Maybe Sergio Aguero would have scored it. Maybe Phil Foden would have, too. We’ll never know.
Five minutes to go, game tied at 0-0, penalty to Manchester City at Anfield, Sergio Aguero off the field. Up steps Riyad Mahrez. This, one imagines, is what the record signing was bought to do. Define games. Win matches. Those huge moments on which title campaigns turn. That is why City pursued him. That is why Foden was pushed down the pecking order. He’s a kid and everyone knows what City want. Big men, for big occasions.
Experience. The finished article. That is the scale of their ambition.
Riyad Mahrez squandered the chance to end Manchester City’s poor record at Anfield after he missed a late penalty
The Algerian forward turns away after seeing his effort go high above the goal after City were awarded a late spot kick
Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson guesses the right way as he watches Mahrez’s penalty fly over his crossbar late on
Virgil Van Dijk (left) brings down second-half substitute Leroy Sane inside the box to give City a late penalty at Anfield
The Dutch defender argues the decision with Martin Atkinson as Sane is congratulated by his City team-mates
LIVERPOOL: (4-3-3) Alisson 7; Gomez 7, Lovren 8.5, Van Dijk 7, Robertson 7; Henderson 7, Wijnaldum 6.5, Milner 6(Keita 29 6); Mane 6.5, Salah 6, Firmino 5.5 (Sturridge 72 6)
SUBS NOT USED: Mignolet (GK); Fabinho, Shaqiri, Matip, Alexander-Arnold
BOOKINGS: Wijnaldum (90)
MANAGER: Jurgen Klopp 6.5
MAN CITY: (4-3-3) Ederson 6; Walker 7.5, Stones 8, Laporte 7, Mendy 7; Bernardo Silva 7.5, Fernandinho 7, Silva 6.5; Mahrez 5, Aguero 5 (Gabriel Jesus 65 6.5), Sterling 5.5 (Sane 75)
SUBS NOT USED: Muric (GK); Danilo, Kompany, Otamendi, Foden
BOOKINGS: B. Silva (21), Aguero (56), Mendy (63)
MANAGER: Pep Guardiola 7
REFEREE: Martin Atkinson 6.5
MAN OF THE MATCH: John Stones
Manchester City defender John Stones covered large areas of the pitch at Anfield as he put in a man of the match performance to help deny Liverpool of any meaningful chances. For more of Sportsmail’s fantastic MATCH ZONE feature.
There seemed to be some discussion with Gabriel Jesus, who had replaced Aguero after 65 unsuccessful minutes. Jesus looked like a man who was up for it. He’s a Brazilian striker. It’s in his DNA to want to be the hero.
Mahrez, however, was firm. He has taken penalties before, he has scored three times for City this season. He is probably the designated taker if Aguero is unavailable, too, blessed from on high. It was his duty to win this match.
Jesus complied, but it was obvious he didn’t like it. Had he known Mahrez’s record as he walked to the spot — five misses in his last eight penalties — he would have liked it even less.
A penny for his thoughts, then, and for Aguero’s, too, as the ball sailed higher and higher into the night sky. Over the bar from Mahrez’s boot, into the crowd, to the mockery of the locals.
Gabriel Jesus clutches his face after Dejan Lovren (right) appeared to catch him on the face inside the Liverpool penalty area
Guardiola debates an incident with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp (left) as the action continues on the pitch
Virgil Van Dijk makes a last-ditch challenge to deny David Silva a shot at goal after a well-worked move from Guardiola’s side
Fernandinho brings down Sadio Mane which causes the Liverpool attacker to roll awkwardly over his shoulder
Fernandinho puts his hand in Mane’s (centre) face as the two have a coming together during the first-half of action at Anfield
Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson was receiving instructions from the sidelines on where Mahrez was going to put it, but the kick rendered all inside information redundant. A butterfly net on a stick couldn’t have interrupted that trajectory.
As consolation, it cannot even be said that Mahrez’s miss meant justice was done. It was a penalty, no doubt. David Silva played Leroy Sane in and Virgil van Dijk mistimed his tackle and brought him down. Liverpool were staring at their first home defeat by Manchester City since 2003. They got away with it even if, overall, a draw was probably the fair result.
Ultimately, a game that promised so much delivered only disappointment.
