Liverpool’s failure to see out victory over Arsenal shows a fragility that Manchester City simply don’t have
Liverpool’s record against the rest of the top six is more than respectable, but the problem for Jurgen Klopp is that Manchester's City’s is currently at an exceptional level that will leave few chances for their rivals
“The one time we don’t close the half-space, they score,” the German said, and maybe said more than he intended.
Liverpool, in other words, had one momentary lapse and it cost them.
This doesn’t just describe the game, however, but may describe the title race. That is what Manchester City have made it.
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All of the evidence from the champions’ quality, from Pep Guardiola’s career, from their potential, indicates that they are again likely to post over 90 points – and probably closer to 100. If that’s the case, it means any slip like this – no matter where it is, and who you’re playing – is costly. It will naturally temper any positives from what is a good result, as well as Liverpool’s away record against the big six.
Five points from matches at Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Arsenal is after all a highly respectable return, not least for the fact Liverpool are unbeaten, with good performances to match.
It’s just that, from their own three big-six away games – against Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal – City have two more points.
That is also the exact size of the gap that will open up for the first time if Guardiola’s side do as expected and beat Southampton at home on Sunday.
And as miserly as it might feel to dwell on that after a creditable draw in a generally positive season, it is something that is just impossible to escape from, especially in a season when all the excitement around Liverpool is that they will finally fully challenge.
City’s relentlessness bears down on everything.
It’s also impossible to escape the feeling that this draw – rather than the win it might have been – partly came because the Liverpool team isn’t quite at 100 per cent yet either. Klopp does have bodies missing in midfield, which has caused an issue there, and is one reason why Fabinho got overrun. He has effectively played in two different roles in the last two games, and this for a player still adjusting to the team and the league. There is still meanwhile the sense that the previously scorching attack isn’t yet anywhere close to fully firing.
There’s just a flatness to them, and they’re still playing in individual bursts rather than the collective storms they were capable of last season.
On Saturday, Arsenal set the intensity and pace that Liverpool did last season.
It is actually an irony – if similarly a sign of evolution – that last season’s problem area of the defence is now the best-working, the most functional. The rest of the team will undoubtedly develop, but the fear is that City could genuinely be so far in front.
It is why, although there was no winner on the pitch at the Emirates, there might have been a winner off it. They play Southampton on Sunday.