LIVERPOOL: Manchester City’s record signing Riyad Mahrez blazed an 86th-minute penalty over the bar to preserve Liverpool’s unbeaten Premier League record as both sides failed to lay down an early marker in the title race with a disappointing 0-0 draw at Anfield.
City remain top of the table on goal difference, but both teams are now locked with Chelsea, who were 3-0 winners earlier at Southampton, on 20 points from eight games.
Unlike the four enthralling encounters between the two last season when Liverpool beat the English champions three times, a highly anticipated clash fell flat with neither side managing to register a shot on target until after the hour mark.
City had the golden chance four minutes from time when substitute Leroy Sane was upended by Virgil van Dijk and referee Martin Atkinson pointed to the spot after waving away two earlier strong appeals from the visitors for a penalty.
With Sergio Aguero replaced on the hour mark, Mahrez, a £60-million ($78.7 million) signing from Leicester in July, took responsibility but fired hig
h over the bar to Liverpool’s relief as City’s wait for a first win at Anfield since 2003 continued.
After starting the season with seven straight wins, though, Liverpool have now failed to win in any of their past four matches as the upcoming international break comes at the right time for Jurgen Klopp’s men.
There was little entertainment on show at Anfield as both sides struggled to create any meaningful chances.
Pep Guardiola had lost on all three of his previous visits to Anfield as City manager and the champions looked unnerved from their recent experiences early on.
Ahead of the game, Klopp tried to play down Mohamed Salah’s slump in form after an incredible 44-goal debut season at Anfield.
But the Egyptian again
looked far from his best and snatched at the sort of chances he buried last season.
Salah had the first opening after just three minutes when he pulled his shot wide after jinking inside John Stones.
That was as clear a chance
as there was before half-time as both teams’ exertions during Champions League games in midweek seemed to take their toll in a first 45 minutes lacking the intensity of their meetings from last term.
Klopp made just two changes from a 1-0 defeat by Napoli on Wednesday, with Dejan Lovren making a surprise return in central defense and Joe Gomez moving to right-back at the expense of Trent Alexander-Arnold.
But the decision to recall the Croatian could have backfired when Lovren was lucky to avoid conceding a penalty for bringing down Aguero inside the area.
City quickly neutralized Liverpool’s threat by keeping possession for long periods without forcing Alisson Becker into a save before the break.
The second half followed the same pattern as Liverpool’s initial burst fizzled out and City took control.
Guardiola was furious as another penalty shout was turned down when Van Dijk was instead awarded a free-kick for a pull by Fernandinho as the Dutch defender handled inside the area.
A rare incisive Liverpool counter-attack found Salah again in a good position 21 minutes from time, but he blazed high over the bar.
Mahrez tested Alisson with a near-post shot that the Brazilian turned behind, but his real chance to make himself a City hero came when the pace of Sane was too much for the normally flawless Van Dijk and this time a penalty was given.
A message appeared to come from the City bench for Mahrez to take the spot-kick instead of Gabriel Jesus.
But that proved costly as the pressure got to Mahrez and City had to settle for a point.
Eden Hazard continued his fien form during Chelsea’s 3-0 win over Southampton on the south coast.
Elsewhere, Chelsea proved they are genuine title-contenders with an impressive, and relatively simple, victory at Southampton. Eden Hazard was once again the inspiration as the Blues, maintained their unbeaten run.
Belgium playmaker Hazard scored the first and set up the third for substitute Alvaro Morata, while inbetween Ross Barkley claimed his first Chelsea goal.
In Sunday’s other game, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang each netted twice as a resurgent Arsenal enjoyed a sixth straight league victory with a 5-1 rout of Fulham at Craven Cottage.
Substitute Aaron Ramsey was also on target for Arsenal with a superb goal, while Andre Schuerrle replied for struggling Fulham.