27 November 2011

Liverpool 1-1 Manchester City

Kompany 31'
Lescott (og) 33'

I guess a second consecutive late winner against more-fancied opposition is asking too much. Still, if not for Joe Hart, we'd be reveling in one.

Today's match was far more in line with what I expected last week against Chelsea. Dalglish brought Henderson and Downing in for Maxi and Bellamy (who was understandably unavailable after the sad death of Gary Speed), and Liverpool did far less furious pressing. In a flexible 4-1-4-1 formation, Liverpool were more content to form two solids banks of five and four in defense, initially focused on preventing City from playing through the center – which was their aim with Agüero as lone striker and Nasri and Silva lurking dangerously between the lines.

For the first 30 minutes, City were the better side, maintaining possession as Liverpool prioritized defense. Despite that possession, chances were few and far between, limited to two half-hearted shots from distance and a 17th minute fright when Reina had to clean up Enrique's short back pass. But then the away side struck on a corner, with Kompany taking advantage of Kuyt's man-marking, also getting in front of Johnson. Still, the finish was slightly lucky, flicked in off the Belgian's shoulder into the far corner.

Instead of regressing, Liverpool regrouped, and were arguably the better side for the rest of the match. And Liverpool equalized in under two minutes, fortunate in their goal as well. As against Wolves, a more-than-speculative Adam shot from distance was haplessly turned into goal by an opposition central defender. The equalizer knocked City back, and only an excellent Hart save kept City level, somehow parrying out Adam's 37th-minute effort with his trailing leg, while Johnson curled a left-footer wide seconds later.

The second half was just as precariously balanced, and again, Joe Hart's the only reason there weren't more goals in the match. Liverpool were increasingly ascendant; Nasri curled a half-chance well wide and Enrique did well to put Clichy's dangerous cross behind, but otherwise, the home side were creating all the openings. And they were usually stopped by Joe Hart, both before and after Balotelli's hilarious cameo.

Kuyt headed a deflection off target in the 53rd, Hart pushed Downing's shot over in the 68th, City were lucky to see Lescott two failed clearances following Suarez's burst down the left bounce off Kuyt for a goal kick in the 74th, and Downing's shot-cum-cross blasted through the six-yard box untouched in the 78th. But Liverpool nearly doomed themselves again, with Reina necessarily leaving his box to clear Adam's short back pass.

Then Balotelli made the headlines, as Balotelli is wont to do. On in the 65th for Nasri, off in the 83rd after picking up a second yellow for a forearm smash on Skrtel. From there, it was Joe Hart versus the world, somehow preventing Suarez in the 87th after lovely interplay with Lucas, then amazingly clawing away Carroll's header in the third minute of injury time, also blocking Suarez's narrow rebound with his legs. Unbelievable, Jeff. Not to be completely overshadowed by his opposite number, Reina needed to be aware on the break minutes earlier, again playing sweeper-keeper when Dzeko broke down Liverpool's right, giving defenders time to get back and clear Silva's shot off the line.

A draw against the runaway league leaders, a side who beat second-place United by five goals on United's ground, now seems disappointing. No one's given City a tougher game in the league so far, but it's also yet another two points "dropped" at home, even if I'd wager a majority of Liverpool fans would have taken a draw before kickoff.

Despite Reina's sweeper heroics, it's hard to look past Lucas for Liverpool's man of the match. The team's spoilt for choices – Agger and Skrtel were both as excellent as against Chelsea; Adam turned in another disciplined, clever performance; Downing looked far more of a threat; and Enrique and Johnson got forward well despite City's strength – but once again, the Brazilian's beyond essential to this side. He was absolutely everywhere, constantly mopping up where City's usually at it's most dangerous. It's little coincidence Silva had least influential match of the season. 69 of 75 passes completed (92%), including 18 of 19 in the attacking third. Six interceptions, 7/7 on tackles, and 4/4 on aerial duels, while committing just one foul. He was a crucial outlet time and time again, steadying the side when trying to play out from the back, and nearly got Liverpool the winner with his bursting run leading to Suarez's chance in the 87th. I cannot do him justice with either superlatives or statistics. We're at the point where he has few peers in the Premiership, and he's still just 24 years old.

No English side has made City look remotely ordinary, but Liverpool did. While disappointment with the result is understandable, especially with more points dropped at Anfield, there's little to be disappointed with in the performance. Players continues to settle, while Liverpool continues to look more a coherent team, continues to improve, and continues to impress against the best the Premier League has to offer.


Atticus said...

Insane that Lucas is so young. What a great captain he will be. Nice write up.

Matt said...

Excellent review.

After a second straight tilt against big six competition without Gerrard and Carra, the future is here.