Tonight`s game was an extremely important one facing a resurgent Liverpool who only a few months ago were languishing in the relegation zone. Bolstered by the arrivals of Lois Suarez and Andy Carroll, Liverpool find themselves in 6th place on 45 points before start of play today. Kenny Dalglish`s team have scored in their last 13 league outings and have lost just one of their last 11 home games.
On the flip side, our beloved Blues have only managed to achieve 2 points out of a possible 15 away from home in 2011, although we have not lost in our last four meetings with Liverpool. We have kept more clean sheets (14) than any other side in the Premier League. So looking at the statistics really doesn`t help predict what happened tonight.
Dalglish`s line up consisted of Reina in goal and a back four of debutant 18 year old Flanagan, Carragher, Skrtel and Aurelio. In midfield he played Lucas, Spearing, Kuyt and Meireles with Carroll and Suarez up front.
The game was preceded by a minutes silence to commemorate the Hillsborough Disaster which was perfectly respected and finished with huge applause. As soon as Mark Halsey blew his whistle to signal the start of the game, City set out with Milner left and Johnson right playing a four-four-two.
Liverpool`s first shot was blasted over from the edge of the penalty box by Kuyt after neat work by Suarez after five minutes. This was followed by a brilliant through ball by Carroll playing in Suarez who shot well and on target only to be denied by a brilliant save by Hart pushing it on to the post. Liverpool started to click in midfield with some neat passing and were starting to create chances and force City into their own half!
On twelve minutes Liverpool began a sustained attack. The ball was only cleared to Carroll who found himself free after Tevez was dispossessed in midfield. With one look up he let fly from the edge of the box beating Hart down to his right.
This goal was followed by disaster as Tevez pulled up and instantly handed his armband to Kompany and limped off holding his right hamstring. On fifteen minutes, two minutes after conceding the first goal, our first substitute Mario Balotelli came on to join the fray.
City couldn`t seem to find their timing, passes were going astray and the defence seemed to be constantly under pressure as they gave the ball away time and time again. Liverpool were first to every fifty fifty ball and City didn`t have a shot in anger until Balotelli headed over from a deep Johnson cross on twenty one minutes.
Mancini to his credit changed his system going four three three but things didn`t seem to change and Liverpool seemed to clearly dominated. As the half wore on, City slowly started to assert themselves and moved more and more into the Liverpool half. But with a swift break and sustained attack Kuyt finished as a loose ball fell to him inside the box and he beat Hart again to his right.
Liverpool struck again on thirty five minutes as Moreiles played a long ball forward to the majestic Carroll who out-jumped Kolarov and put his second goal past the despairing Hart. This game was becoming a nightmare for Mancini with the talismanic Tevez out, possibly for the season and City down by three before half time. City were desperately missing De Jong and Silva in a midfield and were too often caught in possession or passing to the opposition.
The first half ended with Liverpool on top of City winning every second ball and Mancini must have been left ruing the changes he had made.
The second half began with no changes; surely we couldn`t play as badly in the second half as the Blue mettle was tested to its limits, to come from three goals down. Whilst the effort was increasing as the half went on, with City`s players not being caught in possession or out of position as much, the Blue shirts were still coming under increasing pressure.
Ten minutes into the second half Mancini played his trump card with the twinkle toed David Silva stripping off ready to try and improve City`s fortune. Milner looked unhappy and shook his head in disgust as he came off for Silva but in truth he was a shadow of the player that hummed in the engine room for England.
The rest of the second half was much of the same although City sporadically attacked they spent more time defending and whilst the defending was better, the Premier League`s second tightest defence looked creaky.
De Jong came on for the bemused Balotelli on eighty three minutes but the game was over by then. Liverpool played with more desire and looked far fitter and stronger than City but the fault clearly lies with Mancini making three changes to a winning side changing the system to boot. With Tevez a doubt for the Semi-Final it really couldn`t have been a worse night for the Blue half of Manchester.
Hart – 6
Couldn’t be faulted with any of the goals but his distribution was lacking
Boyata – 5
Caught out of position too often going forward.
Kompany – 6
Troubled by the pace and movement of Suarez but offered little help defensively by the midfield.
Lescott – 5
Couldn’t get near Carroll for either goal.
Kolarov – 4
Gave the ball away way too much, was weak in the tackle and caught out of position…shame Zabaleta wasn’t match fit.
Johnson – 6
Couldn’t cross for our tall centre half from the right hand side. Should have been moved to the left to attack the rookie right back and supply crosses with his stronger foot.
Milner – 5
Ineffective on the left and only slightly more so when he was moved inside. Clearly not happy when substituted.
Barry – 6
Looked short of pace as the Liverpool midfield buzzed around him. Was the best defensive midfielder but still gave the ball away.
Toure – 5
Lumbered in midfield caught between playing a defensive and an offensive role and really didn’t add much to either.
Dzeko – 5
Playing an unfamiliar role with his back to goal, his first touch was poor and he was supplied with little or no ammunition from the wings.
Tevez – 6
Industrious from the off but substituted with suspected hamstring damage on fifteen minutes and may miss the semi final.
Balotelli – 5
Kept unusually calm but found himself facing two or three players every time he had the ball. Also like Dzeko offered little ammunition.
Silva – 6
Came on for Milner to try and create something for City but found himself out-numbered and off the pace. Showed glimpses of what he can do.
Came on with seven minutes to go. Didn’t really have a chance to have an affect on the game.
Mancini tinkered with a team after professing that the players were much happier playing once a week. The plan backfired and City were humiliated in the first half.
Dalglish was brave playing an untried eighteen year old at right back. His team worked hard for him winning every fifty fifty and Carroll and Suarez seem to have a great understanding.