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It was a match that both sides feared to lose and ultimately neither team did. It almost seemed as if Liverpool and Manchester City had settled for a point apiece even before a ball was kicked. So much was the lack of creativity and attacking intent displayed by both sides for much of the match.
The game had been billed as a key contest in the battle for the final Champions League position. But the end result and the nature in which it was achieved gave little indication that either of these sides would be able to. Whilst comfortable victories for fellow top four contenders Tottenham and Aston Villa meant that it was probably them that benefited most from the weekend.
Liverpool were solid and compact in defence but some familiar issues persisted as the Reds continued lacked a creative spark or genuine will to win. The return of Fernando Torres – introduced as a substitute for the final 15 minutes – may yet prove pivotal in Liverpool’s season. But the lacklustre manner in which the Reds went about trying to win this fixture failed to quell any doubts over there Champions League credentials.
It is also true that Manchester City do not come away from this draw in any greater light. As the home side this was an opportunity to rubber stamp their top four credentials lost. In the absence of Carlos Tevez, City seemed also seemed more concerned with avoiding defeat than claiming a landmark victory.
The fact that neither goalkeeper was genuinely tested until Pepe Renia saved from Emmanual Adebayor’s drive after an hour tells its own story. The nature in which referee Peter Walton decided to officiate the game did not help matters. But neither side seemed willing to commit in attack throughout a drab encounter.
Both sides lined up in similar formations and only succeeded in cancelling each other out. With Lucas and Javier Mascherano more inclined to nullify the opposition and keep things simple and the full backs often too deep to help out in attack, the Reds forwards were too often isolated. Whilst the likes of Maxi Rodriguez and Dirk Kuyt lack the pace and ability to get in behind defences and actually threaten well organised sides.
Liverpool frustratingly often seemed far too laboured in attack to expose any frailties in the City backline or pose any great threat. Benitez seems to opt for more patient considered build up play. But with Torres and Yossi Benayoun absent from the starting line up, the Reds lack other players in the squad who have the ability to cause City problems once they have found their shape. And the opposition are all too easily able to keep the Reds at arms length.
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It wasn’t until Benayoun, Torres, and later Alberto Aquilani, were introduced in the closing stages of the match that Liverpool seemed capable genuinely threatening Shay Given’s goal. However even the introduction of the trio failed to have the desired impact as the visitors laboured to a point.
The first half had very few incidents worthy of note. With both sides keen to give little away to the other and an evident lack of ambition, Reina and Given were almost surplus to requirements in either goal. Liverpool conjured precious few openings. Although their best chance of the match did arrive moments before the interval. Steven Gerrard’s corner found Martin Skrtel on the edge of the six yard box. The Slovak’s header probably should have found the back of the net but instead sailed over.
The Reds enjoyed greater possession and control in midfield for large periods of the match, yet simply lacked the ambition and creativity to find a way through to goal. The players should have been encouraged to shoot more from outside the box, with ideas and confidence in short supply once the ball had been worked into the final third.
Adebayor’s effort from outside the box was saved smartly by Reina, although it was one the Spaniard would have expected to make. Whilst Gerrard’s shot was saved comfortably by Given.
The introduction of Benayoun for Maxi, and later Torres for Babel, somewhat belatedly threatened to spark the Reds into life, as the Rafa’s men final sought a winner. However the closest they came was a call for a penalty in the dying minutes. Benayoun was certainly caught by Vincent Kompany as he jinked his way into the area. And whilst the Israeli’s determination to stay on his feet was admirably, you can not help but feel that many among the travelling contigent were calling him to look for a spot kick and a chance to steal a victoy.
In the absence and form and some key players for large periods of the season, Benitez certainly seems to have opted for a greater focus on organisation and defensive solidity. But with the squad almost now back to full health there can be few excuses for further inadequate attacking displays such as this. On this evidence there is plenty of work for both sides to do in order to achieve their goal of a top four finish.
Man of the Match
Mascherano produced a typically effective performance in the heart of midfield. He may have been lucky not to receive a second yellow card for a foul on Gareth Barry in the second half but he worked tirelessly and his all round performance was good.