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Sergio Agüero pegs back Liverpool to rescue point for Manchester City

The Guardian logo The Guardian 20-03-2017 Daniel Taylor at the Etihad Stadium
Sergio Agüero equalises for Manchester City in their 1-1 draw with Liverpool. © Getty Images Sergio Agüero equalises for Manchester City in their 1-1 draw with Liverpool.

At the final whistle, it was difficult to think of another Premier League match in Pep Guardiola’s first season here that has been filled with so much incident and drama. Between them, Manchester City and Liverpool kept up a long narrative of breathless football. It had just everything: controversy, penalties, non-penalties, near-unremitting attacking and, from Adam Lallana, a miss that might wake him in a cold sweat. Everything, in fact, apart from a winner.

Lallana will certainly not wish to see the replays of the moment late on when Georginio Wijnaldum and Roberto Firmino combined to leave him with a golden chance and, six yards out, he seemed to take his eye off the ball when a second Liverpool goal seemed a near certainty.

The only consolation for Lallana is that Sergio Agüero, scorer of City’s equaliser, missed another clear opportunity at the other end a few minutes later an, at the risk of sounding slightly corny, perhaps it was only fair that the game finished as a draw. Both sides had given everything. They could both reflect on chances to win, and they could both have lost. It was a tremendous battle, full of attacking football, and ultimately the right outcome.

Not that City will see it that way, perhaps, given that James Milner, the scorer of Liverpool’s goal, should really have been sent off for depriving Raheem Sterling a near-certain goal late in the first half. Milner’s foul on Sterling was not seen by the match officials and it was the former City player who opened the scoring five minutes into the second half from the penalty spot.

To dwell too much on all the various penalty appeals would perhaps be unfair on the game as a spectacle but, equally, there is no doubt it formed a considerable part of the narrative and it was a difficult occasion for the match officials

By half-time, there were already four incidents of that nature to sift through. For Liverpool, there was a reasonable argument that Yaya Toure had manhandled Georginio Wijnaldum to the floor and another incident, after 25 minutes, when John Stones’s misplaced pass gave Sadio Mané the chance to take on Nicolas Otamendi. Mané was too quick for City’s centre-half but, drawing back his foot to take aim, clipped Otamendi’s leg and was unable to get a clean connection.

The referee, Michael Oliver, got that one right but Liverpool had an almighty let-off six minutes before the interval when Kevin de Bruyne picked out David Silva’s run through the inside-left channel and the Spaniard sent a low cross the six-yard area to where Raheem Sterling was waiting for a tap-in. The mitigation for Oliver is that everything happened so quickly it was difficult at first to be clear whether Sterling had somehow taken his eye off the ball or if Milner’s sliding challenge had caused the miss. Fernandinho might have made the argument irrelevant if he had been able to turn in the ball at the far post but he was caught by surprise, turning his shot into the side netting, and the video replays confirmed that Milner had indeed connected with Sterling’s boot to prevent the goal.

Of all the controversies, this was the one with the greatest ramifications. Sterling was so close to the goal, with Simon Mignolet stranded, that any reasonable touch would have put the ball over the line. It was a subtle, yet decisive, intervention from Milner and City were entitled to feel aggrieved because Liverpool’s left-back would surely have been sent off had the penalty been awarded and not in a position to take advantage of Gael Clichy’s penalty-box foul on Firmino.

Guardiola’s irritation was not eased by the fact City had another penalty appeal earlier in the first half when Sterling crossed from the right and Agüero could not apply the finishing touch with Ragnar Klavan in close proximity. Agüero felt he had been grabbed from behind but Oliver waved on play and the chance was lost.

Liverpool certainly rode their luck at times but for long spells they also looked the more rounded side in terms of getting the balance right between defence and attack and, having taken the lead,they will be disappointed they could not add a second goal during a 20-minute period when City frequently looked vulnerable. Firmino had their best chance, having run clear into the penalty area from Philippe Coutinho’s pass, and Willy Caballero’s save was vital for the home side salvaging a draw.

After 69 minutes, Fernandinho sprayed a pass out to de Bruyne on the right wing and the Belgian’s delivery into the six-yard was measured beautifully. Agüero had been anticipating the cross and stroked a first-time shot past Mignolet from eight yards. From that point onwards, it was end-to-end football but neither side could score again and Chelsea remain a speck in the distance.

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