Both teams will probably settle for this — although City will know they should have won — but neutrals not so much. They tuned in expecting fireworks and found instead two technically proficient teams, doing what technically proficient teams do.
Sterling (right), who tries to get past Gomez (left), received thunderous boos from the Anfield crowd when he was on the ball
Guardiola has his head in his hands after he felt his side should have had a first-half penalty when Aguero was brought down
James Milner (left) goes up for a challenge with Bernando Silva as Jordan Henderson watches on in the first half
James Milner sits on the ground after going down with an injury before being substituted on the half-hour mark
The Liverpool midfielder is seen to by the club’s medical team before being subbed off for Naby Keita
Liverpool boss Klopp comforts Milner after the midfielder was brought off prematurely with an injury
The defences were, the isolated moment aside, exemplary — with Dejan Lovren outstanding for Liverpool, bar one rash tackle. The midfield worked hard but with scant return in a creative sense. As for the forwards, they were largely anonymous.
It says something about Manchester City’s recent record at Anfield that Aguero has never scored here. He should have had a penalty, but little more, and was withdrawn early as City searched for a breakthrough.
For Liverpool, Roberto Firmino’s race was run on 72 minutes, Sadio Mane struggled to make any impact — as did Daniel Sturridge from the bench — while Mohamed Salah spurned the best chance of the match from open play.
That came with 21 minutes remaining when a long ball from Andrew Robertson was taken delightfully by Salah, allowing him to go wide of his marker but shooting way over.
City had a couple of chances but both fell to Mahrez a minute apart. He missed one and offered up an easy save for Alisson from the other. After so much anticipation, Manchester United’s comeback against Newcastle turned out to be the best entertainment of the weekend. Who would have thought that?
Former Liverpool forward Raheem Sterling takes on Joe Gomez as he looked to help break the deadlock in the first half
Roberto Firmino clutches his leg after being fouled in his own half following a counter attack by Liverpool
It was April 24, 2010, when Manchester City last got to half-time in a Premier League game without mustering a shot at goal, so this was a collector’s item at least.
They were still a work in progress under Roberto Mancini back then — Nigel de Jong in midfield, Roque Santa Cruz on the bench. To see the Pep Guardiola-era City shut out for 45 minutes was a genuinely surprising opening — as surprising as it was to see Liverpool missing their usual attacking energy and Anfield subdued.
It was as if both managers, knowing the danger of their opponents, had set up to resist. Not that the football wasn’t skilled and at times admirably pacy, more that the defences were a match for it. Jurgen Klopp had relegated Trent Alexander-Arnold to the bench, moved Joe Gomez out to full back and thickened the centre with Lovren — which worked perfectly.
Pep Guardiola had clearly instructed Aymeric Laporte to guard Benjamin Mendy’s flank and he moved quickly to extinguish Liverpool counter-attacks. John Stones had a fine game, too. Salah created Liverpool’s only significant chance of the first half, after four minutes, cutting inside on the right but shooting weakly into the side-netting.
Guardiola gives the thumbs up to his squad as he tries to get instructions across during the first half of action at Anfield
Fernandinho chases Mane (right) for the ball as David Silva (left) watches on Liverpool had the quicker start of the two teams
Liverpool’s Egyptian talisman is closed down by Laporte (right) and John Stones (left) during the opening stages of the game
There was a blow for the hosts when James Milner went off after 29 minutes, injured with no City man nearby. He was replaced by Naby Keita, who is athletic but hasn’t yet got the midfield smarts of a Premier League veteran in such a tense fixture.
City’s sole opportunity prior to the break was an error from Gomez, after Lovren had headed out a cross from Mendy. Trying to play the ball upfield, he miskicked and sent it back into the area, towards Aguero. Startled, Lovren appeared to foul him, but referee Martin Atkinson waved play on.
For Liverpool, this is now four games without a win and while all have been difficult — Chelsea, Chelsea, Napoli and Manchester City — they will be disappointed after starting with impressive wins against Tottenham and PSG.
Superstitious Manchester City followers, meanwhile, may be interested to hear of a previous missed penalty in the league between these teams. It came in 1967, by Tony Book. The game ended in a draw and City won the title that season.
Sergio Aguero is chased by Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren after supporters were treated to an electric start by both teams
The two managers hug before the game as Pep Guardiola (left) looks to break his Anfield hoodoo on Sunday afternoon