Article written by Tom Smart
‘A job well done’ is what many City fans will have thought coming away from The Etihad Stadium after seeing a performance that at times seemed lethargic and in need of a burst of energy or fresh legs. Nevertheless the Blues were clinical in finishing opportunities that were created with the 3-0 scoreline slightly flattering the league leaders. The game showed little flashes of brilliance that ultimately engineered enough chances to see off a Liverpool side that in recent weeks has vastly improved in confidence after beating a revolutionised Newcastle side a couple of days before.
A strong and valiant performance emerged from a side that after the recent hiccups away at West Brom & Sunderland, were scrutinised heavily by the media. A goalless stalemate at West Brom and a game that was snatched within literally the last few remaining seconds at the Stadium of Light in a 1-0 loss to Sunderland, meant that the team knew that if they were to keep United off their backs before heading into the FA Cup weekend, they knew that three points were required.
A couple of hours before the game it was announced that Luis Suarez would not be playing as Liverpool had accepted and chosen not to appeal against an eight game ban which would begin immediately after he was charged with racist abuse towards Patrice Evra. It was a much added bonus for the City defence, who were aware of his ability to cause problems and create scoring opportunities from the spearhead of the Liverpool attack.
Liverpool began the game with a sublime pass in the third minute from Jordan Henderson, splitting open the City defence allowing Downing a one-on-one opportunity with Joe Hart. Hart spread himself whilst narrowing the gap before getting a foot and then a hand to the shot before the City defence was able to clear their lines.
|Aguero strikes to give City an early lead|
Minutes later City had worked themselves an opening, following poor defending from Liverpool, leading to Aguero to strike at goal in the wet and slippery conditions. It appeared that Pepe Reina had the ball covered in what should have been a routine parry or catch but instead whilst attempting to kill the ball dead with both hands pushing the ball to the floor, the ball squirmed underneath him, allowing Aguero to claim his 16th goal of the season. The only possible excuse from a goalkeeper of his standard was the way it moved in the air before hitting the back of the net. Aguero certainly hit it with enough top spin to suggest he meant it. It was evident Reina was frustrated as afterwards he kicked the ball in anger with the ball rebounding off the framework of the goal and hitting him, overall a very embarrassing episode for the Liverpool & Spain goalkeeper.
Aguero then directed a shot over not long after, with Dzeko also managing a left foot effort before it deflected off Glen Johnson and rolled narrowly wide of the post, almost a replica of the Lescott own goal that was scored in the reverse fixture at Anfield earlier in the season. Reina somewhat managed to make up for his earlier mistake by reacting fantastically to a glancing Vincent Kompany header from a James Milner corner
|Boom! Toure's powerful header extends|
City piled on the pressure after the goal from which a corner from David Silva found an aerial Yaya Toure on the edge of the 6 yard box, who managed to steer the ball home with a strong header, clipping the top of the bar before hitting the back of the net. City were 2-0 up and it would be hard to argue that it wasn’t justified. Whilst we were clinical and perhaps lucky in the final third, Liverpool’s defending was also suspect and not what we are used to seeing.
The game wore on and Liverpool were able to take advantage of City stepping down a gear by containing plenty of possession and managing to conjure up a chance that resulted in Kompany fearlessly diving in the way of Dirk Kuyt’s close range attempt on goal. City fans were relieved to hear the half time whistle after a number of questionable refereeing decisions from referee Mike Jones and Liverpool’s territorial dominance.
Liverpool upped the anti again early in the 2nd half as the rain and wind continued to punish those fans sat on the front rows, thus the atmosphere within Eastlands subsequently faded, with the away team beginning to dominate further. The addition of Craig Bellamy & Steven Gerrard in the second half didn’t help City’s cause as Liverpool began to string a number of well thought out passes together and continued to look for the under-fire Andy Carroll to provide them with a way back into the game. The City backline dealt with the pressure admirably regardless of the amount of crosses and long balls played up to the ex-Newcastle talisman, with Kolo Toure, Kompany and Clichy performing particularly well.
As the City defence continued to thwart each Liverpool attack, the Reds received some hope after Gareth Barry was sent off for his 2nd bookable offence. The block on Daniel Agger which in itself was a yellow card created great frustration for City much to the displeasure of the home crowd. However the yellow card given earlier in the match, lacked consistency alongside other challenges. For example, Charlie Adam’s consistent fouling meaning City felt they had been harshly treated. Barry left the field to a standing ovation, not just for his performance on the night, but for his consistency throughout the season so far.
The City of old may have crumpled and almost definitely would have conceded a goal proceeding a sending off with just under 20 minutes remaining in the game. It wasn’t to be, and almost seconds after the sending off Yaya Toure broke forward and continued his stride into the Liverpool box before being brought down by the outstretched foot of Martin Skrtel. It was a blatent penalty and Mike Jones had no choice but to point to the spot. Milner stepped-up and powered the ball into the top right corner of the net sending the crowd into scenes of joy and surely sending them home happy with three points.
After the penalty Adam Johnson struck an effort which curled round the Liverpool defence and struck the bottom of the left-hand post before deflecting clear. Liverpool then pressed and attempted to seek a consolation, although in reality they had lost the game and were never going to score past a City defence that had put up with large spells of Liverpool dominance. Bellamy and Downing had efforts that came close, but all in all City held on to their eighth clean sheet of the campaign and never looked like conceding. It was an excellent display from a unified and assured defence.