“It was a wild ride,” said Jürgen Klopp after a pulsating draw. He was not wrong. Liverpool had their feathers ruffled and more, going behind in the 27th minute as Ethan Pinnock finished a smart move involving Ivan Toney. The futuristic little Community Stadium almost rattled out of its foundations and did not stop shaking. A few moments later Diogo Jota headed home to make it 1-1. When Mohamed Salah gave Liverpool the lead with his 100th goal for the club the expectation was that Klopp’s side would gain control. Brentford had other ideas, throwing caution to the wind and bombarding Liverpool’s penalty area until, finally, Vitaly Janelt equalized. It felt like a cup tie. A deflected Curtis Jones strike sent the fans away into raptures in the 67th minute and, when Salah went clean through 10 minutes later, a 4-2 victory looked inevitable only for the Egyptian to loft over wastefully. On came Yoane Wissa to seal a famous draw with a feather-toed finish over Alisson.
When the final whistle sounded on a thrilling match at Anfield it was clear the two rivals were streets ahead in the Premier League. Pep Guardiola’s side showcased their suffocating control in a gripping first half in which Liverpool had Alisson to thank for not coming in a goal down. Whatever Jürgen Klopp gave his team at half-time, it worked. They flew out of the traps, with Salah cutting through midfield to lay on Sadio Mané for the Reds’ first. City responded like champions with the brilliant Phil Foden finding space where there appeared to be none and smashing into the far corner with unerring accuracy. Cue that solo goal from Salah, in which he picked up the ball in a position that appeared to pose no threat before bamboozling Bernardo Silva and Aymeric Laporte with dazzling footwork and firing across Ederson with his weaker foot to make it 2-1. Incredible. Still, City kept coming and when Kevin De Bruyne made it 2-2 with a deflected strike the away end erupted and the goal felt justified for City’s first-half display alone. This was drama of the highest quality.
The Hammers twice came from behind in a riveting encounter that made clear David Moyes’s side were not going to be easily pushed out of the European places. For Thomas Tuchel this was evidence that Chelsea would struggle to keep pace with Liverpool and Manchester City. Having led through a Thiago Silva header, they struggled to control the game, with Michail Antonio’s running power dragging Chelsea’s defense out of shape and exposing oudouard Mendy, who had an afternoon to forget. Mendy first gave away a penalty as he struggled to control the ball – and his feet – and he later palmed a deflected Arthur Masuaku cross into his own net to gift West Ham a deserved win. Between these moments, Mason Mount scored a sublime side-foot volley to make it 2-1 and Jarrod Bowen equalized with a now customary crisp strike with barely there backlift.
This was a ridiculous match in which City raced into a 4-0 lead inside 25 minutes. Perhaps the home side had been so good that they fell asleep in the second 45 because three goals inside 10 James Maddison-inspired second-half minutes meant the score read 4-3 after 65 minutes. But like firefighters responding to an alarm call, Guardiola’s side leapt out of bed and adopted rescue mode, quickly restoring order and making fans at the Etihad Stadium wonder if it had all been a fever dream. This was a throwback Boxing Day encounter – one that wouldn’t have been out of place had it taken place on that bizarre day of festive football in 1963.
The scenes at the end. My word! Goodison hadn’t witnessed a pitch invasion – and match – like this since the Great Escape against Wimbledon in 1994 when, similarly, they were 2-0 down in the first half and required a three-goal comeback to secure their top-flight status . Michael Keane sparked the comeback by driving home on 54 minutes, provoking a guttural Goodison roar. Then Richarlison, a talismanic figure in the survival fight, fired a deflected shot past Jack Butland to level. A plume of blue smoke erupted as genuine hope drifted up from the stands. When Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored the winner with a delicious diving header in the 85th minute Everton fans were delirious. They streamed on to the pitch in their thousands when the final whistle went. Goodison, the Grand Old Lady who has seen so much drama, shook with relief and delight. Best of all, the match was not televised so those who were there will feel they have a genuine folktale to tell.