By Tom Smart
Liverpool will go into the second leg of the Carling Cup Semi-Final 1-0 up, with the added incentive of home advantage going into the reverse fixture of this two legged affair.
Both teams lined up more equally than had been the case in the same fixture just eight days earlier. Liverpool had the encouraging news of their much missed captain Steven Gerrard back amongst the starting ranks, as well as pacey ex-City winger Craig Bellamy also returning to the side. City were without both Kolo & Yaya Toure, who are away on international duty at the African Cup of Nations, a suspended Vincent Kompany, and David Silva, who was rumoured to have picked up an ankle knock in training. City’s player of the month for December in Gareth Barry returned at a much needed time, as well as Italian forward Mario Balotelli, who previously missed three games due to an ankle injury.
It was Liverpool who started in better fashion, utilising a quick tempo with short, crisp passes to feet and of course balls into their target man in the form of Andy Carroll. Carroll had an early opportunity after quickly turning the inexperienced Stefan Savic on the edge of the area, before Hart rushed out and quashed the fine chance that Carroll had.
Minutes later, Gerrard fired an astutely accurate effort towards the bottom right-hand corner of the Manchester City goal. Luckily for the blues, Hart was able to palm it away comfortably, thanks to his excellent positioning skills that allow him to possess such talent. The resulting corner was cleared into the path of Stewart Downing, whose pile driver took a big deflection and thus throwing Joe Hart into action again, only to get another strong left hand to the volley and pushing it away from the goal, conceding another corner.
|Gerrard celebrates opening the scoring|
This time Liverpool were rewarded for their constant pressure. The ball was again floated in by Gerrard which was met by Daniel Agger. Agger took the ball down on his chest before Stefan Savic’s challenge on Agger resulted in a deseverdly awarded penalty. City could hardly complain as Savic’s foot appeared high and to have caught Agger on his knee. Gerrard stepped up and made no mistakes, driving the ball home into the bottom left-hand corner of the goal, giving Hart no chance. 1-0 Liverpool and it was hardly to be argued with even after only 13 minutes.
The first half continued to peter out miserably with a Balotelli free-kick blasting against the wall at the half hour mark and Carroll heading wide from a Kelly cross after 34 minutes. Mancini rung in a change, Balotelli departed and was replaced by Samir Nasri. It wasn’t until the 42nd minute when City began to look interested. Nasri struck an effort from just outside the area that was parried away by Pepe Reina. Minutes later, after some excellent work on the right wing from Micah Richards, the ball was cut across, finding James Milner in acres of space but his effort went way over the bar. The first half finished with an Adam Johnson free-kick sailing over the bar, on what would prove to be a disappointing night for Johnson considering the high standards that City fans have come to expect from the England winger. Overall, the worst half of football played by City this season, without a doubt. Liverpool went in with a deserved lead, having taken advantage of the defensive frailties of Stefan Savic.
In the second half, City looked a lot more like the team that had come out against Liverpool the week before. After 55 minutes, Aguero intercepted a sloppy pass-back from Kelly, before firing a shot over as a result of some superb closing-down from Reina in the Liverpool goal. It was again a chance that on another day perhaps would have gone in for the league leaders had City been more clinical in front of goal.
In the 58th minute City again stepped up the pace with a sublime cross from the under-fire Samir Nasri finding a bulldozing Micah Richards who connected well enough with the ball to steer it goalwards. Reina however was equal to it, with the ball rebounding off his knee and smothering it at the second attempt. City continued to press again, this time Aguero aiming a tame shot that Reina collected easily after some clever work in teasing the Liverpool defence.
|Nasri played well in Silva's|
City again strode forward in search of an equaliser, and it was this time Samir Nasri who took a chance to shine after some decent link up play with Dzeko. Unfortunately, he hammered the ball over both Reina and the Liverpool goal. Nasri, who played well in Silva’s absence, found Gareth Barry with just ten minutes to go with a cross. However, the English holding midfielder was deemed to have fouled Reina. City kept pressing for an equaliser, and their last real chance came with minutes to go as another well-directed cross by Nasri was wastefully headed over by Aguero.
The only remaining incident in the game was a dangerous two-footed challenge by Glen Johnson on Joleon Lescott that replicated the similar challenge from which Vincent Kompany was sent-off in Sunday’s derby defeat. For this challenge there wasn’t even a free-kick awarded, but ultimately it proved to be irrelevant in what was a disappointing evening for City.