Football Features

“A sad ode to Riyad Mahrez” – Winners and Losers as De Bruyne’s miss lets Liverpool off the hook in 1-1 Man City draw

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 18:58, 8 November 2020

In a game of two halves, Manchester City and Liverpool played out a 1-1 draw.

The first period was a pulsating contest full of end-to-end action as both sides went for it. As the rain kept falling, the second-half was much less exciting as the sides visibly tired and injuries disrupted things. Who were the winners and losers?

Winner: Gabriel Jesus

Gabriel Jesus has always been a perfect match for Pep Guardiola’s style of football, yet he has never had a guaranteed spot in the City XI because Sergio Aguero has been so lethal (and to be fair to him, so adaptable to Guardiola’s philosophies) that the Brazilian is often on the bench. But today, with Aguero injured, he got his chance in a big game.

And he took it.

Jesus has proven that whilst he may not yet be the kind of goal-churning machine that Aguero is, he is every inch the Argentine’s equal when it comes to these blockbuster clashes. Jesus’ goal, a sublime touch, turn and toe-poke finish to tear a hole in the Liverpool back-line and draw his side level was the most magical bit of football during a game full of open attacking play.

Jesus’ performance was a statement. It was the Brazilian demanding the respect and the attention of everyone, especially the Brazilian national team coach Tite – who now has a decision to make given Roberto Firmino’s struggles.

Loser: Kevin De Bruyne

It’s rare that Kevin De Bruyne does something bad in games. The Belgian is a genuine world-class talent and the finest player in the Premier League. And even today against Liverpool he was so good. His passing was crisp and the positioning caused no end of havoc for a depleted Reds midfield who never even came close to getting a grip on him.

It was De Bruyne’s lovely sharp pass into Gabriel Jesus that enabled the Brazilian’s wondergoal, too. This really should have been a game for De Bruyne to stamp his name on, but he blew that chance when he screwed his penalty wide of the target. It was a sad ode to Riyad Mahrez, who was the last person to miss the target with a penalty in the Premier League, amusingly enough in this very fixture two years ago.

City were on-top at the back-end of the first-half when the Belgian stepped up to shoot, and whilst he did wrongfoot Alisson he pulled it too wide. He then spent the rest of the game looking underpar, and a tough tackle that left him hobbling definitely limited his ability to truly influence the game. All in all, not the Belgian’s finest evening out despite the quality play at the start.

Winner: Alisson

No Virgil van Dijk, no Fabinho, yet Liverpool still managed to put up a solid defensive front against multiple waves of Manchester City attack because their goalkeeper is such a calming presence. Like a lavender-scented candle, Alisson radiates warmth and serenity whenever he plays. Nothing he does looks rushed or hurried, even if it is.

Alright he was undone by a genius goal from Gabriel Jesus, but beyond that he saved so much. His presence is so imposing to opponents that Kevin de Bruyne screwed his penalty wide because he was trying to put it in the most perfect position because that’s the only way to get it past Alisson. But the true extent of his influence was most keenly felt at the end of the game when City’s last few attacks were reduced to nothing as Alisson stepped off his goal-line to collect crosses and clear balls in behind his defence.

Loser: Kyle Walker

Fresh from his match-winning heroics against his old club Sheffield United, Walker was the villain at the Etihad as his needless lunge on Sadio ManΓ© conceded a penalty. It was such a rash decision from Walker and the way he threw his arms up afterwards almost looked as though he was remonstrating with himself that he had been that foolish.

Walker was an elite full-back when he signed for City but he has since declined. Not massively, but he no longer represents the top-class defensive presence that he was in 2017, and he was never fantastic in attack to begin with and his contribution there has cooled to.

“He’s a car crash,” said Roy Keane during his punditry. And whilst that may be a bit harsh, Walker never does fill you with the kind of security that he used to when put in defensive situations.

Winner: Leicester

This weekend of Premier League action has seen the league lead change hands more than once. Earlier today Spurs took the lead, then Leicester took it from them when they beat Wolves. They would have feared losing that lead to the Reds, of course, and had Liverpool beaten City then they would have indeed gone top of the league again.

But they didn’t. The Reds tailing off the way they did allowed Brendan Rodgers’ Foxes to remain at the summit of the league for the first time in 2020 and they will stay there all through the international break. It’s a reminder that Leicester are a team to be taken seriously.

Loser: Roberto Firmino

Liverpool’s decision to unleash all four of their fabulous forwards allowed them to have a fast start as they overwhelmed Manchester City, but it didn’t take too long for City to get to grips with it in part because it wasn’t really all four forwards being unleashed. It was three forwards and one guy just nowhere near his peak performance.

Roberto Firmino has not been playing at his usual level for pretty much the entire season, so much so that when Liverpool dropped him against Atalanta they produced their best performance of perhaps the entire calendar year 2020. Still, the Brazilian forward was given a reprieve and another chance to start and just failed to do anything.

The game ended for Firmino before the hour mark, as Jurgen Klopp pulled him off after 58 minutes. He left the pitch having failed to record a shot on target or create a chance for a team-mate. It’s the third time this season that he’s failed to do both in the same game, and serious questions now need to be asked: what exactly is wrong with Roberto Firmino?