Man City draw exposes Liverpool gap that threatens to spoil Jurgen Klopp’s title bid again
Liverpool v Man City: Match in pictures
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Liverpool were good value in the end for a point as Sunday’s entertaining title thriller with Manchester City ended in a 2-2 draw at Anfield. But they were more than a touch fortunate to be in that position after being dominated in the first half.
For all their dominance, City’s lack of a true number nine almost proved fatal to their hopes of leaving Merseyside with anything after the Reds second half show.
But regardless, the way that City ran riot time and time again down Liverpool’s right-hand side in the absence of Trent Alexander-Arnold exposed the Reds’ lack of quality depth in that spot – and will have had alarm bells ringing at Anfield.
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James Milner is an adequate squad player, but the veteran, who has so often defied his age in a Liverpool shirt, was made to look every one of his 35 years by the exquisite Phil Foden.
Milner was repeatedly tormented on a tumultuous afternoon which eventually saw him subbed off before he was sent off against the Manchester City magician, who took full advantage of the Reds’ glaring weakness on that side of the pitch.
With Foden in such irresistible form, it would be foolish to assume Alexander-Arnold’s presence would have completely halted the City star.
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But as Gary Neville pondered after the match, it would have been an entirely different prospect for both sides on that flank had he played.
“It would have been brilliant to see Trent Alexander-Arnold on that right-hand side against Phil Foden, wouldn’t it?” said Neville.
“He would have been flying forward and to see what Foden would have done defensively and then the other way Trent would have come under real pressure.
“It wasn’t to be and as the game played on, you always knew he [Foden] was the route back into the game.”
As Neville outlined, the real issue is that Alexander-Arnold’s absence is a double whammy for Klopp because he is such a key attacking element in the way that Liverpool play.
The 22-year-old right-back is joint-second for the most key passes (23) in the entire Premier League.
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When it comes to replacing his dynamism on the right flank, Liverpool come up empty-handed. There is no like-for-like stand-in for the Reds academy graduate – unlike Kostas Tsimikas, who has proven himself a capable understudy to the equally vital Andrew Robertson this season.
Perhaps that’s understandable. When fit, Alexander-Arnold is going to start, so it can be a bit of a hard sell to try and entice someone to come in at Anfield in that spot.
But Sunday’s game has highlighted the need to tackle that issue head-on – even if Alexander-Arnold could be back after the international break.
A freak injury crisis in defence ended up ultimately costing Liverpool their Premier League crown last season, as they managed to limp to a top-four finish.
But even with Virgil van Dijk back, a prolonged absence for Alexander-Arnold could see history repeat itself again this year.
Although van Dijk has a massive impact on Liverpool, Alexander-Arnold’s importance to Klopp’s side at both ends of the pitch means he’d arguably be a bigger loss where he to be missing a sustained spell.
“We have three or more options for the position,” was Klopp’s defiant message ahead of the City game.
You’d argue that Milner is probably the most consistent of the lot – and he wasn’t up to the task when it mattered. The pressure is on Klopp and Liverpool to find someone who is.
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