Date:Monday February 4 2013
The miserable curtain of rain was just the prelude to what was to prove to be the end of a miserable week for City as once again they fell further behind in the title race after once again being asked to play behind United.
Also, once again, Roberto Mancini's selection had me baffled especially as this was a home match against a team that City has punished quite easily over the last two years, Gerrard or no Gerrard.
I was critical of Mancini's decision to leave out Dzeko against QPR on Tuesday. Dzeko has been hitting the target regularly and to not play him against a resolute back-foot team where defenders needed disturbing was bordering on the nonsensical. But yesterday to play Barry and Garcia, who really play the same role deprived City of one more attacking option as Milner had to play almost freelance doing two jobs. And the two jobs he was trying to do didn't include his recent strength of forging his right-sided partnership with the evergreen Zabaleta.
The back line more or less self-selected, being probably the only four fit available. But it was in the engine room where this match would have been won or lost and in picking two defensive midfielders City surrendered the initiative to a Liverpool side who look a different outfit completely with Lucas back in there alongside Gerrard.
At least Mancini did restore the Aguero-Dzeko axis which I still believe is the most potent threat, which looks even better when Milner and Zabaleta occupy the right hand berths.
Having said that, Mancini could have been proved right after 23 minutes when a surgeon's pass from Silva found the just-onside Milner on the left. Milner drilled a daisy cutter along the six yard line, Agger let it go and the just-onside Dzeko pounced to prod it into the net. But what possessed the goal hero to stay on the floor for an age after the self-same Agger clattered him? He clearly wasn't injured, but with the crowd baying for Mr Taylor to halt proceedings there is no doubt that the defence lost its concentration expecting play to be stopped and Liverpool professionally played on for Gerrard to set up Sturridge who, with only a postage stamp to aim at arrowed home an excellent goal against one of his former paymasters to snatch the equaliser. Dzeko's goal was probably against the run of play, but should our international goalkeeper have been beaten from close on thirty yards?
The aftermath saw Dzeko leap up like a spring chicken, make himself unpopular with the assistant close by and earn himself a totally unnecessary yellow card. Lack of professionalism all round, I'd say.
And for much of the next hour with Barry and Garcia nailed in front of the back four, too much was being asked of the rest of the team in midfield where Gerrard reigned supreme and his lieutenant, Lucas hunted down everything City were trying to build, the Blues often finding themselves either one man short in the moves, or with no foraging runs from Zabaleta as he had no cover from Milner.
That City got to half time on level terms with the stats around 55-45% against them was an achievement in itself, but after half time nothing looked to have changed. Silva was wandering, wondering where everybody was, Milner doing similar, with neither Barry nor Garcia supporting from the centre. Dzeko started to look isolated, but Aguero to his eternal tribute never gave up and was a constant threat even though things didn't go his way for much of this match.
With 74 minutes on the clock, Liverpool raided down the left. The low cross into the box was poorly dealt with by Clichy and wormed its way out to Gerrard who from a similar thirty yards controlled the ball with one foot and hammered it home with the other in true Gerrard style to stun the arena but in the same movement set of flares and delirium in the visitors section.
City were staring at their second league home defeat of the campaign against a team in red but as I've said, Aguero didn't give up the ghost and four minutes later provided us with a moment to savour. Barry spotted him pulling out to the right and put an excellent pass in right where it hurts. Skrtl hesitated and left his goalkeeper to do his job. Sadly for Reina he needed to be jet-propelled to try to get there ahead of Aguero who from the tightest of angles and with nothing to aim at and the goalie closing him down somehow found a shot of total precision into the far side of the goal to balance up the scoreboard.
This also concluded the scoring for the day although Hart had to make one more save from his former colleague, Sturridge in the dying seconds. The Blues would have been glad to get out of this encounter without losing, but the way in which Liverpool outplayed them was down to the tactics deployed. Indeed Mancini recognised this in the second half by electing to go three at the back and bringing on Kolarov. This enabled Milner to play on the right, but clipped Zabaleta, who is the best exponent of the three man defensive line system.
It was an untidy day for City who now find themselves nine points behind Stretford, although a lot could change in the remaining matches, like it did last season, especially as the Red-Nosed Knight's boys are hunting for a treble. But there will be no free gifts heading down the A56 this season and Mancini has now set his team a target of winning every remaining match.
As far the Liverpool match is concerned Barry was once again exceptional and it tells me he didn't need Garcia in there with him. Milner was given MoTM for his energy alone but it was more to do with the fact that he was trying to do two jobs and came up with an assist for Dzeko and saw a number of potential assists come to nothing.
If, like me you are an avid follower of the development side of Manchester City you will have been disappointed to see Sturridge playing for the opposition. When City won the FA youth Cup in 2005 there was no doubt that Daniel had the class and quality to be playing Premier League football. City just didn't give him the chance on a sustained basis. Chelsea never gave him the chance on a sustained basis. Lo and behold, here he is now playing every week and guess what. He does what he did in the youth team - he scores every week. His goal yesterday was superbly taken. When you think that City paid that clown Balotelli to do nothing for six months it begs the question of what is going on inside some heads and highlights Marwood's plight. I just hope that the same heads don't make the same decision about John Guidetti, the self-styled "best striker in the Club".
And as for Balotelli - there was an inevitability about him scoring two on his AC Milan debut, but what that really shows is that he has been cheating Manchester City for at least the first six months of this season and happily taking thousands out of the Financial Fair Play coffers. Had City off loaded him in July that would have freed up wages to get RVP and if Marwood had not lined up such world beaters as Sinclair, Rodwell, Maicon and Garcia, City would have been in the front line for Hazard. I would suggest that with those two in tow the title race would have been over mathematically by now. Wrong again Mancini. You let your heart rule your head over Balotelli and it could well cost you your title when May comes around.
all times East Manchester
Sa 09Feb 17h30 Southampton, St Mary's, PL
Su 17Feb 14h00 Leeds United, The Etihad, FAC5
Su 24Feb 13h30 Chelsea, The Etihad, PL
Mo 04Mar 20h00 Aston Villa, Villa Park, PL
Sa 09Mar 15h00 Wigan, The Etihad, PL
Sa 16Mar 12h45 Everton, Goodison Park, PL
Sa 30Mar 15h00 Newcastle, The Etihad, PL
Date:Monday February 4 2013
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