After Manchester City's absorbing 1-1 draw with Liverpool, Club journalist Rob Pollard has taken a closer look at some of the major talking points.
A pulsating game
A draw wasn’t the result Man City wanted, nor was the solitary point garnered what their performance deserved, but this was a game that will be remembered as one of the finest in the Premier League this season.
It was a fascinating encounter that saw caution put to one side in favour of bold, attacking football.
At the end of the game players were on their knees, so exhausted were they from their exertions. It was a breathless encounter, end-to-end from the moment it began, a wonderful example of what a spectacle football can be when two sides play with reckless abandon and try to outscore their opponent. Quite how only two goals were registered will forever remain a mystery.
Liverpool played their part and deserve huge credit. Jurgen Klopp has fashioned a side high on intensity and unburdened of defensive responsibility. Not many teams come to the Etihad Stadium and play such an open, aggressive style of football and their approach helped make this a classic.
Man City, undeterred by their Champions League exit in midweek, were a joy to behold, lining up with just Yaya Toure as the only defensively-minded member of their front six. Sergio Aguero led the line and demonstrated his razor-sharp instinct when scoring City’s goal, with a rampant Raheem Sterling on one side and Leroy Sane on the other. David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne were asked to the pull the strings from central areas.
One team would attack and then immediately were on the back foot. There were moments of individual quality, plenty of goalscoring chances and some firm tackles from both sides - but the overriding feeling was one of a game played in the right spirit by two sides intent on entertaining.
It was a privilege to witness 90 minutes played with so little regard for the defensive side of the game.
This was perhaps John Stones’ finest display of the season.
His trademark ball-playing qualities were on show – he completed a remarkable 94 per cent of his passes and regularly stepped into midfield to start City attacks – but he also made several vital defensive contributions that were key to securing a point.
His loose pass in the first half saw Sadio Mane run clear and almost score – but it was his only aberration in a game that suggested City have a defender of huge potential. Two crucial blocks and a brilliant sliding tackle on Mane as he raced clear late on means he deserved the huge praise he received from his manager afterwards.
At just 22, he has plenty of time left to develop and his performance against Liverpool suggests he is improving rapidly.
Caballero proving dependable
Another game, another impressive performance from Willy Caballero, whose form since becoming City’s No. 1 has been very good indeed.
In the first half, he closed down Mane as the Senegalese forward raced through on goal, palmed away Firmino’s curling effort and tipped over Adam Lallana’s volley.
And the second half proved a similar story as he was quick off his line to deny Firmino once more.
Since the game against Crystal Palace at the end of January when he was installed as the No.1, he’s played nine games and conceded just eight, with six of those coming against free-scoring Monaco, the most potent attacking side in Europe.
He’s steadily improving and Man City have an increasingly secure feel about them.
Man City in a battle for top four
Pep Guardiola said on Friday the race for top-four places is likely to run until the final day of the season and one look at the Premier League table this morning suggests he is right.
Just nine points separates second from seventh. Tottenham, City, Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal have been battling with one another all season, and now, thanks to a superb run of form, Everton have belatedly joined the party and should be considered a threat.
The prize, of course, is huge. A place in the Champions League is both lucrative and esteemed. City, who face Arsenal and Chelsea immediately after the international break, need to continue playing their best football if they want to be there come the end of the season.