Today`s game against a decidedly dodgy looking Liverpool side gave City a chance to lay down their marker and take three points from a place that traditionally City had often failed to win.
On the back of a home win, Mancini chose to make five changes and a change in formation, favouring the 3-5-2 set up he utilised in the Charity Shield and preceding friendlies. With David Silva not fully fit and relegated to the bench, the team sheet read as follows; Hart, Kolo, Kompany, Zabaleta, Milner, Kolarov, Yaya, De Jong, Nasri, Tevez and Balotelli. The subs bench consisted of; Pantillimon, . Gael Clichy was missing from today`s game to be by the side of his wife who has just given birth to a baby?.big congratulations there.
The game started with a high tempo after Liverpool kicked off with City playing right to left. There were no chances early on as the teams felt each other out, but Liverpool had injury worries in the third minute as Lucas was replaced having only just come back from time out with a serious injury. Jonjo Shelvey was his replacement.
After the substitution, City upped their tempo and by the eighth minute Balotelli broke free and was bundled to the ground by Skertl. Despite not being last man, this was a yellow card offence which the referee chose to ignore. Kolarov took the resultant free kick which was easily saved by Reina whose positioning was excellent.
City continued to press the game and were dominating possession utilising creativity and pace. Minutes later though, it was Liverpool on the attack as Suarez picked up the ball and went on a mazy run at the City defence. A combination of Kompany and Zabaleta were needed to halt the tricky striker.
City were upfield and attacking almost immediately and Tevez, forced wide by Skertl and Reina struck the ball from an impossible angle to beat Reina and strike the post before rebounding out. Stunning from Tevez.
The Blues were still dominant at this point in the game and as Skertl spent too much time on the ball, Balotelli was enterprising in his tackling winning the ball and being brought down unceremoniously right after. The floated free kick from Nasri was meant for Balotelli at the far post, but the City striker was being held by Skertl, something missed by the ref as the ball went out harmlessly.
Suddenly Liverpool started to pass the ball around with pace and confidence and City were being forced further and further back into their own half. As the full back`s pushed forward, the three centre halves were beginning to become overwhelmed.
Liverpool almost scored from the unlikeliest of sources as Kompany almost diverted the ball into his own net blocking a cross. Disaster then struck for the Blues from the resultant corner although once again spurious unsportsmanlike behaviour was missed by the referee and officials. As the corner was swung in, Kolo was being arm locked by a Liverpool player rooting him to the spot. Admittedly the header from Skertl was unstoppable and left Hart no chance, but a foul should have been called for obstruction well before the goal.
City had one or two chances in the remaining ten minutes from corners and free kicks, but it was Liverpool who were making all the running and finished the half as City had started it, in the ascendancy. With only one suspect goal separating the two teams there was everything to play for in the second half, but would Mancini change his tactics which clearly had been shown to be flawed by Liverpool.
The second half opened as the first half closed, with Liverpool exerting a level of dominancy that must have worried Mancini as the home team were forcing City to play in their own half and chase the game. The Red`s passing was slick and quick and City were simply failing to cope with it.
Four minutes in and Borini and Suarez combined well before the Uruguayan unleashed a shot which lacked power or direction and didn`t test the City goal.
Five minutes later and it was City with the chance as once again Balotelli battled to earn City a corner. The delivery by Kolarov was poor as he once again failed to produce the goods when required.
Mancini had clearly had enough as Liverpool continued to boss their visitors around and in the space of three minutes, Nasri and Balotelli were replaced by Rodwell and Dzeko. The changes had an immediate impact on the game as City scored after Skertl took the ball of Reina as it flew into the box and Kelly could only play the ball into the path of Yaya who turned on a sixpence and swept the ball home into the Liverpool net.
City just needed to slow the game down now, but Liverpool were insistent in their attack. Mariner though, was clearly not happy with City drawing even and when Gerrard unleashed a powerful but speculative strike at goal, Rodwell flew in to block. The ball struck Rodwell`s knee then bounced up to hit his hand, Mariner saw his chance and took it, awarding a free kick twenty yards from City`s goal for an infringement that never occurred. Up stepped Suarez who curled a sublime shot around the City wall beating Hart at his near post! A sublime and spectacular finish to beat one of the top keepers in the world, but a goal that simply should not have been.
