As City headed into a glut of ‘difficult` games, they found themselves playing Liverpool at Anfield, a game that started the run up to New Year. Should City still remain top come January 1st, the belief the players have in themselves would be far greater. Anfield has not been the happiest hunting ground for the Blues, having not won there in their last eight visits. Indeed City have only beaten Liverpool once in their last twelve attempts. Liverpool were the last team to shut out the City strike-force and since that game City have scored in eighteen consecutive games scoring an amazing fifty goals on the way.
Mancini made a number of changes from the team that lost to Napoli on Tuesday night and the team sheet read as follows; Hart, Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy, Toure, Barry, Milner, Silva, Nasri and Aguero. On the bench were, Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Kolo Toure, De Jong, Johnson, Dzeko and Balotelli – quite possibly the best bench ever to grace the Premier League and with the chance to go seven points clear of second place United, surely Mancini must have had he charges fired up.
City kicked off left to right and immediately put Liverpool under pressure chasing and harrying from the long ball played up field by Clichy. The Blues were lining up in a four four one one formation with Silva playing just behind Aguero, although their fluid movement would see this change.
Liverpool were looking good when in possession, moving the ball with pace but in the opening five minutes, there was always a Blue shirt stopping the crucial pass.
First corner of the game came after Silva played a through ball to Clichy who put in a wonderful cross. The ball was cleared over the touchline. The inswinging corner eventually found the right boot of Toure who struck it on the volley, his shot going high and wide of the left hand post.
Nine minutes in and City were putting pass after pass together and Barry especially was pulling the strings from deep. The Blues were dominating possession and hard work off the ball was making it difficult for Liverpool to keep possession themselves. .
First yellow of the game came on thirteen minutes as Kompany brushed Suarez gently on the ankle. The Uruguayan went down writhing in agony and the ref bought it hook line and sinker. With a booking so early in the game and up against a tricky player like Suarez, Kompany would now have his work cut out for him.
Twenty minutes in and another dive from a Liverpool player, this time from Charlie Adam and right in front of the referee. With City gaining possession the ref waved play on, but surely when play stopped, Adam should have gone into the book for simulation. Cheating wasn`t something I had seen Liverpool do before.
City nearly had a goal on twenty three minutes as Aguero, Silva and Clichy all linked up to create a chance for Aguero, but the final ball was played just behind the Argentinian. This chance was followed by a nasty challenge by Adam on Silva for which City were awarded a free kick, but as Silva didn`t role around theatrically as Suarez had, no card was forthcoming. .
Liverpool`s first corner of the game came on twenty seven minutes. It was easily defended by City and Silva came away with the ball and despite a number of attempts from behind to dispossess him, he showed both his ability and his class as a player to stay on his feet and attempt to win the game the right way.
Half an hour into the game and Silva earnt City another corner after great work by Richards. The little Spaniard stepped up to take the set play. He whipped in a wicked cross which was met Vincent Kompany. The ball came off the Captain`s shoulder and looped past Reina and into the net. One nil to City.
Liverpool equalised a minute later after a tame shot by Adam was deflected into his own net by the unfortunate Lescott. Not only was the ref against City it would seem (having given Barry a yellow for an innocuous challenge just before the goal) but lady luck was frowning upon City too.
This game was heading to boiling point as some poor refereeing and some blatant cheating saw the tackles flying in and tempers fraying.
Thirty six minutes in and Hart had his first save of the game and what a save it was. The shot looked destined for the net until City`s stopper somehow caught the ball with his trailing leg and put it out for a corner.
The goal had invigorated Liverpool and they seemed to have found an extra gear. Their passing was crisper and their movement better as they tried to put City on the back foot. .
With five minutes of the half left, City took control of the ball and kept possession. Pass after pass found a Blue shirt as they played the ball this way and that, probing and looking for the space. The move ended with a poor shot by Toure, the period of possession slowed Liverpool down.
On forty three minutes, Aguero was wrestled to the ground for the fourth or fifth time. Again, no yellow card was issued by the referee as he seemed blind to the fouls being carried out by the team in red. Every fifty fifty seemed to be given to Liverpool and on a number of occasions, the ball clearly went out off a Liverpool player, but the throw in was not given to City. .
On the stroke of half time, Aguero nearly put City ahead with a shot from the left side of the penalty box, but Reina made an outstanding save and before play could carry on, the whistle went.
City went in all square in a game they deserved to be winning. The first half had been littered with dirty tactics employed by Liverpool, kicking Aguero and Silva and diving at the faintest hint of a tackle. The ref wasn`t playing any better, failing to book any repeat offenders for Liverpool and booking City players willy nilly! Richards had been magnificent in the air, Barry`s passing was superb and Milner and Silva`s work rate out of this world, more of the same in the second half and City should take the points
With no changes made by either Manager at half time, Liverpool kicked off the second half. City were immediately back in possession as Clichy won the ball and played it through to Nasri. The Frenchman turned and shot under pressure, but the ball was always going wide.
This was followed by the pass of the game as Silva played a volleyed pass with the outside of his boot between centre half and full back for Aguero to run onto. The move happened so fast, the midfield didn`t have time to get into the box before the Argentinian was blocked but even so the pass was a thing of beauty.
Three minutes into the half and Liverpool had their first corner. Once again, City cleared competently. Liverpool were however pressing City deep into their own half but each time, Kompany, Lescott or Richards were on hand to clear.
Liverpool nearly had another lucky break on fifty two minutes as Kompany deflected a cross into the path of Kuyt. The tall Dutch forward headed the ball goalwards but wide.
