LIVERPOOL, United Kingdom, Oct 7 – Manchester City’s record signing Riyad Mahrez blazed an 86th-minute penalty over the bar to preserve Liverpool’s unbeaten Premier League record as both sides failed to lay down an early marker in the title race with a disappointing 0-0 draw at Anfield.
City remain top of the table on goal difference, but both teams are now locked with Chelsea, who were 3-0 winners earlier at Southampton, on 20 points from eight games.
Unlike the four enthralling encounters between the two last season when Liverpool beat the English champions three times, a highly-anticipated clash fell flat with neither side managing to register a shot on target until after the hour mark.
City had the golden chance four minutes from time when substitute Leroy Sane was upended by Virgil van Dijk and referee Martin Atkinson pointed to the spot after waving away two earlier strong appeals from the visitors for a penalty.
With Sergio Aguero replaced on the hour mark, Mahrez, a £60-million signing from Leicester in July, took responsibility but fired high over the bar to Liverpool’s relief as City’s wait for a first win at Anfield since 2003 continued.
After starting the season with seven straight wins, though, Liverpool have now failed to win in any of their last four matches as the upcoming international break comes at the right time for Jurgen Klopp’s men.
Pep Guardiola had lost on all three of his previous visits to Anfield as City manager and the champions looked unnerved from their recent experiences early on.
– Goal-shy Salah –
Ahead of the game, Klopp tried to play down Mohamed Salah’s slump in form after an incredible 44-goal debut season at Anfield.
But the Egyptian again looked far from his best and snatched at the sort of chances he buried last season.
Salah had the first opening after just three minutes when he pulled his shot wide after jinking inside John Stones.
That was as clear a chance as there was before half-time as both teams’ exertions during Champions League games in midweek seemed to take their toll in a first 45 minutes lacking the intensity of their meetings from last term.
Klopp made just two changes from a 1-0 defeat by Napoli on Wednesday, with Dejan Lovren making a surprise return in central defence and Joe Gomez moving to right-back at the expense of Trent Alexander-Arnold.
But the decision to recall the Croatian could have backfired when Lovren was lucky to avoid conceding a penalty for bringing down Aguero inside the area.
City quickly neutralised Liverpool’s threat by keeping possession for long periods without forcing Alisson Becker into a save before the break.
The second half followed the same pattern as Liverpool’s initial burst fizzled out and City took control.
Guardiola was furious as another penalty shout was turned down when Van Dijk was instead awarded a free-kick for a pull by Fernandinho as the Dutch defender handled inside the area.
A rare incisive Liverpool counter-attack found Salah again in a good position 21 minutes from time, but he blazed high over the bar.
Mahrez tested Alisson with a near-post shot that the Brazilian turned behind, but his real chance to make himself a City hero came when the pace of Sane was too much for the normally flawless Van Dijk and this time a penalty was given.
A message appeared to come from the City bench for Mahrez to take the spot-kick instead of Gabriel Jesus.
But that proved costly as the pressure got to Mahrez and City had to settle for a point.