Liverpool hold slim advantage in title race after thriller vs. Man City

LIVERPOOL, England — Arsenal were the only winners at the end of Liverpool’s titanic tussle with Manchester City at Anfield, but after fighting back to earn a 1-1 draw against the champions, Jurgen Klopp’s team are the ones who really have the advantage in the Premier League title race.

Having scored a late winner to seal a 2-1 win against Brentford at the Emirates on Saturday, Arsenal claimed the top spot in the table and held onto it as two of the best sides of the Premier League era slugged it out for almost 100 minutes on Sunday to end the day with a point apiece.

But while a first glance at the table would suggest that the momentum is now with the Gunners, who are a point clear of Liverpool at the top by ending the day ahead of Pep Guardiola’s team — a side attempting to become the first English squad to win four successive titles — Liverpool will now believe that their destiny is in their own hands.

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Win each of their remaining 10 league games and they will finish ahead of City, no matter how many victories Guardiola’s side rack up between now and the end of the campaign.

And with Arsenal having to travel to City in their next game, before negotiating perennially tough away fixtures at Tottenham and Manchester United during the run-in, the odds would seem to favour Liverpool as they attempt to tie a bow on Klopp’s reign as manager by seeing him off with the title.

Arsenal will need to banish all those doubts about their ability to hold their nerve in the final weeks of the season as Mikel Arteta’s players have buckled under the strain while chasing the title and a top-four finish in each of the past two seasons. However, Liverpool have now played Arsenal and City twice, so their path is clear and City will know that Klopp’s side now have the ability to win 10 in a row.

Which is why Alexis Mac Allister’s second-half equaliser from the penalty spot could turn out to be so important. Had the Argentina international not hauled Liverpool level and had City gone on to win, there would have been a sense of inevitability about City going top and then doing what they always do by crushing all opponents in the weeks ahead to surge to another title.

But Liverpool fought back with a second-half performance of incredible spirit and desire to maintain their slender one-point lead over Guardiola’s side. Had VAR asked referee Michael Oliver to review a penalty incident nine minutes into stoppage time, when Jérémy Doku appeared to catch Mac Allister with a foot in the chest in the 18-yard box, the home side could have won and moved four points clear, but Doku got away with it.

“It was 100 percent penalty,” Klopp said. “They [officials] will find an explanation. It was 100 percent foul in all areas of the pitch and probably a yellow card. All the people with iPads around me were, ‘Wow, clear.’ Maybe they can hide behind the phrase it is not clear and obvious.

“It is of course a penalty but we didn’t get it and that is fine. The most important thing for me is that we can play football like that. I saw so many sensational performances today.”

Klopp’s assessment of his players pointed to the real reason his side emerged with a point. Unable to name Mohamed Salah or Andy Robertson in his starting team because of fitness concerns — both were introduced on the hour — Klopp had to rely on youngsters Jarell Quansah and Conor Bradley at the back and the 20-year-old Harvey Elliott in midfield, but each of them, and unheralded players such as Wataru Endo, Joe Gomez and Luis Díaz, gave immense performances.

City started like the slick machine they have become under Guardiola and their outstanding performer, John Stones, put them ahead by scoring from Kevin De Bruyne’s 23rd-minute corner. City would go on to hit the crossbar and the post, but Liverpool’s second-half display overpowered Guardiola’s side and they ended up outdoing City by 19 shots to 10 to underline their dominance. It was a dominance that led to Guardiola substituting an unhappy De Bruyne for Mateo Kovacic on 68 minutes.

“We needed a player who keeps the ball,” Guardiola said, which led to the Belgium midfielder disputing the decision with the manager and coaching staff on the touchline. Liverpool had knocked City off their stride, made life uncomfortable for the champions and left them holding on for a point at the end.

“After we gave away the penalty, we suffered,” Guardiola said. “We had our moments, they had theirs. We take that point.”

Guardiola’s expression hinted at a different reality, though — that he knew how damaging it could yet be for his side in failing to emerge with all three points. Liverpool are a formidable rival and, if they defeat Brighton at Anfield on March 31 — 2½ hours before City host Arsenal — they will move to the top of the table and only an Arsenal win at the Etihad will dislodge them.

That’s the problem for City. If Liverpool keep winning, they can’t catch them, and that is why Klopp and his players now hold the advantage in a pulsating title race.

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