This was the first of three meetings between City and the Red side of Liverpool that could help define City`s season. Three wins would mean a place in another Cup final and more short term, a win tonight would see City go three points clear. A number of recent games between these two teams have ended in draws, but with City in near perfect form at home, Daglish`s men would need to be in top form to even survive.
Mancini made a number of changes to the side that lost against Sunderland. The team read as follows: Hart, Richards, Kolo, Kompany, Clichy, Yaya, Barry, Milner, Silva, Dzeko and Aguero. The bench consisted of Pantillimon, Zabaleta, Savic, De Jong, Lescott, Johnson and Nasri. Liverpool were without the suspended Suarez after the Club accepted the charge and subsequent eight match loss to the team.
The match kicked off in cold and blustery conditions which would undoubtedly have an effect on the game. Liverpool began the match kicking off right to left but it was City who soon won possession after good pressing by Silva and Dzeko.
The Blues had begun the game with Silva on the right and Milner on the left with Toure and Barry making runs from deep, whilst Dzeko played the lone front man and Aguero seemed to have a free role.
With five minutes of the game gone, nothing of any real import had happened. City slightly edged possession, then suddenly, Richards burst through the Liverpool defence and cut a ball back made for a shot. Aguero should have shot and didn`t, then the ball found Dzeko whose first touch played the ball back to Rieina. Seconds later and it was Liverpool on the attack and only the quick reflexes of Hart saved City`s blushes.
Two minutes later and Silva this time on the left, took the ball past his marker not once but twice before playing the ball to Dzeko who still managed to earn City a corner having taken the ball into a tight angle. Liverpool attempted to break from the corner but Milner caught Adam in possession and played the ball through to Silva. Silva spotted the run of Aguero and threaded the perfect ball to City`s Genuine Argentinian Superstar who shot past the comedy save of Liverpool`s Grobelar-esque keeper to make the score one-nil.
On the stroke of thirteen minutes Liverpool were caught in possession again and a sweeping move of four swift passes saw Aguero again shooting, this time without the power which allowed the keeper to save. City were pressing from every position and Liverpool didn`t like this and were losing the ball with too much ease.
Dzeko earnt City a corner in the twenty first minute which could have been so much more had the deflection taken the ball the right side of the post having trickled past the hapless Spanish keeper in the Liverpool goal. Only seconds later and the ref bought a Liverpool dive that occurred before Silva`s supposed tackle had taken place. The ball was twenty five yards from goal on the Liverpool right. The shot was on target and dipping and all Hart could do was push the ball away.
A minute later and Liverpool had another shot off target from outside the box, but they were starting to assert themselves in the search for an elusive goal. The scousers were using a tactic seen many years ago employed by a Wimbledon side that won one or two things. Daglish it would seem had dusted off the old long ball game, launching the ball to Caroll stood on the right of City`s defence, at every opportunity.
On the stroke of twenty eight minutes Liverpool won another free kick centrally on the edge of the City box after what looked like a good tackle by Toure. After a lot of time wasting and messing about and being told to play on by the ref, the ball was struck low and hard, right at the City wall.
On the stroke of thirty minutes, Liverpool were lucky to stay with the eleven men they began the match with after a deliberate and blatant hand ball in the box. The hand was raised higher than anyone`s head yet the linesman stood only ten yards away and with direct line of site waved play on. Lucky Lucky Liverpool.
The luck was short lived as only a minute later City earnt a corner on their right. Silva swung a near-post ball towards Yaya who out-jumped everyone and put the ball via the underside of the bar, past the hapless and somewhat comic Reina.
With seven minutes of the half left, first Kompany then Kolo needlessly gave possession away. These were the mistakes Mancini had to iron out if he wanted City to win the League. He also needed to teach Richards how to stay tight, as Downing had run him ragged all evening.
With five minutes of the half left, friendly chappy Adam decided to assault Dzeko right in front of the ref raking his studs down the back of City`s towering striking leaving him prone. How the ref kept his card in his pocket was a mystery as had this occurred on the street, police would surely have been involved. Mind you Liverpool didn`t look like winning this game by playing football. At least not by playing football.
Adam was once again kicking lumps out of City players, this time in the shape of Yaya. Again in front of the ref and again the ref kept his card in his pocket. Strange decisions by the man in black . Seconds later and the cheating nature of referees reared its ugly head as Barry`s first foul of the game was issued instantly with a yellow card. How does that work? Adam should be serving six months and Barry gets booked.
The ref blew up for half time and couldn`t get off the pitch quickly enough. The worry for City was when rather than if Gerrard came on, as Liverpool would undoubtedly be a different proposition with their Club Captain on the pitch.