What followed a minute later were two ridiculous decisions by the ref. Firstly, Aguero was elbowed in the face and left prostrate on the ground. Instead of stopping play the ref waved play on. Then in the next pass, Silva was challenged from behind and once again play continued. Not many worse refereeing displays this season.
Next mistake by the ref came on fifty seven minutes when Suarez brought Clichy down from behind when the City defender showed him a clean pair of heels in a straight race for the ball. No yellow card again for an offence which surely should have seen a card issued.
A minute later and Clichy was marauding down the Liverpool left. He put in a sweet cross which flew across the six yard box only for Enrique to clear. The ensuing corner was cleared and was followed by another dodgy decision by the ref giving handball against Milner when he clearly played it with his chest.
On sixty one minutes Suarez attempted to get Kompany sent off once again going down as if shot under a fair challenge by City`s Captain. The ref waved play on once more but deigned not to speak with the over acting Mr Suarez.
With twenty five minutes to go Mancini decided things had to change as he replaced Nasri with the volatile but brilliant Balotelli. Could the Italian, now sporting a blond Mohican, be the player to change the game?
Liverpool`s best chance of the half came on sixty six minutes after Suarez fouled Kompany but somehow earnt Liverpool a corner. The short ball was eventually played to Downing whose swerving dipping shot was heading for the net until Hart pushed it round the post with a diving fingertip save.
On seventy one minutes, Suarez earnt another free kick once again going down under gentle pressure from Kompany. The ref bought the dive and Kompany walked away shaking his head in disgust. This wasn`t how to win a game. This was how we expected Alex ‘win at all costs` Ferguson`s teams to play, not Dalglish`s Liverpool. To be honest it was becoming a little embarrassing for Suarez.
Next yellow went, yes you must have guessed it, to a City player, in the shape of Balotelli as he tugged on Johnson`s shirt and the full back pirouetted and fell to the ground. Liverpool nearly scored from the free kick, but once again, England`s finest saved the shot and City`s blushes.
With thirteen minutes left of the ninety, Liverpool were enjoying their best spell of the game as City`s defence were displaying some hesitancy in decision making. The Blues were being forced deeper and deeper and each time they cleared the ball, it was a red shirt that recovered it. Mancini`s men were really under the cosh and Liverpool were enjoying their best spell of the game as Blue legs looked tired.
As the game was running out of time, Mancini introduced leading scorer Dzeko into the fray at the expense of Aguero. This was followed by an utterly pathetic decision by the ref as Balotelli went for a ball with Skertl. The Liverpool player dropped to the floor and instantly a yellow was issued by the ref followed by the red. Once again City were down to ten men and the referee was instrumental in the outcome of the game. .
With five minutes to go, Milner was brought down from behind by Lucas in the right wing position, not once but twice. The ref waved play on once again and then booked Milner who put in a similar tackle to the two he had received. This was fast becoming an embarrassment to football having incompetents like this refereeing games.
Liverpool had another chance on the stroke of eighty eight minutes after Henderson played in Suarez between Clichy and Lescott. The ethically challenged Uruguayan unleashed a great shot which was saved by Hart.
Another bad decision, surprise surprise, by the ref in the eighty ninth minute after Andy Carroll took out Kompany with a two footed challenge from behind. A card was issued, but only a yellow, when the rules state any challenge from behind is a red card offence.
As the regulation ninety finished, Silva was replaced by Kolo Toure as Mancini shuffled his pack in an effort to leave Anfield with a point.
With one minute left on the clock, Hart made the best save of the game and one of the best of the season. A short cross was played into the box and Carroll met it with a powerful header. Like a streak of lightning, Hart was across his box and pushing the goal bound ball wide. Seconds later the whistle went and it was all over. A share of the points but the star of this game was not playing for either side. The star of this game was the referee who as the City fans chanted ‘was not fit to referee`.
Joe Hart – 9.5
Made some magnificent saves and is looking like he could end up the best in the world.
Micah Richards – 7.5
Dominant in the air and made some dangerous raids forward. Didn’t get the crosses in he normally does.
Vincent Kompany – 7
Unusually indecisive today and looked utterly frustrated with Suarez and the ref. Still, scored a goal.
Joleon Lescott – 7
Looks like a star defender this season and was unlucky with his own goal.
Gael Clichy – 8
Our most dangerous defender today making a number of interceptions and got forward well.
Gareth Barry – 7.5
The pick of the defensive midfielders today. Passed the ball brilliantly and was only stopped from playing as well when booked for a soft challenge by the ref.
James Milner – 7.5
Ran his heart out and was not deserving of his yellow card after some terrible treatment by the Liverpool thugs.
Yaya Toure – 7
Not his best game for City, not his worst.
Samir Nasri – 7
Played well and his movement was excellent. Just couldn’t find the telling pass.
David Silva – 7.5
Played the pass of the game and was subjected to some harsh treatment by the Liverpool ‘players’.
Sergio Aguero – 7
Didn’t always make the right decision. Shot when he could have passed on a number of occasions. Could have had at least two goals.
Mario Balotelli – 6
Didn’t deserve the second yellow, but struggled to make an impact on the game.
Edin Dzeko – 6
Looked lost up front once Balotelli was sent off.
Too late to mark.
Roberto Mancini – 7
Didn’t do much wrong in the game and often saw his team facing twelve men.
You’re Not Fit To Referee
This was chanted a lot today and I have to agree. This was a terrible performance by the ref. Issuing undeserved cards to City and not issuing to Liverpool players. I for one would like an in depth analysis of all the decisions. Terrible and embarrassing for a Premier League ref to be so poor.