26 December 2013

Liverpool 1-2 Manchester City

Coutinho 24'
Kompany 31'
Negredo 45+1'

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.


Anonymous said...

I want to strangle Skrtel from running away from the attacker!! He has done this in the past... Shitsoko is pathetic and piss poor. Considering we are half the price tag compared to city we held our own and if Henry gives BR in Jan to bring in one or two great players we can win the whole thing. This is very interesting times with Whiskey nose stepping down, everyone wants to make their mark and LFC is one of them. This is our time to shine, none of the sports casters or any football websites are even giving LFC credit. I say we can do this!! YNWA!!!!

Anonymous said...

We battled City toe to toe for the entire match at their home ground. Outplayed them for decent stretches which no one has been able to do at the Etihad.

Small margins. Many matches are determined by them and this was one of them. The offside call by the Linesman on Sterling for the "non-goal" was an absolutely horrendous call and was a "Big-Margin" horrible call. The goal by Kompany had Mignolet well beaten but Joe Allen was PERFECTLY placed to keep it out. He just had to take a step forward and be aggressive to clear the ball with either his knee or his head. Not a difficult clearance to make by any stretch. As it was he backed up and the ball went off his knee, where he needed to be aggressive and attack the ball. Skrtel did his best to assault Kompany but still was not able to prevent him from easily winning the header. Not many defenders would have been able to outmuscle Kompany, and every defender is going to get beat once or twice a game.

The second goal by Negredo should have been saved by Mignolet. He was leaning the wrong way which only allowed him to get a weak hand to it. On most days Mig keeps those well out and makes an easy looking save.

Luis created some very dangerous chances for us. The one where he played Sterling in for that horrible offside call. The touch to Coutinho at the culmination of some BRILLIANT build up play where Hart made a decent save. Another one in the 2nd half where he picked the ball up on the left wing, blocked off the defender, dribbled at goal and played Sterling in with the cross should have been another fairly easy goal for us. Sterling needs to crush those with his instep, get over the ball before contact and power the ball and Hart through the back of the net. The touch with the side of the foot is a much more difficult technique to convert those types of chances. He has the speed to catch up with the cross and get over that shot. Should be second nature.

In my little mind that was a 3 - NIL Liverpool win. Small margins allowed them to convert those 2 chances. We should have been able to fairly easily keep them out. Sterling should have been allowed to take that 1st goal and should have powered that easy chance for his 2nd goal.

A little bummed about not taking at least a point. But fair play to the boys. They took it to City for large stretches of that match. NO ONE (besides Bayern) else, certainly no one in the Prem has even come close to playing them heads-up like that at the Eti.

Anonymous said...

Looking at the picture of the offside call, Sterling is a yard or two onside. It's not even a close decision and the linesman is perfectly placed to see the play clearly. Getting that call wrong, that is SO obviously and clearly onside should require that linesman change his occupation.

Lee Mason is also very well positioned to be able to clearly see that Sterling is onside. No way Mason could not have realized that Sterling was onside. It is completely understandable that Rodgers may feel that there are untoward or nefarious influences at work in both Mason and the linesman making that call.

But then again it could be that Mason is just completely inept. A study found that he got a large percentage of the big decisions wrong in 2012/2013 and was slightly biased towards City. Maybe Mou can get Abramovich to hire him for the Chelsea match?