MANCHESTER: “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”
The words of Muhammad Ali could not be more apt following another titanic tussle between Manchester City and Liverpool in a fascinating Premier League title race that still remains in the balance.
An enthralling 2-2 draw at the Etihad on Sunday left Pep Guardiola’s men with their one-point advantage at the top intact with just seven games remaining.
With the same dramatic outcome in both this season’s league encounters, it highlighted again how closely matched the rivals are in quality and mindset.
Neither could afford to lose this match, yet this was a game played with astonishing risk and even reckless abandon.
Such was the ferocity from both teams in a fearless and aggressive approach, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp called it a “boxing fight.”
“Both arms down for a second and you get a massive knock,” he said. “You can shake a bit and then the next knock is coming from the other team.”
Guardiola added: “I was watching the punches, we attack, they attack, with our weapons.”
In their 50th Premier League meeting, it was another no-holds barred contest between two of the greatest clubs ever to grace the game.
Their styles and success will define this era like others have done before. It is a battle for the ages — one to stand alongside the most revered and respected rivalries in world, not just English, football.
They have set a high benchmark over the past four seasons by playing to their strengths with a combination of confidence and class. It is a belief in their talent and trust in their methods.
Klopp called them “two heavyweights, chomping at each other” and this was their own “Rumble in the Jungle” or “Thrilla in Manila” — akin to Ali’s epic battles with George Foreman and Joe Frazier.
Guardiola’s side have the finesse and forward play shaped by creative intelligence, with their incisive fast breaks from the back enabling them to pummel the toughest of defenses.
How else could you describe the wonderfully clever Kevin De Bruyne or Joao Cancelo fashioning a raft of chances, from the middle or in spaces out wide, which should have put the game beyond Liverpool in the first half.
De Bruyne’s deflected drive for the opening goal — his sixth in as many games — was canceled out by Diogo Jota’s low effort, before a lofted Gabriel Jesus finish, on his first league start since January, had City in control at the break.
Klopp’s Reds, though, have the fighting spirit and firepower that can devastate opponents in an instant — one-punch specialists capable of delivering a knockout blow.
Within 47 seconds of the second-half restart they demonstrated that as Sadio Mane marked his 30th birthday with the leveller after being assisted by a delicious pass from Mohamed Salah, who came to life after the break.
There was little calm amid the frenzied chaos as Raheem Sterling’s effort was ruled offside by a marginal decision and Riyad Mahrez struck the outside of the post with a curling 30-yard free kick and then chipped over Alisson — and the bar — in injury time.
As galling as it was for the Algerian to err in such a manner, perhaps it was an omen.
In the 2018-19 campaign, Mahrez fired a late penalty over at Anfield in a goalless draw. City ended up winning the title by one point.
“It’s still in our hands,” said full-back Kyle Walker. “They have still got to catch us.”
But manager Guardiola rued the fact his side did not enjoy more reward for their display — and kill off Liverpool’s hopes.
“The seasons, being there all the time (in the Premier League title race], the way we perform, I admire how we think to break the defenses,” he saidd.
“But I have the feeling we missed opportunities to beat them, a feeling that we leave them alive.
“We know that the opponent will fight to the end. We know that one game dropped and we will not be champions.”
It is the same for Liverpool, and Klopp said: “It is a result we have to live with and can live with. Seven games to go for both teams and we will not stop chasing now.”
Full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold hopes City will falter in the tense run-in, although his side have Manchester United, Everton, Newcastle and Spurs to follow in tough tests.
“Every week there is a surprising result in the Premier League,” he said. “We’re just hoping we are not on the end of one and City are. It is seven games, a lot can happen. Hopefully we make it exciting. It might go down to the last day again.”
And May 22 might not be the end of their duel either.
After Champions League quarter-final second-leg ties in midweek — which could yet lead to a final showdown between them in Paris — City and Liverpool will meet at Wembley on Saturday in the FA Cup semifinal.
It means that the Reds still have the chance of an unprecedented quadruple of trophies in one season, while City could claim three.
It is a fight to the finish — and few would be bold enough to predict the outcome.