Writer: Tranmere Loyal
Date:Thursday January 12 2012
Liverpool took a major step towards Wembley Way as the Manchester rain once again crumbled the very foundations of Fortress Etihad for the second time in four days.
After the debacle against Stretford`s finest saw City surrender their grip on the long awaited FA Cup, their passage to another final looks seriously in doubt as Liverpool, learning from their errors of last week scored and then shut up shop against a City side playing more in the fashion of the Mark Hughes era than in the Mancini/Platt scenario.
Once again it poured down, but tonight with a makeshift team shorn of Yaya Toure, absent at the African Cup of Nations, Silva rested through injury and Kompany rested courtesy of a poor referees decision on Sunday and an even poorer FA decision yesterday, City looked far from being at the races.
Liverpool lined up in a solid 4-5-1 intent on winning any midfield battles with the ineffective Carroll ploughing a lone trough up front although he was supported quickly and in typical fashion by Gerrard.
City trying a 4-4-2 formation were simply over ran in midfield and found all the doors locked.
From the off Liverpool got on the front foot to the extent that it was 42 minutes before City had what could be called a shot on goal. Three times Hart was called upon to make quality saves to keep the scoreboard vacant.
Neat Liverpool passing at the edge of the box put Carroll totally clear, but he is out of confidence and out of style as he failed to bet Hart one-on-one. Great save, Joe. Next up Gerrard fired in one of his trade mark curlers from the edge of the box which was going in by the far post and Hart hurled himself across his goal to make an excellent save. From the resultant corner another shot went in, same time, same place, same ending.
At the fourth time of asking, City defending once again in kami-kaze style found Savic tackling high giving the referee what is becoming a gleeful task in pointing to the spot.
Gerrard, having tested Hart to his left, tried his luck to the right and his shot was just good enough to evade Joe`s brave dive and creep in by the post.
This was job done for Liverpool as they starved City of the ball for much of the first half, forcing City to battle in midfield and leave Aguero and Balotelli stranded unsupported upfield.
Balotelli was clearly unfit for purpose today and when he stubbed his toe taking a free kick and ricked his damaged ankle that was the end of his night, and indeed before half time.
Liverpool easily saw the first half out not intent on introducing any danger. For their part City only huffed and puffed but couldn`t find anything to blow the house down.
Reshaping for the second half brought more intent from City but without Silva and Yaya there was nobody really showing for the ball and on occasion City looked flat-footed. Johnson was totally ineffective, Barry not his usual self and Milner tried hard but delivered not much.
City`s threat seemed to be coming from Richard and Clichy but ended generally without height and strength in the box where Aguero was lively but adequately marshalled by Skrtl and Agger. Liverpool still dominated centre midfield forcing City around the outside where they did get some joy but time and again the cross had no Dzeko or Balotelli on the end of it and was laid to waste.
Aguero worked astonishingly hard to try to carve out openings but it just didn`t happen for City tonight. Liverpool eased to a 1-0 victory having learned considerably from their defeat last week. Having said that they still did not threaten at all after the opening period but defended their lead effectively.
Carroll was terrible. Downing not much better. Henderson worked hard in midfield and when he came off for the injured Spearing, Adam went about his usual work kicking anything that moved except the ball. Just what does he deliver to the Liverpool team? Their back line looked in control even though Johnson was playing at left back to keep him out of the way of Clichy who slaughtered him last week.
From City`s viewpoint, the back line looked reasonably sound after the opening onslaught. Balotelli looked as if he wanted to be elsewhere and Aguero grafted as he does every time he pulls on the shirt.
It was in midfield where the match was won and lost. City did not overcome Liverpool`s crowding out of the centre and their blocking of the channels. Barry and Milner played like they did for Aston Villa and that`s how it played out for City. Gone was the guile, craft and magic of Silva, gone was the enforcement of Yaya. Instead we were left with simply a shadow of a midfield that promises a lot but doesn`t deliver. When he came on he may have tried hard but Nasri is not Silva. When he came on Dzeko did practically nothing, essentially joining Carroll on the lack of confidence and run the wrong channel bench.
Joe Hart was simply Joe Hart, fast becoming the world`s best goalkeeper. There isn`t a better one in the Premier League and why the likes of FIFA continually set their stall out with Iker Casillas astonishes me. Like the David Seaman of old he rarely sees the ball at Real Madrid.
This match highlights the fact that City might have in theory a large squad but like all teams, lose your best three and you struggle. The replacements are easier to suss out as they do not play with any serious threat, they play to a system that is now alien to City, but is more in keeping with a traditional team with traditional players.
It is time Nasri took games by the scruff of the neck, that Milner followed through his promise and graft, that Johnson stopped flattering to deceive. That leaves us Nigel de Jong, a cornerstone of the success that City enjoyed last season and an unsung hero in my view in the FA Cup Final. This season, starved of matches he looks well off the pace and a mile away from what City fans expect from him. Sadly tonight I though he took away some of the balance in the team and didn`t contribute anything really positive. Maybe the influences of a car salesman are creeping in. We could in reality have gone two at the back with de Jong shielding as he did at Wembley, such was the forward threat offered by Liverpool. This would have made City able to match Liverpool in midfield and still have men over up top, but Platty didn`t come up with that one.
We are now left with two options. Either we take the Arsenal route to oblivion by getting knocked out of everything in quick tempo, or Mancini and Platt get the tactics right at Anfield where an early City goal puts the cat amongst the pigeons and another early Liverpool goal ends the tie. It is worrying that in two cup matches we have given up early goals to the opposition. Or we go for it, get the equaliser and get at them down the channels. To achieve this we cannot field injured footballers as we did tonight and we must play the Magician himself.
With Spurs having won tonight, by the time we play Wigan they plus you-know-who could both be level with us on points making a routine match one of a pressing nature. Then Spurs come to us. It is already sold out. What a mouthwatering prospect.
Date:Thursday January 12 2012
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