Yaya Toure 33'
Milner 75' (pen)
Mistakes punished by cruel, efficient competency combined with continued Liverpool impotence in front of goal. An added bonus of a referee error, a game-ending penalty given for Yaya Toure's dive, mere moments after fleeting good fortune when Barry saw red for two soft yellows. It's just the second time Liverpool conceded two or more goals in 20 league matches, away to two of the three best sides in the league, but today still felt all too familiar.
In a parallel universe, Downing scored in the 8th minute for his fifth of the season, while Kompany wasn't able to block to Kuyt's 43rd-minute point-blank poke. Liverpool were in first in this parallel universe league going into this fixture, having drawn just once at Anfield. Needless to say, Liverpool haven't made many defense mistakes in this parallel universe league. Science needs to discover parallel universes.
But in this universe, when Downing was one-on-one with Hart, released down the left by a wonderful Henderson through-ball, he looked eerily like Henderson did in a similar position against Stoke. Hart did well to block with his back foot, but the unfortunate winger uncertainly tried to place it around a charging keeper.
Two minutes later, Agüero thumped City ahead after mistakes from Kuyt and Reina. The former over-intricately dawdled in possession deep in Liverpool's half, letting Milner steal in and release City's top scorer. The latter, admittedly unsighted, somehow saw Agüero's dipping shot squirm under his diving frame.
Following some initial uncertainty, with Agüero shooting too close to Reina and Dzeko's blast deflecting off Johnson just wide of the post, Liverpool's best spell came prior to City's crucial second. Able to keep possession on City's ground, but with all the goal-threat of a legless XI, Liverpool's best chances came on Adam and Henderson shots from distances and a couple of "close but not quite" Downing crosses toward Carroll.
Then, history repeated on two City corners, as Liverpool failed to learn from the goal conceded in November's meeting. First, Reina redeemed his earlier error by parrying Kompany's bullet header with a brilliant reaction save. He couldn't reach the second as Yaya Toure was in front of Glen Johnson the entire time, hammering in at the near post. As implied in the earlier paean to parallel universes, Liverpool nearly pulled one back before half-time, but Kompany reacted excellently to deny Kuyt after Carroll's knockdown of Enrique's cross.
Liverpool couldn't even replicate that marginal goal-threat in the second half, with City content to stifle thanks to the two-goal advantage. Gerrard and Bellamy replacing the ineffective (to put it nicely) Adam and Kuyt couldn't change the dynamic, and any hope of scoring two in fifteen minutes against ten men was immediately erased after Toure burst past Skrtel and Agger and fell under the slightest of (if any) contract from the Slovakian, counter-attacking after Liverpool wasted the free kick which earned Barry's dismissal.
Liverpool had multiple half-chances for a consolation in the final few minutes, almost all through the three substitutes (Maxi also came on, for Spearing after City's third), but the best was another counter-attack from City, Adam Johnson cannoning a shot off the woodwork in the 80th having already spun away to celebrate.
Back-to-back three-goal losses at Eastlands will invite far too many unwelcome, unwarranted, and idiotic Hodgson-Dalglish comparisons. At least it'll make it easier to weed out half-wits. It's impossible to argue Liverpool merited a draw, but the game could and probably would have been different had a confident attacker taken the first chance of the match. There's still no comparison to last season's horrors; Liverpool's weren't terrible today, and had the majority of possession throughout, both when level and behind. Liverpool just remain really bad in front of goal.
Spearing was a competent and diligent holding midfielder and Henderson was probably Liverpool's best player. Neither Skrtel nor Agger deserve to be part of a defense that let in three, and that it was Skrtel who conceded that penalty is especially callous. But the aforementioned Adam and Kuyt were passengers, Reina had a frighteningly-increasingly-familiar howler, Downing didn't do enough when back on the left, and both Johnson and Enrique disappointed going forward. Carroll was as blunt as ever, without a bare minimum of unlucky close-calls as against Blackburn, Newcastle, and when City came to Anfield. Some credit has to go to to the hosts; Kompany was especially impressive, pocketing Carroll as severely as Skrtel pocketed Dzeko, redemption for being out-muscled when they met at Anfield last season. City counter-attacked at pace and took their chances, no matter how harsh any goal might seem. Liverpool did not.
You may have noticed I haven't mentioned Suarez until now, under the assumption you're aware that Liverpool aren't appealing his ban. Yes, he may have helped. Liverpool's attack assuredly needed help. That he isn't available and won't be until early February, returning against either Spurs or United contingent on progression in the FA Cup, makes the discussion meaningless. I want to believe Liverpool can turn the corner without additions, Suarez or no Suarez, given how these players have played in the past, whether that past is with Liverpool or another. But Kuyt, Carroll, and Downing – while not the only culprits – continue to make that look a belief based on faith rather than fact.
Oldham on Friday before a return trip to the City of Manchester Stadium in the Carling Cup semis.