A stalemate between Liverpool and Manchester City at Anfield on Saturday lunch time failed to end the Reds recent barren run of form – now stretching to just one victory in 10 games in all competitions. Following a dull opening half, the match exploded into life with 4 second half goals. As Liverpool took the lead, before falling behind, and eventually salvaging a daw.
Liverpool dominated possession for much of the match, as Man City failed to impose themselves until the closing stages, as they appeared content to contain the home side. However, a lack of creativity in midfield and an inability to capitalise on space afforded to them in the middle once again hindered the Reds progress.
The two week break had granted Rafa Benitez the opportunity to get his injury plagued squad back to health. Encouragingly Steven Gerrard returned to the starting line-up. Whilst both Yossi Benayoun and Albert Reira were fit enough to take their place on the substitutes bench courtesy of some rather unusual medical intervention. However Fernando Torres’s injury problem persisted and Glen Johnson was also not fit enough to be involved.
Liverpool began the game brightly and Martin Skrtel’s header from Steven Gerrard’s excellent delivery forced Shay Given into the first save of the match. However a succession of enforced delays due to injury appeared to quell the home sides momentum.
Firstly, a clash of heads between Daniel Agger and Kolo Toure, during the build up to Skrtel’s effort, forced the Dane to leave the field through concussion. His replacement was Sotirios Kygriakos – the Greek producing a solid performance on his home debut – and Ryan Babel was also forced into a premature exit soon after, having begun brightly in a rare start.
These interventions evidently disrupted Liverpool’s encouraging early play. As the opening half developed into a fairly dour affair, with both sides lacking fluidity and cutting edge following recent poor results.
Once again the presence of Javier Mascherano and Lucas as a partnership in midfield profoundly limited the Reds ability to regularly test a city rearguard largely content to play a restrictive game in the first half. The midfield duo certainly have their attributes and can provide a solid base from which the forward players can create. Mascherano, in particular, was a genuine candidate for man-of-the-match against City. But with Lucas alongside him Liverpool are limiting their midfield options, particularly during home fixtures. The Brazilian’s ability to keep things neat and tidy may be commendable at times, but he is hardly the most creative or expansive player. Mascherano, also, is not suited to a more creative role.
Man City were affording the home side plenty of space in midfield, however neither Lucas nor Mascherano are the sort of player to demand possession in the centre of the field, nor provide the incisive ball. This seemed to limit Liverpool’s ability to test City, particularly in a tight opening period. With Gerrard’s fitness issues also understandably hindering his usual creative abilities, the match appeard to be crying out for the involvement of Alberto Aquilani’s pedigree in midfield.
In a home match, such as this, Aquilani is surely worth introducing at some point, in order to provide the Reds with that much-needed added dimension. However the 20 million-pound Italian once again warmed the bench for the entirety.
The first half may have suffered from a dearth in the quality expected from an encounter between two of the sides tipped to contest the top four league positions. A driven effort from Gerrard rose over the bar but there was little else for the home crowd to savour However the game sprang into life after the interval; largely courtesy of some frail defending as opposed to any great inspiration in attack.
Skrtel broke the deadlock – and his duck in a Red shirt – 5 minutes into the second half, to give the dull proceedings a much welcome boost. Gerrard’s free-kick to the near post alluded a City clearance, and the Reds number 37 was able to prod beyond Given to give Liverpool the lead.
Having grasped the lead Rafa’s men should have looked to push on, however, instead, they seemed to attempt to consolidate and subsequently allowed the visitors to gain a foothold on the game. Mark Hughes’s Manchester City, having been hotly tipped as the main challengers to the dominance of the ‘Big Four’ this season, had wholly failed to live up to their billing during the opening half. City had rarely registered as an attacking force and Pepe Reina had had little involvement. But, boosted by the introduction of Carlos Tevez, the away side were able to draw level on 69 minutes.
Emmanuel Adebayor had perhaps been at fault for Liverpool’s opener, but the Togolese striker made up for it by converting the equaliser. Liverpool’s defensive frailities were once again exposed from a Craig Bellamy corner. Skrtel did not appear to get tight enough to Adebayor and the City man was afforded far too much space to head comfortably past Reina. The Reds attempts to amend their defensive problems have been further hindered by a lack of consistency in personnel recently. The early withdrawal of the astute Agger was a blow, although Kyrgiakos performed well in his place, whilst Jamie Carragher was again required to fill in at full-back.
If the home fans had been disappointed to concede the equaliser, they were then left stunned as Man City stole the lead 7 minutes later. A nice interchange of passing from City involving both Shaun Wright-Phillips and Stephen Ireland lead to the goal. Although the away attack seemed to find it far too easy to work their way into the Liverpool area. And Ireland was able to stroke beyond a helpless Reina after 76 minutes.
Fortunately the Reds were able to respond immediately and prevent further agony. Soon after the restart the ball found David N’Gog in the City area, and the Frenchman, who received limited service throughout, shot for goal, which was deflected into the path of Benayoun to tap into an empty net.
The flurry of goals sparked an exciting finale to the match, as both sides believed they could graft a winner. The Reds again held sway over possession during the closing stages, however City unfortunately often appeared to pose the greater attacking threat in the closing minutes. Once Benayoun was withdrawn due to a lack of fitness on 85 minutes – having only entered the field as a substitute himself in the first half – Liverpool’s genuine attacking burden was carried by a semi-fit Gerrard and N’Gog.
Lucas could, and should, have grabbed the Reds a dramatic victory in injury time. The midfielder was gifted a free header, similar to that of Adebayor earlier, from a Gerrard corner. But he was agonisingly unable to connect with his header with any conviction, as the home crowd saw a final chance to correct the recent desperate run of form drift by.
Liverpool could well have achieved a hugely beneficial win here against a fellow Champions League candidate. Such a victory would have been a valuable boost ahead of some key fixtures. Instead the Reds have had to settle for a third consecutive draw in admittedly difficult circumstances. Now the Reds must travel to Hungary knowing that bringing an end to their recent barren run of results is not only desirable but imperative.