No changes by either team as City kicked off the second half playing right to left in the blustery and very wet conditions. The weather seemed to have affected the ref more than anyone else, as Barry pulled out of a tackle, the man in black decided to issue a free kick to Liverpool anyway, yet seconds later a tackle from behind by a Liverpool player was waved on.
Four minutes into the half and a dangerous left wing cross from Liverpool nearly met the head of Caroll, only for Kompany to intercept at the last moment and clear for a corner. Liverpool were keeping up the pressure and City spent the next few minutes defending in their own half.
Eight minutes of the half gone and another foul by Adam earnt City a free kick but no booking for the Liverpool ‘hardman` who might as well have come armed for all the protection the ref was giving City`s midfield.
The first yellow of the game for Liverpool came to an unlikely source as Johnson was booked for pulling back Aguero. During the break in play Adam was replaced by Gerrard and Kuyt was replaced by Bellamy as Daglish went all out to get a goal. Immediately after the substitution, Skertl elbowed Dzeko clean in the face in front of the ref. Once again the man in black failed to see a blatant foul in a game where the red shirts were being given free reign to kick, hit and handball with little or no consequence.
A nasty collision between Johnson and Milner in the sixty sixth minute brought a break in the frantic play that saw Liverpool trying to establish themselves in midfield. They were seeing more of the ball but there was little end product to add to their endeavour.
On the stroke of seventy minutes, the ref again made a joke of himself blowing once again for a non-existent free kick in favour of Liverpool. City defended the free kick well and as soon a play stopped, Mancini replaced Aguero with Johnson in a move that surprised a few fans.
Seconds later and the ref was without doubt public enemy number one in Manchester, sending Barry off for a tame tackle that was not even deserving of a card. From the free kick, City broke up field as Yaya went on a run, played a one two with Silva and broke into the box. An outstretched foot upended the towering Ivorian and the ref for once got a call right, pointing to the spot and issuing the correct card. Up stepped Milner, who placed the ball past the keeper into the right top corner. Three nil City, but a bitter-sweet three nil as Barry would miss the FA Cup game on Sunday.
Lescott then replaced Silva as City looked to shut up shot playing ten men against twelve once more. With twelve minutes to go another free kick was awarded to Liverpool as Dzeko went in for a fifty fifty ball with the Liverpool keeper.
A minute later and Johnson had almost made it four when he struck a curling shot which beat Liverpool`s keeper hands down (what a surprise) but came back off the post. Ten man City were actually looking better than eleven man City against Liverpool as the clock ticked down. Liverpool huffed and puffed but for all their effort, Hart hadn`t had one save to make in the second half.
City nearly scored a forth again after another break by Yaya but his perfect pass to Dzeko ended with a tame shot.
City saw the game out with an excellent rear-guard action as Liverpool chased and City defended with aplomb. Daglish may lament the money City have spent, but in the last twelve months, I believe Liverpool have spent more.
Four minutes injury time stood between City and a three point gap at the summit. If City were down to ten men, it wasn`t apparent and without a doubt, the respective defences of West Brom and Sunderland were superior in every way to Liverpool. Indeed, without their cheating, diving and the ref, tonight would have been a far more embarrassing score line.
Joe Hart – 8
made one fantastic save at the start of the match. His distribution was excellent today.
Micah Richards – 7
Needed to keep tighter to his man. Allowed too many crosses from his side of the pitch.
Kolo Toure – 7
Didn`t do anything wrong.
Vincent Kompany – 8
Imperious in the air and unbeatable on the floor. Looked brilliant in the last fifteen.
Gael Clichy – 7
Yaya Toure – 9
Looked like a freight train going forward. Won the game for City.
Gareth Barry – 7
Didn`t deserve the first booking and certainly not the sending off. His passing was off today.
James Milner – 8
Ran his heart out and took a few kicks for the team.
David Silva – 7
Not up to his amazing best but still head and shoulders above the Liverpool midfield.
Sergio Aguero – 8
Scored the first goal and played well.
Edin Dzeko – 7
Terrible first touch but he took a real kicking for the team including a straight elbow and worked his heart out in the second half.
Johnson – 6
had one good shot which hit the post, other than that didn`t have any impact.
Lescott – 7
Solid when he came on. Shored up the defence.
Mancini – 8 Won another game for City.
Another utterly abysmal and inexplicable performance by a ref that looked like he had red underpants vest and probably jockstrap. Utterly pathetic performance lacking any kind of consistency or professionalism. Forth time this season I have said that.