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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Jamie Jackson at the Etihad Stadium

Tale of two Alisson errors as Manchester City let Liverpool off hook

Alisson in discomfort as he feels his injured right leg
Alisson suffers a late injury amid a challenging afternoon at the Etihad Stadium. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA

This was a tale of two Alisson errors. One presaged Erling Haaland’s opener, the other allowed Rúben Dias a tap-in before – wrongly to this observer – Chris Kavanagh adjudged Manuel Akanji to have illegally challenged Liverpool’s goalkeeper.

The referee chalked the goal off and Alisson escaped. How, who knows? VAR took a look and saw no clear and obvious error. Had the goal stood that would have been 2-0 to Manchester City after 67 minutes and in all likelihood victory and three precious points.

It did not but even then, after Trent Alexander-Arnold’s equaliser, Alisson caused a further scare. Deep in added time, after his backline thwarted a Haaland thrust, the Brazilian hoofed the ball straight to those in sky blue inside the Liverpool half and City might have roved forward and grabbed a winner.

They failed and instead are left to rue how Alexander-Arnold was the visitors’ hero. Until his intervention, City were a class above their title rivals. But, cometh the 80th minute, cometh the Liverpool No 66, whose balletic movement had him padding forward, a radar-like precision steering beyond Ederson just as City believed the spoils were theirs.

Haaland’s opener was an apt emblem of how Liverpool had been schooled on what was a sparkling blue-skied winter afternoon. The finish was as percussive as City’s dizzying pass‑and-move play. Haaland went right foot, left foot, pow, the striker sweetly shuffling the ball into space before beating Alisson, whose howler of a sliced clearance had gone straight to Nathan Aké – the Dutchman’s defence-carving pass into Haaland casting him as a fair impersonator of Toni Kroos.

If Alisson was a central character in the slugfest by default, Jérémy Doku was one for a scintillating show that featured his smart football brain utilised at ridiculous pace. Yet Alexander‑Arnold, a right-back whose defensive attributes can be maligned, stood firm against the Belgian. As Jürgen Klopp said: “His moments with Doku. You could see how difficult it is against him, he is a really good dribbler.”

Alisson on the turf as Erling Haaland races away after scoring
Alisson on the turf as Erling Haaland races away after scoring. Photograph: Jason Cairnduff/Action Images/Reuters

The duel between Doku and Alexander‑Arnold was worth the ticket price alone. The City man breached the right-back more than once in what was a prevailing tactic, though if Alexander-Arnold may prefer the opposition’s half to his own, any diehard premium‑grade defender would struggle against the winger.

“Super-aggressive and unpredictable” had been Klopp’s formula of how to win as he referenced Chelsea’s 4-4 draw with City. That came before the international break but the problem is this: when City drill the ball about and past those trying to “make the final step” it can be exhausting and demoralising.

What can be done to counter it? Spring fast and hope to dull City’s sense of their own invincibility. For instance when, in zephyr-mode, Darwin Núñez blew in behind the home rearguard and should have scored. Instead he dawdled; this and an earlier header were rare Liverpool punches after a rip‑roaring start from the hosts, with Phil Foden, Bernardo Silva and Doku going close to slicing those in red open.

Liverpool’s answer to the blue wave to try a change-up. Nine minutes after half-time Klopp removed Curtis Jones and Diogo Jota for Ryan Gravenberch and Luis Díaz but his side still lived on scraps. Whenever the close-to-silent Mohamed Salah managed a foray into City turf Aké and Doku would squeeze him out.

Alexander-Arnold said: “I don’t think we played particularly well, the first half especially. Subconsciously, when you play Man City you have a lot of respect for them and the way they play. Automatically you think you can’t get close to the players and you stand off them a bit. That seemed to be the problem in the first half and in the second half we definitely put that respect to the side and had to try and get a result, and that’s what we did.”

Just about – via a defiance that led to their goal which acquired Liverpool a point but still kept their Premier League record here poor: to find the last time all three were claimed here you had to flip back eight years and a 4-1 shellacking of Manuel Pellegrini’s vintage in November 2015.

The wisdom before the kick-off was that whoever won would put down an early marker that may prove pivotal to the destiny of the championship. Or maybe not, as this was only game 13. “They are happy, we are less,” was Pep Guardiola’s verdict.

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The City manager spoke after a final whistle touchline contretemps with Núñez – “Nothing happened,” he claimed – and Alisson being left on the grass injured.

Klopp said: “I have no clue where it is coming from [his problem]. I hope it is not that serious but I have no clue.”

Clueless is too strong for Alisson’s turn, but hapless seems fair.

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