Flanagan Carragher Skrtel Aurelio
Kuyt Lucas Spearing Meireles
Carroll 13' 35'
Revenge. Bettering City's 0-3 dominance in the reverse fixture, beating City as thoroughly as City beat Sunderland last week. Liverpool strolled for the final 55 minutes after Carroll tallied the third – his second of the match – the opposition, fully demoralized, fumbled aimlessly.
Whatever Dalglish said to the players prior to kickoff needs to be echoed before every match. There was only side ready to run through brick walls for the win; City were seemingly focused on the weekend's trip to Wembley.
Mancini's selection hinted at a focus on the future. City had played 4-2-3-1 with fairly decent returns for the last few weeks. Dzeko, struggling to come to terms with English football, had been relegated to the bench. Mancini's 4-3-3 formation in August's meeting took Liverpool's 4-4-2 to the woodshed, and odds were that Dalglish would stick the 4-2-2-2 seen against Sunderland and West Brom (he did).
But City went against all those precedents today. Most resembling a 4-4-2, Milner and Dzeko came in at Silva and De Jong's expense. The Bosnian partnered Tevez in an orthodox front two while Johnson and Milner manned the flanks with Barry and Toure (who has been better further forward this season) in the middle.
Tevez's 16th-minute injury made matters infinitely worse – he's absolutely essential despite City's galaxy of stars – especially since Balotelli replaced the Argentinean in a straight swap, but Liverpool were already ahead thanks their new number nine. After pressing from the opening whistle, creating chances for Kuyt and Suarez, Carroll opened the scoring after a hint of fortune: Meireles' shot from nowhere deflected straight to the striker's feet, but he still had to bazooka an unstoppable left-footed blast from the top of the box.
The front six may have been the same which lost to West Brom nine days ago, but Liverpool's energy and movement were wholly different. Suarez continues to be different class, while Lucas and Spearing bossed the middle, aided by Mancini's decision to play two central midfielders instead of the usual three.
City had a spell of ineffective possession for 10-15 minutes following the Tevez substitution, but all of a sudden Liverpool were ahead by three. A prolonged, probing attack pinning eight defenders in City's final third ended with Aurelio's blocked shot falling to Kuyt's feet. The Dutchman's finish was perfectly placed into the far corner. Seconds later, with City rocked, Carroll beat Kolarov – who probably shouldn't be marking a 6'6" striker – to Meireles' deep cross, flicking a header past the sprawling Hart.
Liverpool spent the second half completely nullifying the opposition, content to counter on the break. City had slightly more of the ball, Liverpool had the far better chances. Meireles, Kuyt (both twice), Suarez, and Carroll all could have increased the gap. Meanwhile, the away side hardly tested Reina until Yaya Toure's 40-yard rocket straight at the keeper in the 85th minute. That Mancini removed the substitute Balotelli in the 83rd for holding midfielder De Jong – the man he should have put on in the 16th – was a white flag, as close to a mid-match admission of defeat as we'll get.
There's nothing to criticize in Liverpool's performance. Every player impressed, every player ran until legs fell off. Carroll's two goals and Suarez's remarkable adaptation will get the headlines, but three others deserve special mention. 18-year-old Flanagan didn't look out of place for a second, silencing Milner, ably aided by Carragher's willingness to shout directions and Kuyt's willingness to drop deep and double up. Spearing improved on his promising Sunderland performance, a tornado in midfield. And Fabio Aurelio restored serenity and smart passing to the defense, class once again now that he's actually fit.
But Kuyt was also excellent, with yet another big-game notch in the bedpost. Lucas was as steadily furious as Spearing, although it's become expected from the Brazilian. Carragher and Skrtel kept Dzeko stone silent, Meireles was back to his two-month-ago best, albeit without the wonder goals.
Liverpool did everything required to finish the season on the best possible note. Today truly couldn't have gone better. But, as against Chelsea and United, doing it at home against the top sides when unfancied and up against the wall hasn't been Liverpool's problem.