The sound of Martin Atkinson’s full-time whistle at Anfield consigned Liverpool to a fourth successive home Premier League draw. However, on this particular occasion the Anfield crowd greeted the result far more favourably than could be said for some of the previous stalemates in that sequence.
After riding some early Manchester City pressure, during a spell which also saw the visitors take the lead, Liverpool fought back – albeit aided by a fortuitous equaliser – and their dominance in the second half was such that they should have taken all 3 points from the current league leaders.
This was always sure to be a stern test of ability for this Liverpool squad. Man City, in the guise of potential runaway Premier League leaders, had previously dropped just 2 points going into this game, in an unbeaten sequence that has included many impressive performances in their 11 victories to date.
Yet, City’s European ambitions having received a potentially critical below in midweek, Kenny Dalglish may have viewed this as an opportunity to exploit the potentially vulnerability of the visitors.
Liverpool’s pre-match preparations were somewhat hindered by the absence of Craig Bellamy. The Welsh national captain – so impressive in victory over Chelsea the previous weekend – was left out at the discretion of the club following the tragic news regarding Gary Speed. Whilst Maxi Rodriguez was also unlucky to find himself dropping to the bench – Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson returning to the starting XI.
After Anfield paused for a moment to reflect on the tragic recent passing of both Brad Jones’ son, Luca, and Speed, the game began at a fierce tempo which barely subsided for the entirety of the 90 minutes.
Roberto Mancini’s team possess quality throughout – not to mention the standard to their substitutes bench – so it came as little surprise that Liverpool were forced to resist some concerted City pressure for periods of the game. The movement and technical ability of attacking triumvirate, Samir Nasri, David Silva and Sergio Aguero, in particular, was a persistent concern for a well-disciplined Liverpool defence.
Man City dominated the early possession. However the tenacity of a Liverpool midfield and defence, which picked up from were it had left off the previous Sunday, ensured that the threat to Pepe Reina’s goal was limited. Lucas Leiva was especially instrumental in this regard. The Brazilian produced another immense performance of destruction, tenacity and simplicity. Lucas seemed to possess an almost unerring ability to pre-empt any danger and deal with the threat.
Yaya Toure sent a shot on the turn just wide of the left-hand post, after Liverpool had only partially cleared Nasri’s corner-kick. Whilst some alert play from Reina was also required to keep City at bay early on. The Spaniard rushed off his line to clear when Jose Enrique had almost gifted Aguero a chance with a weak back-pass.
But Man City were in front after an opening 30 minutes of few chances. Silva sent in a dangerous corner from the right and Vincent Kompany’s near post run and leap caught out the Liverpool defence. Kompany actually connected with the ball with his shoulder but it was enough to make the net bulge.
The hosts had yet to register a shot on target prior to the equaliser but were level just moments after the opening goal. Charlie Adam’s speculative shot from outside the area was probably heading wide but for the intervention of Lescott. The defender deflecting the ball beyond a helpless Joe Hart.
Having drawn level Liverpool took the initiative to the visitors. Hart did well to block Adam’s drive with his foot, once the Scot had been played in by Downing. Before Glen Johnson cut in from the right and sent a curling left footed effort just wide of the far post.
As half-time approached the game was developing into an engrossing, end-to-end contest. This time Reina had to be alert; blocking Aguero’s near-post shot after the forward had escaped the Liverpool defence following some good interplay with Nasri.
Nasri went close himself after the interval. Whilst at the opposite end, Dirk Kuyt headed Downing’s left-wing cross across the face of goal when he should have at least found the target.
The Reds were now seemed the more potent attacking force. Yet, as good a performer as Lucas was for Liverpool, hart was equally impressive between the posts for Man City. The England goalkeeper produced a string of top class saves to thwart Liverpool, as they sensed a memorable winner in the second half.
It is hardly a novelty for a visiting goalkeeper to appear to possess almost super-human abilities on a trip to Anfield these days. Hart followed in the foot steps of the likes of John Ruddy and Michael Vorm with an inspired performance.
The Reds will be hoping that future visiting goalkeepers will prove more forgiving if they are to begin to secure the home victories which they undoubtedly require if they are to propel themselves up the league table.
Though, Liverpool were given some encouragement in their quest for victory when substitute Mario Balotelli was dismissed by referee Atkinson for a second bookable offence with 8 minutes remaining.
The enigmatic Italian appeared to be in the mood for petulance, rather than brilliance, when he was introduced from the bench midway through the second half. Although, Balotelli can perhaps consider himself unfortunate to have received a second caution for a perceived elbow on Martin Skrtel.
Having already begun to gain the upper hand, the home side poured forward in search of victory. Downing had earlier forced Hart into a vital finger-tip save, having volleyed Daniel Agger’s cross into the ground, following a short corner.
Luis Suarez – who had a tough afternoon against the City defence and Kompany in particular – then tested Hart’s reflexes again with a first time effort, following a slick Liverpool move.
But Hart reserved his best and, from a Liverpool perspective, most frustrating until the last. With Andy Carroll now on the field in attempt to exploit Liverpool’s numerical advantage, the forward seemed destined to have stolen the headlines in injury time; only for an instinctive Hart save to deny him his glory. City’s star man then kept out Suarez’s effort from the resulting rebound. Whilst Downing disappointingly skied the final attempt of the match with a third effort.
Those in red were left the most disappointed of the two sets of fans at the final whistle. As the manager intimated in his post-match reflection, considering the standard of the opposition, that fact alone may be as telling as any in terms of gauging the progress which Liverpool Football Club have made to date under the present regime.
Man of the Match: Lucas Leiva
Colossal. Lucas was a consistent throne in the side of Manchester City’s attacking talent. Surely the best exponent of defensive midfield play seen in the league this season.