Virgil van Dijk believes Manchester City have developed a new respect for Liverpool but insists it will be games against teams outside the top six which will be pivotal to the Reds’ Premier League title challenge.
City boss Pep Guardiola reined in their attacking intent during Sunday’s goalless draw at Anfield with a first-half performance in particular which was the most restrained of any since his arrival in England.
The Catalan, who experienced three chastening defeats to Liverpool last season in the Premier League and Champions League quarter-finals, was wary of being exposed by Jurgen Klopp’s side and, as a result, the match was not much of a spectacle.
While Van Dijk said it showed how much of a threat the Reds posed to the defending champions, he felt greater consistency over the course of the season would be the key to a title challenge.
“Obviously they were a bit cautious of the way we played and I think we have earned that respect,” said the Holland captain.
“We made it difficult for them and they made it difficult for us at times but that’s how it is.
“But I think it is not about these games, it is all about the other games, the difficult games which we have against mid-table and lower teams.
“We want to get as close as possible and do as well as we can but we know it is going to be hard.
“We’ve had a great start to the season and we want to keep it going.”
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Disappointed not to get the win today but the boys gave everything! We must keep positive though having earned a hard fought point and a clean sheet against one of our rivals 👍🏾 Also sorry for giving the penalty away but glad it didn’t cost us 😬👀 Looking forward to joining up with the national team now before we go again in the @premierleague #YNWA
The usually unflappable Van Dijk was at fault for the one real incident when he lunged in on City substitute Leroy Sane and conceded a penalty, which Riyad Mahrez proceeded to blaze over the crossbar.
It did mean, however, Liverpool extended their run of not conceding a home league goal to 841 minutes stretching back to February 24 and Michail Antonio’s consolation for West Ham.
“I think to keep a clean sheet after a penalty in the last five minutes makes me a very happy man,” added the Dutchman.
“It was not smart from me personally and hopefully it will never happen again.
“Eighty-five minutes, you obviously get a bit fatigued, and that moment goes by in a split second and I decided to dive in, which is not what I would normally do.
“It was a decision I made and hopefully it will be the last time I make that decision at that time.
“We aim to improve every game and we want to win every game.
“After the international break there are three important games against Huddersfield, Red Star and Cardiff so we want to be ready for that.”
The full-back, who turned 20 on Sunday, lost by checkmate to Carlsen in a match in Manchester which lasted five minutes and involved 17 moves.
Alexander-Arnold, who played in the match organised by the Kaspersky Lab and World Chess to promote the forthcoming World Chess Championship, said he was “proud” of his performance and hopes to inspire more young people to take up the game.
He added: “This whole experience has been an eye-opener, not only into just how much goes into becoming great at the game but also seeing the similarities between it and the sport I love, football.
“Football and chess can seem like polar sporting opposites, but there are so many similarities with the modern game.
“Technology is playing an increasingly important role in the life of a footballer and I guess that is true across most sports now. Although it may go down as a 1-0 loss, I will be practising more and maybe there will be a rematch.”
Alexander-Arnold at least proved more of a match for Carlsen than Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who was beaten in nine moves.
The England defender received coaching from two of the country’s most promising young chess players, Kyan Bui, 12, and Shreyas Royal, nine.
Riyad Mahrez missed a penalty as Manchester City blew the chance of ending their Anfield hoodoo.
The Algerian winger stepped up in the 86th minute after Leroy Sane had been caught by Virgil van Dijk.
But Mahrez blasted his spot-kick way over the bar as honours between the Premier League’s top two ended even.
City, who had not won at Liverpool since 2003, had the game’s first shot on target through Mahrez in the 61st minute in a game which was hard fought.
He also forced Alisson into a smart save while Mohamed Salah spurned chances at the other end for the hosts.
Here we examine three things learned from the clash.
A BATTLE ROYALE
It has often been said the reason why Floyd Mayweather was so successful was his defence. He had the mastered the art of not being hit down to a tee and finished his career unbeaten at 50-0.
If this game is anything to go by then Liverpool and City have all the attributes to finish the season unbeaten.
While their attacks have been lauded in the past, the defences proved their worth in an Anfield contest that emphasises why they are currently the two best teams in the Premier League.
This was a closely-fought battle which saw control, counter punching – and, ultimately, no decisive knockout blow. Riyad Mahrez had that opportunity but spurned it with his awful penalty kick.
Having had the first shot on target in the 61st minute, followed by one for Salah at the other end, it would have been unfair to either side if there was a winner.
Neither wanted to lose, nor could they afford to.
The lack of attempts on target were credit to the backlines and their determination not to give anything away. Any teams so hard to break down like this, and with frontmen proven to conjure up opportunities in an instant, will have every chance of remaining the ones to beat
It’s three years now since Raheem Sterling left Liverpool in acrimonious circumstances. The England international said he wanted to better himself and win trophies, while Reds fans felt he went for the greater riches on offer at Manchester City and give him stick whenever he comes back to Anfield.
It seems unfair given every professional should be given an opportunity to pursue glory and Liverpool also received up to £49 million for a young player yet to fulfill his potential.
But as the 23-year-old endured another difficult day, it’s clear he is affected on his return to his old stamping ground. He’s never looked comfortable or as confident as he is at the Etihad Stadium, where he has three goals at home this season.
It’s not down to ability nor effort, but points to psychological. The constant barracking and boos must take their toll no matter how much he tries to blot it out or show defiance.
Sterling’s brilliance has been there to behold, but I often wonder if he would be better starting on the bench and then unleashed as defences begin to tire.
He also works better in tandem with Leroy Sane. There is a chemistry between the pair which makes their contributions classy as well as cavalier.
With Riyad Mahrez struggling on the opposite wing, strangely reluctant to go on the outside of his marker Andrew Robertson, the onus was on Sterling to fire City’s attack.
But it was tough going for the Englishman and no surprise when he was eventually replaced by Sane.
CITY’S FUTURE DEFENCE
In two games last season against Liverpool, Aymeric Laporte and John Stones were found wanting and questions asked of their ability.
Costing more than £100m between them, this was the pair Pep Guardiola was hoping could be the cornerstone of City’s defence for the next decade.
But they were teased and tormented by the fearsome Reds attack in crucial Premier League and Champions League losses.
Stones was pressed into mistakes as City’s hopes of an ‘Invincible’ campaign ended in the league meeting, while Laporte looked a liability when moved to the left side of defence in the Anfield encounter which pretty much ended City’s European dream.
But Guardiola kept believing in them and rightly so. At 24, they are still learning and, in starting with them on Sunday and leaving the experienced Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi on the bench, it signalled a changing of the guard and a show of faith.
Stones and Laporte did not let him down. In such a high-octane, high risk, high pressured game, they kept their cool with important clearances and remained classy.
While they are still a work in progress and need more games together, there is a look of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic about them and we all know how good and how successful they were.