Liverpool and Man City get Cs as Premier League title clash fails to catch light

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Riyad Mahrez missed an 85th-minute penalty as the Premier League’s top two, Manchester City and Liverpool, drew 0-0 at Anfield.

The visitors had three previous claims for a spot-kick before Netherlands defender Virgil van Dijk’s challenge on substitute Leroy Sane eventually resulted in one, but £60 million summer signing Mahrez blazed over.

It resulted in the first goalless draw between these two at Anfield since 1986 – and also City’s first clean sheet at the ground since then. But Reds boss Jurgen Klopp will be celebrating Monday’s third anniversary at the club as the happier manager.

The point allowed City to regain top spot from Chelsea, who had briefly taken over after their win over Southampton earlier in the day, but their opponents dropped to third.

However, the top three are all on 20 points and separated by goal difference only.

30 SECOND-REPORT

A top-of-the-table clash between the Premier League’s most-exciting sides offered so much – and delivered so little.

Despite the fevered pre-match billing, there was no shot on target until 62 minutes and no 2018/19 Premier League first half had fewer shots (three).

The drama was saved for the final throes. Serene centre-back Van Dijk’s uncharacteristic lunge on substitute Leroy Sane threatened disaster, prior to Mahrez’s disastrous effort in the absence of Argentina hot shot Sergio Aguero.

THE GOOD

The case for the defence – It is easy to deride this contest as instantly forgettable.

But this viewpoint does a disservice to the defenders, and defensive systems, on show. To shut-out such weight of attacking talent augurs well for both sides’ hopes in the Champions League.

The bigger picture – Sunday’s big winners were to be found more than 200 miles south.

Chelsea’s imposing 3-0 victory at Southampton, allied with this sterile stalemate, made it a three-way tie at the top after eight matches. Few predicted Maurizio Sarri’s work would be conducted with such haste.

THE BAD

So much attacking talent, so little excitement – The Silvas, Aguero, Raheem Stertling and Mahrez v Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.

These are attacks to strike fear into any opponent. That they misfired so badly cannot just be down to improved defensive displays.

When such tight margins exit, the quality of Kevin De Bruyne’s set pieces offers a profitable solution. His imminent return from injury will be welcomed.

Referee gives Reds a helping hand – Neither side deserved to emerge with three points from this dull contest.

But for the hosts, their share of spoils owed much to the actions of referee Martin Atkinson. The champions could rightly feel aggrieved when recalled Croatia centre-back Dejan Lovren’s kick through Aguero went unpunished, plus a Van Dijk handball under pressure from Brazil anchor man Fernandinho.

Although judged by Mahrez’s horrific late spot-kick, it wouldn’t have mattered.

TACTICAL TURNING POINT

Pep puts the handbrake on – The defensive acumen of Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola often goes without comment.

Sunday’s showdown saw conservatism reign. Klopp’s decision to ditch adventurous right-back Trent Alexander Arnold in favour of England team-mate Joe Gomez highlighted his measured approach.

In such tight margins, the German may bemoan the summer call not to push through a move for France maestro Nabil Fekir – City’s Champions League-tormentor in September.

After emphatically losing his last three matches against the Reds, Guardiola visibly put the reins on. Les Bleus left-back Benjamin Mendy’s muted contribution was symbolic of this approach.

At Wolverhampton Wanderers last month, he pumped in nine crosses. This time, it was just three.

VERDICTS

LIVERPOOL: C

Relief will be the overriding emotion after Mahrez’s ballooned penalty-kick threatened Stanley Park, rather than Alisson’s goal.

Worries will again be reserved for Egypt forward Mohamed Salah. It’s now four games without registering for last term’s 44-goal superstar.

The epic, high-octane victories over City will not be repeated again until the ‘Egyptian King’ looks befitting of his crown.

MAN CITY: C

A point away at Anfield is nothing to sniff at, especially when 2017/18 featured a pair of emphatic defeats.

The on-field call to allow Mahrez to step up from 12 yards, rather than Gabriel Jesus, seems silly in hindsight. Plus, he’s now wasted five of his last eight penalties.

Fine margins threaten to define a title race which looks far tighter than last term’s record-breaking march to success. Will this decision hurt City come May?

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Chelsea coach Maurizio Sarri backs Ross Barkley to become key player for England

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On target: Ross Barkley

Maurizio Sarri has backed Ross Barkley to become an integral part of the England squad after he starred in Chelsea’s 3-0 success at Southampton.

Midfielder Barkley celebrated his recall to the national team at St Mary’s by setting up Eden Hazard’s opener and then scoring his first Blues goal.

Barkley and in-form team-mate Hazard were the standout performers on the south coast and the latter laid on a stoppage-time third for substitute Alvaro Morata.

The former Everton player was left out of Gareth Southgate’s World Cup squad in the summer following a series of injury issues and won the last of his 22 caps in May 2016.

Head coach Sarri has been impressed with Barkley’s desire to make up for lost time and tipped him for a bright future heading into the international break.

“Today he has played really well. I am really happy with him because from the beginning he has improved, day by day, week by week, match by match,” said the Italian.

