LONDON: Liverpool have slipped off the top of the Premier League table, deposed by the combined efforts of champions Manchester City and their own neighbours Everton.
A goalless draw in the Merseyside derby left Jurgen Klopp’s men one point behind the champions instead of one point ahead, as they began the weekend.
Both City and Liverpool are home against modest opposition next weekend in Watford and Burnley respectively before they direct their attention to German opposition in the shape of Schalke and FC Bayern in the Champions League. Liverpool emerged from the weekend disappointed at dropping points but City may have been the more wounded by the latest injury to Kevin de Bruyne.
The old rivals entered their 200th league meeting with Everton not having beaten Liverpool in 18 matches. That run that stretched back to October 2010, when goals from Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta gave Everton a 2:0 victory. Jurgen Klopp’s personal unbeaten run against the city neighbours stood at seven games.
Klopp decided to leave barely-fit Roberto Firmino only on the substitutes’ bench and thus Liverpool’s attack was led by Divock Origi. The Belgian had scored the late winner in the earlier meeting at Anfield and impressed in the five-goal midweek thrashing of Watford.
Both clubs were under pressure: Liverpool to regain top spot in the table from Manchester City and maintain their pursuit of a first league title in 29 years and Everton to shore up the fading reputations of manager Marco Silva and director of football Marcel Brands.
Mo Salah should have put Liverpool ahead on the halfhour alone in front of Jordan Pickford but the England keeper, at fault last December, denied the Egyptian what would been his 18th goal in the league and 21st in all competitions. Salah then set up Gini Wijnaldum but Morgan Schneiderlin scrambled the ball out for a corner.
Everton managed just one breakaway in which Theo Walcott shot high and wide. It had been mostly all Liverpool albeit not Liverpool at their best.
Everton grew more confident after half-time and replaced Walcott with Richarlison. Salah let another chance escape before Liverpool responded by bringing on Firmino for Origi. Almost immediately Salah and Firmino combined in typical style only for Sadio Mane to head back across the goal area rather than at the goal itself.
Virgil van Dijk charged forward to join in the attack and provide an assist for Fabinho only for the Brazilian to hesitate and allow Lucas Digne to clear. The Dutchman was then back in defence just in time to deny Bernard a sight on goal.
Just over 24 hours earlier Manchester City lost Kevin de Bruyne to injury yet again in a fifth straight league victory earned by a 1:0 win at Bournemouth. The Belgium midfielder has been dogged by fitness problems this season and pulled up shortly before half-time with a hamstring injury.
Ironically, his replacement Riyad Mahrez proved City’s saviour. His low drive surprised goalkeeper Artur Boruc in the 55th minute. It was the club-record signing’s first goal in the league in almost three months.
Boruc made amends for his mistake to deny the Algerian in the closing minutes, just after Sergio Aguero hit the bar. City were far below their best but were still well worth the three points: they had 23 shots at goal to their opponents’ none.
Manager Pep Guardiola rated his team’s display highly. He said: “We played incredible, one of the best performances we’ve ever played.
“It’s not the best game because when the opponents have 11 players in the penalty box it’s hard. But we didn’t concede one shot on target, our players are so committed to defending set-pieces and corners – and how they run back every time we lose the ball! We always had three or four players fighting to win it back. That is why the players deserve all my admiration and my respect. The way they help each other, the way they play, it is incredible.”
Guardiola’s words illustrated exactly how important he considers the team’s spirit and confidence as the League Cup winners move forward in pursuit of further success in Europe, in the Premier League and in the FA Cup. But they will have to do so without De Bruyne who, according to Guardiola, “will be out for some time.”