Carragher Skrtel Agger Insua
Babel Gerrard Maxi
A clear display of how tight the battle for fourth is, with both sides deathly frightened of conceding and rarely willing to come out of their respective shells. A draw is definitely deserved. And both live to fight another day, I guess.
City came out in a mirror reflection of Liverpool’s formation – with Ireland off Adebayor and De Jong and Barry holding – and the two sides, nearly level in the league, canceled each other out in the first half, leading to few and far between attacks for both.
The first 45 saw three shots for Liverpool, one for City, and none tested the keeper. Rodriguez and Gerrard cut in from the left and right respectively (in the 13th and 25th) with Maxi’s shot deflected wide(r) and Gerrard shooting over with a left-footed effort, while Skrtel had the best chance right before halftime, heading Gerrard’s sixth corner wide in the 44th. City’s lone shot came after Zabaleta collected Agger’s clearance, with Adebayor (who looked offside) deflecting the Argentinean’s strike wide. Most of City’s chances came when attacking at pace, usually after a Liverpool giveaway, with Adam Johnson far and away the most threatening.
Constant Liverpool giveaways, with Lucas and Mascherano the guiltiest (especially Lucas, although no one was exempt), kept the away side from putting their minute advantage to use, but that Liverpool saw slightly more possession and had the marginally more meaningful chances (as well as six corners to City’s one) meant that at least the two South Americans were winning the battle.
An even more disjointed Liverpool saw City up the pressure after the break, taking less than 10 minutes to equal the corner count and almost forge a winner within five, when a Gerrard slip allowed City to break through Ireland and Adebayor, with Ireland missing wide after Adebayor’s throughball, although the midfielder looked offside. The first shot on goal came soon after, from Adebayor and despite a handball from the striker, but Reina got down low to make an excellent save.
We got two important players making returns from injury in Benayoun (for Maxi) and Torres (for Babel), in the 63rd and 75th (with Aquilani making a cameo for Kuyt in the 87th) and Liverpool finally got a first shot on goal in the 74th – another Gerrard lefty shot from 22 yards straight down Given’s throat – but a winner wasn’t coming for either side, and neither really deserved one.
City finished with the better chances, with Skrtel wonderfully getting back for a last-ditch tackle on an apparently-through Adebayor, the Togolese striker heading over from a corner flicked back in, and a coming together between Agger and Adebayor in the box which might have been a penalty, before Benayoun could have won a penalty of his own in the first minute of added time, staying on his feet after Kompany left his foot in, only to see his cutback cut out.
Liverpool’s rebuilt the season brick by brick with a formidable defense, and that remained the case today. Skrtel and Carragher were absolute rocks, and a 4-2-3-1 formation from City allowed Skrtel and Agger to double Adebayor for long stretches, with the two looking a better partnership with each match together. The resilience shown, against a strong City side on their ground, was definitely welcomed.
That Babel started on the right with Kuyt up top (Babel and Maxi switched sides around the half-hour mark) shows Benitez is looking for ways to change up the attack, with obviously limited resources and within the system he’s built, although Ngog was apparently injured, not in the squad. Unfortunately, it was the same old hard road to hoe, although City clearly made defending a priority, something Mancini was already focused on.
And that both Benayoun and Torres returned is massively heartening. Torres was invisible for long stretches, even picking up an unwarranted yellow for an innocuous challenge, but just being on the pitch and not suffering a relapse is a boon. And Benayoun looked lively at times, trying to run at defenders although clearly not match fit. If he would have gone down under Kompany’s challenge, we might have seen a penalty; Walton definitely would have had something to think about, although the referee was inconsistent with his whistle today (although on the whole even for both clubs, despite a questionable six yellows for Liverpool).
‘At least it’s not a loss’ usually feels worse than this. A win would have been lovely, but taking a point at a difficult venue isn’t a terrible result by any means. A loss would have been reprehensible, leaving Liverpool with Mount Everest to climb. This, coupled with Spurs and Villa’s results, at least leaves everything to play for over the next 11 matches.