Premier showdown: High quality but still guessing

SO IT is official, Manchester City and Liverpool are streets ahead of the other 18 teams in the Premier League: intense, skilful, well organised and determined. There’s little between them in what was a classic “game of two halves”. This is just the start of a period that could see the two rivals play each other twice more, starting with the FA Cup semi-final on April 16 at Wembley.

A draw was more suited to City as they are still a point ahead of Liverpool. A defeat would have swung the pendulum towards the Mersey, but a victory would have given City a four-point lead that would have been difficult to retrieve. For the time being, the battle goes on, with each team anxiously watching the other for signs of a slip. At this precise moment, City and Liverpool are operating at full throttle and it is difficult to see who might beat them. However, title races do not always go with the form guide and there will be a setback somewhere, but for whom?

So often, big games disappoint, but both teams were set on gaining an advantage by attacking, rather than opting for a preservative approach. First blood went to City, a deflected shot by Kevin De Bruyne after just five minutes, which suggested that Pep Guardiola was looking to kill Liverpool off early. This was a test for the visitors but they responded well and Diogo Jota slid the ball home after a superb assist by Trent Alexander-Arnold after 14 minutes.

City regained the lead in the 37th minute, Gabriel Jesus, who has become something of a forgotten man at the Etihad, arrived at the far post to finish off a João Cancelo cross. City dominated the first half, but failed to press home their superiority. They were made to pay for it less than a minute into the second period, Sadio Mané marking his 30th birthday with the equaliser. The quality rarely dropped for the remainder of the game.

The result underlined there is little between these two teams, as evidenced by two richly entertaining 2-2 draws this season. They’ve now got seven games remaining, both of them due to face Newcastle, Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers. Of the other four fixtures, Manchester City arguably have an easier time. City are at home to Brighton and Watford and away to Leeds and West Ham. Liverpool have home games against Manchester United, Everton and Tottenham and are away to Southampton.

Both could go all the way in the Champions League, Liverpool have a 3-1 advantage over Benfica from the first leg of the quarter-final, while City holding a narrow 1-0 lead over Atlético Madrid when they travel to the Wanda Metropolitano for the second leg.

Who came out of this riveting contest feeling they had got what they were looking for? Pep Guardiola felt his side missed an opportunity, while Jürgen Klopp, refusing to sound disappointed, gave some hint of the way he felt in believing it was a result Liverpool had to live with.

City should have won as they had more possession (55%-45%) and more shots on goal (11-6). They also had the best player on the pitch in De Bruyne, although Jota was very productive, although his striking partner, Mo Salah, was not at his best for most of the game.

Advantage City? Not really, but they are still in command and Liverpool have to depend on somebody upsetting Guardiola’s men if they are to win their second Premier title. Both will surely end the campaign with more silverware (Liverpool have already had a glimpse), but who wins what is still a mystery. We are no nearer discovering the truth.

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