It was honours even in the final Premier League battle between Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp as City and Liverpool played out a 1-1 draw at Anfield.

John Stones finished a clever corner routine by Kevin De Bruyne to give us a first half lead but Alexis Mac Allister’s penalty after the break ensured a point apiece.

The result, which summed up the unyielding rivalry between the Blues and the Reds under Guardiola and Klopp, meant the day ended with Arsenal on top of the table on 64 points after their late victory over Brentford yesterday, Liverpool a place back in second on goal difference and City third on 63 points.

It points to a tight, tense finale to the 2023/24 campaign with City aiming to win the title for a record-breaking fourth consecutive time, Liverpool wanting to give their manager the ultimate send-off and Arsenal looking to exorcise the ghosts of last season and win their first Premier League in 20 years. 

WHAT HAPPENED

All the talk pre-match was about the denouement of the rivalry between Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp in the Premier League.

But for both managers this discourse was the side dish to the main course of the game itself at Anfield.

And neither could quite get the upper hand in an enthralling contest between two fine sides.

We started strongly, dominating all over the pitch and creating early chances.

Kevin De Bruyne drove down the right on two minutes and played a clever, delicate ball into the path of an onrushing Phil Foden. Just as our midfield maestro looked to pull the trigger, in came Virgil van Dijk with a toe to nick it off the 23-year-old’s foot. Then, moments later, the advancing Bernardo Silva nudged the ball to Julian Alvarez, coming inside from his wide left starting point, who blasted a shot straight at Caoimhin Kelleher in the home goal.

De Bruyne, influential as always, tried a cheeky chip over Kelleher on eight minutes after being played in by Alvarez but the ball drifted agonisingly over. The playmaker followed that up in the next foray forward with a stinging, swerving drive which Kelleher did well to parry away.

Liverpool looked to get into the game on 13 minutes as young starlet Conor Bradley twisted and turned down the right channel before sending in a stinging cross that was just too far in front of a sliding Darwin Nunez.

His fellow striker, Luis Diaz had the ball in the net on 19 minutes but, as the Kop erupted, the official’s flag went up with provider Nunez a good two yards offside in the build-up.

Erling Haaland, who had scored 18 goals in 16 appearances away from the Etihad across all competitions this season before this contest, couldn’t quite reach Bernardo’s cross from the left on 23 minutes with van Dijk there to clear the danger.

That frustration for the visitors was short-lived though as, from the resulting corner, we were ahead – and it was a goal no doubt perfected at the training ground.

De Bruyne’s clever outswinging cross, skimmed low near the touchline, took the hosts completely by surprise and up popped John Stones to finish firmly as the away support celebrated.

Haaland v van Dijk may have played second fiddle to Guardiola v Klopp in the build-up but it was firmly in focus on 39 minutes when the former ran at the latter in a 1 v 1, only for our No.9 to come out on top but see a final effort comfortably collected by Kelleher.

The Reds could – and maybe should – have been level on 42 minutes as Diaz somehow wriggled out of challenges by Rodrigo and Kyle Walker but his strike from just outside the box went wide.

Alvarez’s dipping drive from the left channel didn’t dip enough on 44 minutes and then on the stroke of half-time came a fine opportunity to double our lead.

Walker showed his pace and grace to motor down the right wing but his final cross was too strong to play in Haaland and Alvarez who were bursting to make it two.

Despite that frustration, City went in ahead after a strong team display throughout the opening period.

It was a nightmare start to the second half for Guardiola’s men.

Nathan Ake’s backpass to Ederson on 47 minutes was too short with the Brazilian bringing down Nunez and referee Michael Oliver did not hesitate in pointing to the spot.

Our No.31 hurt himself in the late challenge but was up to face Alexis Mac Allister’s spot-kick which just evaded the goalkeeper before flying in.

Ederson failed to recover from the knock, which looked like a dead leg, and had to be replaced by Stefan Ortega Moreno on 56 minutes.

Kelleher did well to come out and deny Foden, the in-form star breaking into the box after being played in by KDB on 58 minutes.

Mo Salah entered the action just past the hour mark along with Andrew Robertson, the pair coming on in place of Dominik Szoboszlai and Conor Bradley as the hosts looked to turn the screw after their earlier equaliser.

It took less than a minute for the Egyptian to show his quality, producing a defence-splitting pass to play in Diaz who somehow fired wide as he bore down on Ortega Moreno’s goal.

Walker was the hero moments later as he got in front of Diaz with the Reds No.7 looking to finish off a Nunez ball into his path.

