Column - London big winners, Pep big loser

MERSEYSIDE would have been a lot happier than Manchester after Sunday's double-header, but London would have been laughing out loud.

Chelsea, Spurs and even Arsenal had their title hopes boosted – and not just by the shedding of points by their north west rivals: neither United nor Liverpool bore the look of champions while erstwhile favourites City cravenly hoisted the white flag. Indeed, their cluelessness on a wild night really was the story.

This was supposed to be Manchester's season: a genuine heavyweight, cross-town contest between the two most celebrated managers of the age backed by unlimited budgets. Yet we are still in mid-winter and Pep Guardiola's City are already 10 points off the pace, Jose Mourinho's United are 12.

Both are deep in Europa League territory and on this evidence there was little – nothing in City's case – to suggest they can reach the sunlit uplands of the Champions League places. We certainly saw no threat to Chelsea's ominous all-round efficiency or the mounting confidence and solidity of Spurs. And as long as they humour Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal cannot be written off.

Liverpool would have been happier than United with the draw although conceding a late equaliser always makes it feel like a defeat. But they ran around a kilometre a man further and appeared a slicker, more organised unit. They came out of it still looking like contenders.

United can point to a 10-game unbeaten run but when Jurgen Klopp's side, without three of their best players and supposedly experiencing a wobble, can come close to snatching the spoils, it suggests Mourinho's men have been flattering to deceive.

They have taken advantage of some easy fixtures but couldn't manage it against a weakened Liverpool. From what we saw on Sunday, the impressive momentum the home side had been building may have been illusory and only a reversion to the Plan C of long ball and Marouane Fellaini averted disaster.

Alas for Pep, he had no such option. He delayed his Plan B (Kelechi Iheanacho) until too late and looked a broken man after Everton's second. City's surrender was the kind that gets managers sacked.

Mike Phelan's Hull, Alan Pardew's Palace and Bob Bradley's Swansea all mustered more fight and had better goalkeepers than Pep's City yet all three bosses collected their pink slips.

You had to wonder what the Sheikh and the City head honchos were thinking when they saw the conspicuous, shiny pate of Pablo Zabaleta toiling in midfield. A billion and a half spent and an ageing, over-the-hill fullback at the fulcrum of the side!

Zabaleta is a much-loved warrior who arrived before the oil zillions, but he's no Philipp Lahm, whom Pep successfully converted from right-back to midfield at Bayern. Nor is he a Xavi or an Iniesta. If that doesn't laughably highlight the difference between what Pep had in previous gigs and now then nothing does.

Making matters a lot worse was that Zabaleta was alongside Yaya Toure having one of his days of lumbering ineffectiveness. Pep is on record as saying his favourite team would include 10 midfield players yet here he picked a pair out of position and well past their sell-by dates to operate in front of the back four.

But behind things were even more shambolic. Isn't it part of Claudio Bravo's remit to actually try and make saves? We have to ask. With this clown behind them, the back four can be cut a sliver of slack. Even so, Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones are fast becoming a comical double act. For a combined £86 million.

Up front there was no threat – not even with 70% possession – so Pep's problems are literally all over the field. Kun Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne are shadows of the players they were under Manuel Pellegrini, the main criticism of whom centred on his body language and lack of intensity. Looking at Pep, slinking back into the dugout in mounting despair, he was morphing into his predecessor.

As mentioned previously, the mystery is why City aren't spending on replacements. Other teams are, the window is open and this is the biggest crisis of Pep's career. If he decides he's had enough it would be the biggest crisis of the whole City 'project'.

They're still suffering from poor recruitment having overpaid vastly, especially on centre-backs – before the current duo there was Mangala at £40m. None of Pep's signings are pulling up trees and the latest – Gabriel Jesus, a spindly Brazilian striker – is not exactly top priority.

And almost unnoticed, James Milner, Mr Reliable who can play anywhere and never misses from the spot, was allowed to leave by City on a free. Coming the other way was Raheem 'No End Product' Sterling for £49m. Such botched recruitment should have got the director of football the sack.

Speaking of overspending, just as Paul Pogba was easing from cameo roles to part-timer, he chooses this of all games to have an absolute mare. The swagger was back, we were told about United generally, but this might dent confidence. So it was left to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Mourinho's best recruit, to save face.

Liverpool acquitted themselves well and they will be encouraged. However, it cannot be overlooked that their goalkeeper has been man of the match in their last two games – first Loris Karius against Southampton and here, Simon Mignolet. Klopp will appreciate the irony.

Yes, Merseyside will be the happier metropolis and it was Everton who produced the top performance. And Ronald Koeman was able to win while introducing two youngsters, Tom Davies and new signing Ademola Lookman, whose late goals rubbed salt in City's wounds.

Pep was supposed to do this at City. The way he looked on Sunday, you doubt whether he'll be around to see the fruits of any youth policy. You wonder if he'll be around next season.