A frustrating afternoon in the slightly more bearable half of Manchester (if there is such a thing), summed up what has been (the excellent win in Marseille aside) a below-par December for the Reds. A disappointing first half display from both teams, was followed by a one-sided second half in Liverpool’s favour.
Ultimately the Reds were unable to find the sort of cutting edge which salvages victory from a game that appeared to be destined for stalemate. This is something Liverpool have done far more frequently this season than before. Take the games at Wigan and Derby as examples, and Liverpool have scored more goals in the last 10 minutes of Premier league games than any other team (9). On this occasion however, the likes of Gerrard and Torres were unable to force a similar result. Although some credit should go to City’s solid defending.
The match took on the resemblance of a tactical chess match more than a game a football, particularly in the first half; although perhaps that was always likely to be the case with Benitez and Eriksson going head-to-head. In the end City were desperate to hold out for the point, illustrated by the fact that they failed to produce an effort on target in the entire match. Both defences certainly came out on top. For Liverpool, Alvaro Arbeloa looked assured despite playing in an unfamiliar position, whilst Jamie Carragher was as solid as ever and Fabio Aureilo – an often under-rated player – put in a good performance in both defensive and attacking roles. As for City, Dunne and Richards were generally excellent in stopping Liverpool playing. However, on occasions they did resort to tactics more suited to a Rugby pitch, or even a Wrestling ring, and perhaps if such a poor excuse for a referee wasn’t in charge the course of the game may have been different. How Uriah Rennie is still refereeing professional football, never mind Premiership matches, after all these years beats me. But anyway that subject could fill a whole article itself.
Frustrating and some what disappointing sums up my feelings in the aftermath of Sunday’s draw. Liverpool could so easily have won the match, although this is not so much the product of the actual result and performance against Man City as it is certain previous results which intensified the importance and significance of this game. It resulted in the appropriate, if over-used, phrase ‘œmust win game’ being attached by the media to this fixture. After all, a point away to a rejuvenated Manchester City side with an almost perfect home record is not necessarily a bad result, and something only one other team had managed to do previously this seasn. However inconsistent home form, including draws against struggling Birmingham and Spurs, and most significantly the failure to grind out victories against any of the other ‘œbig four’ sides makes taking maximum points from as many games as possible – including tough trips to City, an absolute necessity.
If Liverpool are to turn their league season around, each and every game is likely to take on a similar significance to the City game. The sides above the Reds in the table will remain prone to dropping points throughout the season, as illustrated by Manchester United at West Ham. This makes Liverpool’s failure to capitalise on their second half dominance at Eastlands all the more frustrating.
Certain people were billing Sunday’s encounter as a battle for the fourth Champions League place. However from a fans point of view Liverpool can no longer be settling for this level of achievement, and I’m sure the team aren’t. Okay, from a financial perspective securing Champions league has to be the first priority, but from Liverpool’s position the aim should be to hunt down the top three. In terms of any threat posed to Liverpool, or any of the top side’s place in the top four, Manchester City‘s ambition on Sunday spelled out that this is unlikely to be significant. The cheers from the home fans at the final whistle which greeted a 0-0 draw and not a single shot on target, indicate that their ambitions are well below those of a club like Liverpool.
If Liverpool are to move on to the next level and provide a sustained challenge for the title it seems certain that another goal scoring striker is required in order to relieve some of the burden on Torres. The other options already at the club don’t provide enough of a goal scoring threat for a top team, particularly Dirk Kuyt and Andriy Voronin, in spite of the other benefits which they may or may not provide. I don’t buy into the suggestion that enough money has been spent already and Benitez has to stick with what he’s got, which some people in the media and on certain BBC phone-ins are suggesting. That sort of negativity won’t help to move the club forward. After all, just look at the amount of money some of the other top clubs are spending. The Mancs can spend over Â£30 million on two half decent midfielders (Michael Carrick & Owen Hargreaves) and no one in the media barely bats a eyelid. However, Liverpool spent big money in the summer and its a huge issue. That’s the way football is headed; you generally have to spend big to get the quality. Just look at Torres. It’s rare for a club to sign a genuine bargain or for a true star to come through the ranks. Whether such a signing is likely to be made in January or in the summer is another question, although the sooner the better. Names such as Anelka, Berbatov and Villa would fit the bill perfectly in my opinion, although I trust in Rafa’s judgement to make the correct acquisition if given the necessary funds.