With Liverpool in the ascendancy at this point, Guardiola looked to regain control of the match on 69 minutes, KDB and Alvarez making way for Mateo Kovacic and Jeremy Doku.

Those changes also brought a tweak in formation, Foden moving to partner Haaland up top and Kovacic joining Rodrigo in shielding the Blues defence.

Fellow sub Ortega Moreno showed his class, getting down to deny Nunez on the penalty spot after a pinpoint cross from the left by Robertson.

The ball cracked against the Liverpool bar on 73 minutes, Kelleher punching Ake’s cross against Foden and then stinging the upright.

Doku came so close to winning it on 89 minutes, charging into the box before striking a shot against the post, the ball ricocheting back into the thankful arms of Kelleher.

The pacey winger was at it again in stoppage time, cutting in before firing a ball into the danger zone, Foden crowded out as he looked to finish.

There were two VAR checks in the final moments, Salah and Mac Allister penalty appeals swiftly denied by officials.

The whistle blew shortly after to signal the end of an absorbing contest.

TEAMS

LIVERPOOL XI: Kelleher, Bradley (Robertson 61’), Quansah, Van Dijk, Gomez, Szoboszlai (Salah 61’), Endo, Mac Allister, Elliott, Nunez (Gakpo 76’), Diaz

Subs: Adrian, Tsimikas, Clark, McConnell, Nallo, Koumas

CITY XI: Ederson (Ortega Moreno 56’), Walker (c), Stones, Akanji, Ake, Rodrigo, De Bruyne (Kovacic 69’), Bernardo, Alvarez (Doku 69’), Foden, Haaland

Subs: Dias, Gomez, Gvardiol, Nunes, Bobb, Lewis 

PLAYER OF THE MATCH: JOHN STONES

Our classy No.5 John Stones scored a wonderfully crafted goal to help City leave Liverpool with a solid point following a finely balanced Anfield contest.

Carlos Vicens should take a bow as the set-piece routine must have been cooked up at the training ground.

It worked wonderfully as Kevin De Bruyne flashed a low drive into the box with Stones there to nudge home.

But it was more than just the goal that helped him stand out.

Stones, as usual, led by example throughout a match that was truly a game of two halves.

City dominated the first while Liverpool were on top in the second but throughout Stones gave his all.

GUARDIOLA REACTION

“It is a game that defined where both clubs have been for many years.

“All of the games have been quite similar.

“We started really well. Before the goal we had chances with huge personality in the first half and after it was difficult because they have [Wataru] Endo and [Alexis] Mac Allister and extra passes and quality to play before they were maybe more direct, without losing how direct they can be in transitions.

“The second half we talked at half time, if you want to defend something you won in the first half you don’t have chance and you have to play and play and play.

“We gave away the penalty and sooner or later in this stadium you have 15 or 20 minutes it’s like a tsunami, they come for everybody, have the ball and everything.

“After when Mateo [Kovacic] came in, we made extra passes and this is the target. With Mateo, John [Stones], Rodri and Phil [Foden] inside we had the quality to keep the ball like we couldn’t before.

“We had our chances they had their chances and at the end of the game it’s what happened.”

STONES REACTION

“We created quite a lot of chances early on in the game and probably could have taken a few better and been two or three up and that’s football.

“We knew what we were coming into here, and the opposition we were playing.

“We feel a bit deflated in the dressing room. We came here to win.

“We got a point out of the game and it’s such a difficult place to come. We know that.

“We gave everything we had out there.”

WHAT IT MEANS

Today’s 1-1 draw means we remain in third in the Premier League table.

Arsenal are top with 64 points, ahead of Liverpool on the same amount of points on goal difference, with City a solitary point further back.

It’s looking like being a very exciting denouement to this 2023/24 campaign.

WHAT’S NEXT

Our focus switches to the FA Cup next weekend as we host Newcastle United.

It’s a quarter-final tie at the Etihad on Saturday 16 March, with a 17:30 (UK) kick-off.

This will be our fourth meeting with the Geordies this season.

Next Fixture

All fixtures

FA Cup

Man City
Manchester City

BST

Man United
Manchester United FC

We beat them on both occasions in the Premier League – a 1-0 win at the Etihad and a comeback 3-2 victory at St James Park.

In between times, we were knocked out of the Carabao Cup courtesy of Alexander Isak’s 53rd-minute goal on Tyneside. 

Victory in this latest encounter would see us a step closer to defending the trophy we won in the first all-Manchester FA Cup final last time out.

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