Carragher Skrtel Agger Insua
Kuyt Gerrard Babel
Paid the price for sitting on a lead and for poor marking on set plays. And, of course, less than 10 minutes later, Liverpool went behind
It’s yet another game Liverpool will claim to have deserved the win, but don’t. Neither side will be happy with this draw, although it keeps City a point ahead of Liverpool with that game in hand and Liverpool – read Lucas – should have won it with the last touch of this game. This season is slowly killing me.
Football’s a game of clichés, and this one was a game of two halves. A blistering first five minutes – in which Given had to miraculously keep out what would have been Skrtel’s first goal for the club – turned into an utterly boring subsequent forty minutes. And you can blame injuries – yes injuries; it’s not like we haven’t seen enough of them – for taking all the steam of out Liverpool.
Agger suffered a concussion and was bloodied on the aforementioned Skrtel chance – a clash of heads with Toure on the incoming free kick – in the fifth. Less than 10 minutes later, Babel, De Jong, and Gerrard collided when Babel was cutting in for a shot, resulting in the Dutchman suffering an ankle knock. Kyrgiakos and Benayoun (again, horse placenta?!) respectively replaced the injured players, but Liverpool never built the sustained pressure of the first five minutes, and it settled into a defense contest between conservative two teams conservatively playing two defensive midfielders.
Liverpool had the best of the rest of the first half chances, but they were half chances – shots from Gerrard and Kuyt deflected and a Skrtel header wide of the post. City’s lone chance came through Wright-Phillips after a lovely Ireland dummy on the break, but the erratic winger shot high and wide.
But game opened up and the goals came in the second half. Surprisingly for Liverpool, but unsurprising given City’s defense, the home side looked the most likely to score from set plays, which they did five minutes after the restart. City just couldn’t keep Skrtel out, and the Slovakian scored with his third good chance, beating Adebayor to toe-poke Gerrard’s lovely free kick past Given.
As much as it frustrates the fans, especially when the side’s at home, Liverpool was far more content to sit back and try and hit City on the break with balls over the top. And it was understandable given fitness levels, only one substitution still available, and a crucial Champions League game on Tuesday. The away side saw its longest spell of possession, and although a resilient Liverpool kept them out in open play (Kyrgiakos did very well as an imposing rearguard), they finally conceded in the 69th. Yep, from a corner.
As little regard as I have for Mark Hughes as a tactical manager, his substitution of Tevez for Barry in the 61st changed the game. Tevez, who often plays well against Liverpool, should have been on for the start. As a second striker, in the hole instead of Ireland, the lively Argentinean brought Bellamy and Adebayor into the game much more than De Jong or a half-fit Barry were able to.
But it was a sloppy, regrettable equalizer, as usual. Skrtel, matched up against Adebayor on both ends, completely lost his man, and the Togolese striker drifted into the center for a glancing free header that gave Reina no chance.
As has happened in every single game where Liverpool’s let in an equalizer, the team was knocked back for the next few minutes, and it didn’t take long for City to take advantage. Again, Tevez was at the center of it, cutting in from the left and finding Wright-Phillips in the box. The little winger somehow turned a pass to Ireland, who appeared offside, but no flag and an easy goal as Skrtel didn't follow his run. Naturally.
But we finally saw some of that Liverpool resiliency we’ve dearly missed. It took less than a minute to get the equalizer, with City still celebrating their luck. And that’s why Mark Hughes will be infuriated with a fortunate draw. Liverpool marched down the field, Ngog controlled well on the right and worked out a shot, which was luckily deflected into the path of an on-rushing Benayoun. Couldn’t have been better for Liverpool.
But unlike last year’s squad, and last year’s match at Man City, Liverpool couldn’t find the winner despite having almost all the possession in the last ten minutes, with Aurelio coming on for Benayoun (being substituted as a substitute might suggest Benayoun’s not quite fit) to solidify the midfield. And Liverpool had their chances, although they came in the four minutes of added time.
First, Kuyt (who again had a tough game, and would probably be rested if there weren’t so many injury problems) had a 50/50 penalty shout, pushed by Bellamy trying to break into the box. Two minutes later, the Dutchman’s volley was blocked at the back post for a corner. And from the resulting corner, Lucas had the chance to be the hero, to finally shed that scapegoat label. He completely failed to seize it; somehow open for a free header, he contrived to mishit it wide. Sigh. The final whistle immediately followed.
With the injury problems, it could have been a lot worse. Going behind, yet again, with less than 15 minutes remaining, shows how much worse it could have been. But it’s another game where we’re ruing a lead lost. Frustrating draws are better than infuriating losses, but only marginally. We saw last season how little draws help in the overall scheme of things.
I’m proud of the team for coming from behind. Proud of individual performances from Mascherano (absolutely everywhere), Gerrard (moreso the first half; he’s clearly still feeling his way back), Carragher (solid down the right and kept the dangerous Bellamy quiet for long stretches), and the aforementioned Kyrgiakos. Proud of the resiliency despite injuries that kept key players out and saw two starters off before a quarter of the game was over.
But it’s still two points dropped. And Liverpool stopped being able to drop points over a month ago.