There's a bit to be angry about, a bit to be depressed over, and a bit to be encouraged by.
First, the good news. Liverpool played well, matched City step for step for the majority of the match, even looked better than City for spells. Everyone gets beaten by City at home – it's the first time that City have failed to win by at least two goals at home this season – and City will have to travel to every other top either team except Chelsea in the second half of the season. Arsenal, Everton, United, Tottenham, and Newcastle were bullied at the City of Manchester Stadium. Liverpool were assuredly not bullied today.
The bad news: Liverpool conceded two Charmin soft goals – a set play and a counter attack, both starring Martin Skrtel – and missed a couple of glorious opportunities to equalize in the second half. Bullied or not, Liverpool still lost. The thin margins between a deserved point and a painful defeat.
With Flanagan not fit and Martin Kelly not even in the squad, Aly Cissokho made his first appearance since the 4-0 win against Fulham in early November. And City tormented that weak spot early and often, doubling up on the stand-in left back with Zabaleta and Nasri as Coutinho provided little assistance. It seemed a matter of time before City took advantage.
But it didn't last. Liverpool increasingly, incrementally asserted themselves after a scary start, and probably should have opened the scoring in the 19th minute. Or, more accurately, should have been allowed the chance to open the scoring, with Suarez's throughball finding Sterling's dangerous run piercing City's back line, put one-on-one with a scrambling Joe Hart.
Everyone in the stadium but the linesman and Lee Mason saw that he was onside. Sigh. Four minutes later, Coutinho's glorious pass nearly put Allen in, but a heavy touch allowed Lescott in to block. Still, City couldn't stop the bum rush. Another Suarez throughball, this chipped over City's back line, falling perfectly for Sterling, rounding Hart before Coutinho took over, smashing in from a marginally better angle.
But just like that, the match seesawed back. City immediately burst back into life, burst into Liverpool's half. Skrtel's last ditch block denied Toure, requiring a last ditch block because three Liverpool defenders were initially caught flat-footed. And of course, because Liverpool remain Liverpool, City's inevitable equalizer came on a set play, the seventh goal Liverpool have conceded from a dead ball situation this season. Skrtel, again the scapegoat, more focused on wrestling with Kompany than out-jumping Kompany, beaten to a header which gave Mignolet no chance.
City kept up the pressure, but without control or result – despite periods of dominance, neither side ever seemed in control – Navas blasting well over and Nasri tamely shooting at Mignolet from the top of the box the best two chances. Then, a Liverpool break nearly resulted in the goal of the season, absolutely magnificent interplay between Suarez, Sterling, and Coutinho when Lee Mason played advantage ending with the Brazilian's shot from 12 yards out denied by Hart.
But just before halftime, Liverpool were caught with their pants down, aimlessly tripping over those downed pants as a laugh track played in the background. Cissokho's cross to no one led to a blitzkreig counter-attack, with just Skrtel and Sakho left in Liverpool's half. Skrtel couldn't decide which City attacker to mark, eventually charging way out of position to try to close down Navas, leaving Sakho scrambling and Negredo wide open. Mignolet could have, should have prevented the goal, getting fingertips to the toed shot from the top of the box, but as it trickled over the line, you couldn't help but be much more aggrieved with Skrtel's "defending".
The second half saw City revert to a defensive shell, a vastly more expensive version of what Liverpool did in its three 1-0 wins to start the season. Henderson toe-poked a shot high and wide from the top of the box, Kompany cut out Johnson's dangerous cross, Suarez blasted a no-angle shot directly at Hart with three players in the 18-yard-box to aim at, an offside Henderson unwittingly blocked a Suarez effort on goal, Johnson couldn't control a fortunate rebound that would have seen him with an eight-yard shot at an open near post. The worst was in the 73rd minute, when Sterling ballooned a close-range effort from Suarez's early whipped cross. It wasn't a sitter, trying to run onto and finish a fierce, bouncing cross, but it was a clear-cut opportunity.
You don't often get that many chances, even if most were half-chances, at Manchester City. Liverpool will obviously rue not being able to take at least one of them. Thin margins, and all that.
With a 2-1 lead, Manchester City brought on Milner, Dzeko, and Javi Garcia to try to protect the result. £70m+ worth of players, just waiting around to be used off the bench. Chasing the game, Liverpool brought on on-loan Victor Moses and £7m Iago Aspas. Neither Moses nor Aspas have played in a meaningful match since the former started in the loss at Hull, having been used as human victory cigars a couple of times this month. And that's after having to start on-loan Cissokho because three other fullbacks were unavailable. That's the difference between Manchester City and Liverpool at the moment, and it's a credit to both Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers that Liverpool were even in position to get something from today's match.
But the substitutions had little effect, Liverpool limited to a 35-yard Suarez free kick and three hopeful penalty shouts in an attempt to replicate the scoreline from both meetings last season. Lee Mason wholly unsurprisingly, ignored all three, as City did what Liverpool couldn't in the first half. Don't concede because you don't make mistakes. Sometimes, it really is that simple.
So yes, it's an annoying, if not entirely unexpected, result. Liverpool's charge towards finishing in the top four will most likely be decided by other matches, first and foremost Sunday's trip to Chelsea. But, even in defeat, Liverpool proved they belonged in the discussion, belonged in the battle. Despite the mistakes, despite disappointing performances from a few key players (*glares at Skrtel and Johnson*), despite the big names missing, despite the disparity in finances.
That's assuredly progress, even if it is small consolation.