Manchester City’s breathless draw with Liverpool on Sunday afternoon almost encapsulated their season as a whole; they were comfortably the better side for lengthy periods, but they failed to make their dominance pay and their rivals closed the gap.
Whether this 2-2 draw comes back to bite them at the end of the season remains to be seen, but if they are to surrender what had been a comfortable lead at the top of the Premier League, then they will look back on this fixture as a missed opportunity.
While this had been touted as a potential title decider had either side been able to pick up the three points, Pep Guardiola’s men were utterly dominant in the first half – demonstrating just how and why they had moved out in front as title favourites in the first place.
At times City looked capable of routing Liverpool and making a mockery of the ‘title-decider’ billing with the extraordinary level of their passing, movement and intensity. Their season has generally been about efficiently seeing off opponents with minimum fuss and minimal thrills, but on Sunday they seemed hell-bent on obliterating the competition. In truth, the game could and should have been over before half-time.
Having taken the lead inside five minutes through Kevin De Bruyne’s deflected strike, the hosts exploited the Reds’ ill-advised high line time and time again, but only once did their relentless attacking yield a goal as either the final pass or the finish went astray.
After Liverpool had equalised, John Stones was unable to get onto the end of Rodri’s excellent header across goal, and both De Bruyne and Joao Cancelo dragged efforts wide when they might have done better.
Gabriel Jesus’ wonderful finish to restore the lead should have opened the floodgates, but City would be punished for only taking a one-goal lead into half-time despite their dominance.
Sadio Mane equalised seconds into the second period, and the momentum swung. Suddenly Liverpool had a foothold and were able to stretch to the level of their hosts for the first time.
However, while the Reds were much improved, City still had the better of the chances. Jesus spurned a golden opportunity for his brace after coming inside from the byline and beating Alisson, but his low drive was fired straight at the recovering Virgil van Dijk.
Raheem Sterling thought he had restored the lead, but he mistimed his run and that strike was chalked off for offside. That is how fine the margins are in this title race.
Substitute Riyad Mahrez – who has been so deadly in front of goal this season – was the guilty party in the dying embers as City failed to put the game and the Premier League title beyond their visitors.
Having cannoned a 30-yard free kick off the outside of the post, Mahrez was found by the brilliant De Bruyne in the final minute of added time and looked for all the world like he would run through and find the back of the net.
However, his recent confidence in front of goal eluded him as he checked back and bizarrely opted to attempt to lift the ball over Alisson and a swarm of recovering defenders. It would have been a near-impossible finish, and perhaps inevitably the ball sailed over the crossbar to essentially bring an end to proceedings.
A draw means City maintain their slender one-point lead over Liverpool at the top of the Premier League, but in truth this was a missed opportunity to flex their authority as champions and see of their plucky challengers.
As it is, this is a result that could provide fuel for their rivals as the title race goes down to the wire.