“I am very happy for him, for the goal, for the national team.

“He had a very serious injury in the last season, now he’s improving every day but I think the best will come for him.

“Potentially, he is a great player because he has quality, very important qualities from the physical point of view, from the technical point of view, now he’s improving from the tactical point of view.

“I think he will become very important in England and for the England national team.”

Sarri, who replaced compatriot Antonio Conte at Stamford Bridge in the summer, saw his unbeaten start continue on Sunday as Chelsea remain among the Premier League pace-setters.

The division’s top-scorer Hazard slotted in his seventh league strike of the season with half an hour played after Barkley dispossessed Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and slipped him through.

Barkley then tapped home after Olivier Giroud directed a Willian free-kick back across goal, before Spaniard Morata finished a flowing passing move after being played in by Hazard.

Sarri felt the final goal was the best of his short tenure and epitomised the slick style of play he is trying to implement.

“Something like this, we moved the ball very quick, I think one touch, at the maximum two touches, and then we arrived at the goal so easy,” he said. “I think it’s my football.”

Asked if it was the finest goal scored since he arrived in England, he added: “Sure, of course, because I can see my way of football in this situation.”

Defeat for Southampton continued their miserable recent run in front of their own fans.

Saints have won just one of their last 15 league games at home, meaning Chelsea and Leicester have each won more matches at St Mary’s in that time.

Striker Danny Ings missed a glorious chance to open the scoring for the hosts, while Nathan Redmond rattled the crossbar at 2-0.

Saints manager Mark Hughes admitted his team struggled to impose themselves on the game.

“(It was a) difficult afternoon for us, we didn’t start with the intensity we talked about,” said Hughes.

“We were too passive, allowed them to get comfortable possession too often in our own half.

“We were able to create a good chance with Danny – clearly if we score first then it may well have been a different type of game for us.

“Credit to Chelsea, I thought they were excellent on the day, they look very strong, very assured in possession.

“With the talent they’ve got at the top end of the pitch, it’s difficult to contain them for 90 minutes.”

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Eden Hazard continues impressive form in Chelsea win against Southampton

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Eden Hazard continued his sensational start to the season as unbeaten Chelsea inflicted more St Mary’s misery on Southampton.

The Premier League’s top-scorer coolly converted his seventh strike of the campaign with half an hour played to put the Blues on course for a deserved 3-0 success on the south coast.

Ross Barkley poked home to double the advantage following Willian’s second-half free-kick, before Hazard laid on a stoppage-time third for substitute Alvaro Morata.

Victory keeps Maurizio Sarri’s men among the pace-setters, while defeat for Southampton leaves them with just one home league win since last November.

Saints were second best for the majority of Sunday’s clash, although Danny Ings squandered an excellent opportunity to fire his side ahead and Nathan Redmond struck the crossbar late on.

Despite avoiding a competitive defeat since Italian Sarri replaced compatriot Antonio Conte during the summer, the Blues have wobbled slightly in recent weeks.

They dropped two points in the London derby with West Ham a fortnight ago, conceded a late equaliser against title rivals Liverpool last weekend, and laboured past Hungarian champions Vidi on Thursday.

After making multiple changes for that Europa League clash, Sarri reverted back to the team held by Jurgen Klopp’s Reds, albeit replacing Mateo Kovacic with England midfielder Barkley.

Chelsea began in confident fashion and almost went ahead in fortuitous fashion when Willian’s shot deflected off Wesley Hoedt and looped on to the top of the bar.

Southampton’s home support has been starved of recent success, witnessing just four league wins from the previous 27 games at St Mary’s.

The hosts were pinned back for much of the first half, although Manolo Gabbiadini forced Chelsea’s £71.6million goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga to get his gloves dirty with a curling effort from range.

Saints striker Ings, who has hit four goals since his summer switch from Liverpool, then somehow directed a close-range volley high over the bar following fine build-up play between Redmond and Ryan Bertrand.

Chelsea, unfamiliar in a light blue strip paired with fluorescent orange socks, were denied a penalty when Olivier Giroud went down under a challenge from Dutch defender Hoedt, before edging ahead minutes later.

Saints midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg was caught dawdling on the ball by the recalled Barkley and he slipped through Hazard to emphatically slot past Alex McCarthy.

The home side started the second period in the ascendancy but were again wasteful in front of goal.

Unmarked former Chelsea defender Bertrand volleyed over at the back post from Hojbjerg’s cross, while Ings directed an effort straight at Kepa.

The visitors took advantage of the profligacy, doubling the advantage with 57 minutes played after Hazard was tripped by Ings.

Willian delivered the resultant free-kick deep into the area and Giroud – on his 200th Premier League appearance – acrobatically fired across goal for Barkley to tap in his first goal for the west London club.

Saints winger Redmond threatened to set up a nervy finish when he rattled the woodwork, while Blues striker Morata would have added a third but for a smart stop from McCarthy.

The Spaniard was not to be denied a goal though and coolly lifted Hazard’s pass over McCarthy in stoppage time following a prolonged period of possession to seal his side’s sixth league victory of the season.

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