City could have folded then, a goal down again so quickly after equalising but they pressed and pressed. For all their endeavour in coming back, City nearly went further behind when a poorly timed Kolarov tackle inside the City box on the marauding Johnson could easily have resulted in a Liverpool penalty. Mariner though was unsighted and ignored the protests of the Liverpool players. City were lucky, but Liverpool still luckier for their two goals that shouldn`t have stood.
Mancini played his final card of the afternoon, replacing the strangely quiet and ineffectual Milner with David Silva. The substitution once again seemed to revitalised the Blues and the pressed with renewed vigour and the goal they were chasing soon came but this time as a gift from Liverpool`s bullet header goal scorer Skertl who played a no look back pass to Reina just as Tevez was advancing to tackle. Tevez took the gift of a pass and with one drop of the shoulder was past Reina and side footing into an empty net. Two all and still all to play for.
Into the final six minutes and the pace of the game was as frantic as ever as both teams went for the kill. It was City that had the best chance as Tevez ran wonderfully with the ball and found Kolarov on the run. The under par City left wing back drilled a cross back into the box which was met by Dzeko. It looked easier to score than to miss, but the towering striker managed to scoop the ball over the bar.
Rodwell then cleared from a Carroll header after a good cross from Suarez before City took the ball up pitch and won a corner. The ball fell to Tevez standing on the edge of the box, but a win today was not to be for City as the striker`s shot went well wide and the ref`s whistle went soon after.
This was a game that City went into thinking they could win. They were sorely mistaken as Liverpool matched the team for endeavour and desire and when they pushed their full back`s forward, Milner and Kolarov simply didn`t get back enough. The two goals for Liverpool were sprinkled with controversy although home team probably should have had a penalty. There were also some worrying aspects to the City game. Kolarov wasn`t good enough neither was Kolo and Dzeko simply didn`t have the clinical side to his game. It wasn`t all doom and gloom for City as they did score two away from home at Anfield, but you can understand why Mancini is purported to be less than happy with the lack of signings this summer. A final mention to must go to Andre Mariner who made a number a glaring error`s not just against City but each of them were game changers.
Joe Hart – 7
Beaten by a wonder header and a wonder free kick. Not at fault for either.
Kolo Toure – 5
Looks slow and cumbersome and not good enough at this level. Better than Savic but not even close to Richards.
Vincent Kompany – 6.5
Wasn’t marking anyone for the first goal but kept the team going and led by example.
Pablo Zabaleta – 6.5
Was his usual fierce self and put in some tackles but lacks the height and left foot needed for the left sided centre back in a back three.
James Milner – 5
Was almost non existent in the game and I have never said that before about James Milner.
Aleksander Kolarov – 5
Quite simply not good enough to play for a team going for the Champions League and the League.
Yaya Toure – 7
Scored a goal and was probably the pick of the midfield players, but not up to his usual high standard.
Nigel De Jong – 6.5
Tackled ferociously but his passing and vision were really quite poor.
Samir Nasri – 6.5
Some neat passing but was bossed around by the Liverpool midfield.
Carlos Tevez – 8
Scored a goal, chased and harried and looks to be back to his confident and amazing best.
Mario Balotelli – 7
Made a nuisance of himself and had a couple of chances.
Jack Rodwell – 7
Made a great block on the line and showed how good his distribution is. Unlucky not to have started.
David Silva – 6.5
Looked tired but still passed.
Missed a sitter to put City into the lead.
Roberto Mancini – 7
His team were unlucky to go behind to a couple of suspect goals. To his credit the team came from behind twice.
Ref Watch – Andre Mariner
Made a number of game changing decisions. The worst being a free kick given for a hand ball that wasn’t and denying Liverpool a clear penalty. Not good enough.