Lallana missed his kick in front of an open goal after an exchange with Firmino, probably one of the misses of the Premier League season. Then it was Firmino, on the break again, who went close. At the other end Aguero was distracted from shooting on target by Matip.
The draw benefited Tottenham, above, and Manchester United, below, while it also meant Guardiola had been spared what would have been his first experience of losing six league games in a single season as a manager or head coach.
Earlier Tottenham, even without injured Harry Kane so with Heung Min Son deputising at centre-forward, remain second after beating manager Mauricio Pochettino’s old club Southampton by 2-1.
Victory extended Spurs’ club record of successive home league wins to 10 and, importantly for their fans, nine points clear of north London rivals Arsenal.
Manchester United then became the first team to record 600 Premier victories after winning at 3-1 Middlesbrough.
Marouane Fellaini scored his first Premier goal since December 2015 and Antonio Valencia United’ third after ex-United keeper Victor Valdes slipped and missed a clearance kick. FA action will follow scuffles in the tunnel after the match between players of both United and Boro, who had sacked Aitor Karanka in midweek.
Jose Mourinho had no chance to meet Aitor Karanka at Middlesbrough after his old Real Madrid No2 was sacked in midweek.