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Reds, City produce Premiership classic

ThE sight of Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola clasping Liverpool’s James Milner in a warm embrace, half an hour after the final whistle, summed up an enthralling Premier League classic at Anfield.

These two Premier League heavyweights traded blows but could not be separated, players falling into each other’s arms and the two managers coming together, at the final whistle, in a mutual show of respect.

Lots of cliches are trotted out when the Premier League is being described as the best in the world but when you witness 90 minutes like this — and Guardiola echoed these sentiments — then it is sometimes difficult to argue.

The game ended 2-2.

Guardiola’s emotions were back on an even keel by then after he dissolved in anger, with justification, when Milner escaped a second yellow card from referee Paul Tierney with the score 1-1.

He was eventually shown a yellow card himself after Mohamed Salah put Liverpool 2-1 up — but Kevin de Bruyne’s deflected 81st-minute equaliser gave City a point they deserved.

Guardiola and Milner were all smiles as they met at the mouth of the Anfield tunnel later.

It was noisy, frantic, high-quality, high-octane stuff and one thing was very obvious — anyone hoping to find a way of edging Liverpool and Manchester City out of the title race (and in reality this means Chelsea, because Manchester United are not playing like contenders) will have a long and fierce fight on their hands.

Anfield paid an emotional tribute to Roger Hunt, the Liverpool icon and England World Cup winner, who died on Monday aged 83, before the two sides served up glorious fare that would have won the great man’s nod of approval.

Liverpool’s catalyst was clearly one man — Salah.

He gave a performance of such virtuosity that in any debate about the world’s best player, he has to be right in there.

Jurgen Klopp has many stellar names at his disposal but life without Salah is close to unthinkable.

The Egypt forward’s pass for Sadio Mane’s opener was exquisite but his goal to restore Liverpool’s lead was simply on another level, leaving a handful of City defenders bamboozled before lashing a finish past Ederson.

The game started in the usual Anfield sound and fury, with every period of City possession whistled and jeered, but slowly an ominous hush fell over Liverpool’s fans as they realised the visitors were spectacularly unmoved by this show of hostility in an arena that has intimidated them in the past.

It took Salah to unseat them, although once again there must be questions about City’s lack of a recognised striker, as all their possession and control, came to nothing in the first half, chances either off target or not coming to fruition, such as when Liverpool keeper Alisson saved at the feet of Foden.

If anyone had the lingering suspicion City might be a bit soft at Anfield, they can forget that now as they showed steel and resilience to come back.

This was the sort of game that needed a dramatic conclusion – and it got one.

It did not come in the shape of a winning goal but a sensational block that might just prove vital in the final reckoning this season.

As Liverpool pressed for the late winner that has become their trademark under Klopp, the ball fell to an unmarked Fabinho, in a crowded penalty area.

Anfield held its breath and Guardiola, still running hot from earlier, must have feared the worst as the Brazil midfielder controlled the ball and prepared to sidefoot into the net from six yards out.

However Rodri appeared from nowhere to stop the goal-bound shot with a tackle that was as valuable as De Bruyne’s equaliser, in ensuring this enthralling contest ended level.

There was muted applause when the final whistle sounded, surely not out of any sense of disappointment but more perhaps because the supporters were as spent as the players.

Nothing could separate Liverpool and Manchester City.

Something will have to separate them by the end of the season – but on this evidence it will not be much and it will be quite a ride until it does.

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