Excitement, intensity, action and quality from the first minute to last – the 2-2 draw between Manchester City leaders and second-placed Liverpool on Sunday showed just why the Premier League is the sport’s number one competition.
The result means the title race remains wide open – Pep Guardiola’s City remain one point ahead of Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool – and few would bet against it going to the wire with each side having seven games left to play.
But even without the added tension provided by the context of the battle for top spot, the contest had everything that a connoisseur of the game or the occasional viewer alike would want from their 90 minutes.
Fans around the world are attracted to the Premier League by the international cast of star attractions – the players on the field and the tacticians on the sidelines – and this game had the very best.
City’s Belgian Kevin De Bruyne, the most complete midfielder in the world, showed his power, strength and finishing ability to put the home side ahead in the fifth minute and after the break visiting forward Mohamed Salah’s sublime pass and Sadio Mane’s deadly finish ensured the points were shared.
From the domestic players, City’s Phil Foden showed off his brilliant control and dribbling skills while Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cushioned set-up for Diogo Jota’s 13th-minute goal to make it 1-1 was glorious technique and awareness before Gabriel Jesus put the hosts in front again.
Tactically, the game was billed as a contrast between Spaniard Guardiola’s famous commitment to short-passing possession football and German Klopp’s more direct, all-action, pressing style.
But it did not quite play out like that as City began the game with the kind of high-pressing, high-energy approach for which their opponents are famed, allied with waves of swarming attacks which Liverpool struggled to cope with.
The visitors stuck at their task though, never over-committing or over-chasing the game but always looking to make the most of any space they found in between City’s lines.
It was not quite a role reversal but it was certainly far from a game that stuck to the stereotypes associated with the two clubs that have dominated this league for the past four seasons.
What helped was the relentless work-rate, battling spirit and determination of both sides – the kind of traditional English football qualities that could easily have vanished in an era dominated by continental European coaches and players.
It is that fusion of long-established English ‘blood and thunder’, high-speed, attacking football with the more recently introduced tactical nous of foreign coaches and the top technique of international players that is at the heart of why fans around the world love the Premier League
Neither side wanted to settle for a draw and the result was a spectacle that had even the more traditionalist pundits purring.
“What impressed me with all these top quality players was their desire to keep going for their win at the end,” said former Manchester United midfielder Roy Keane, now a Sky Sports pundit.
The City of Manchester Stadium may not be the most famed for its atmosphere but it was rocking for most of the 90 minutes with both sets of supporters playing their part in a game both sides knew could have turned in a moment.
Guardiola, who like his Liverpool counterpart was animated on the sideline throughout, clearly relished the occasion.
“I think it was a good game for fans around the world. You are a manager for these types of matches,” he said.
Not even a reminder of the final minute chance missed by Riyad Mahrez, with an attempted chip, could sour his mood.
“I don’t have any regrets. They can miss whatever they want. It was positive. It’s football,” he said.
Klopp, who went back on to the field 20 minutes after the final whistle to salute the traveling Liverpool fans, was typically enthusiastic.