Date:Friday December 27 2013
Fortress Etihad needed to be at its very best yesterday as Liverpool brought a distinct lack of festive cheer to all things Manchester. Long before the howling winds got under way, grizzly drizzle was setting the tone along with a dodgy version of the Fairy Tale of New York belted out on the BT City Square stage before GuitArthur welcomed the sides out with his version of Blue Moon.
The general consensus was that Liverpool would flood the midfield leaving Suarez one-out up front, using that as a platform to get Sterling and Coutinho working their wonders out wide ahead of delivering chances to their amazing goalscorer-in chief, the man Suarez.
For their part City were able to recall Zabaleta from the shortest hamstring injury in Manchester City history, with Lescott deputising for the newly-injured Demichelis, this despite a fitness test for Richards before the Etihad turnstiles went green. Kolarov got the nod at left back.
Aguero was sure to be missed as Suarez only real challenger in terms of goals scored this season, but Pellegrini promised risk taking football and the big guns all got the call today. There was to be no precaution in terms of leaving out the creativity of Navas in favour of the industry of Milner, so City had the solidity of Yaya and Fernadinho coupled with the mesmeric attacking genius of Silva, Nasri and Navas, leaving the Beast to worry Skrtl in the Liverpool defence.
Everton and Hull City have been beaten by the Blues at the Etihad this season and title pretenders formerly known as Stretford United, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal have simply been blown to bits by the rapid fire attacking football that has become a trade mark in East Manchester where only European Champions, Bayern Munich have come away with points in the bag. In the absence of European football on their calendar this season, the inclusion of a devastating scorer plus an all round play that in some way is designed to mirror City, this would prove to be City`s sternest test yet in the Barclays Premier League this season.
And it did not let the viewing world down. City made the liveliest start as Silva immediately eased through the gears setting up play and taking out swathes of Liverpool players with one neat pass. With just four minutes gone he set up Nasri whose shot was blocked by Skrtl and in the next move Yaya sent Kolarov haring down the left. His cross missed Negredo and Nava improvised a header which hit the post
The Beast let Liverpool off when another cross from Kolarov found him in space which was quickly closed by Sakho as City piled on the pressure.
But Liverpool were not to be out done. With Kompany keeping an eagle eye on Suarez it was down to others to create the spaces and the improving Henderson was doing just that in conjunction with Coutinho. But just the assistant referee saw fit to flag Sterling offside from Suarez precision pass was beyond belief. The Blues got away with it there.
Liverpool got themselves past the 15 minute mark without conceding and just 8 minutes later tied City in knots when Henderson was quicker to a pass than Fernandinho, played it in to Suarez who had come short and his delightful flick found Sterling having made a diagonal run. His first touch wasn`t the best, but Hart had come out to do his famous star jump and as the ball looked to running away from Sterling, Coutinho got in on the act by sliding the ball home from a tight angle.
So for only the second time this season City were a goal down in the Barclays Premier League at home and again it was against a team from the wrong end of the East Lancs Road. And once again it signalled a call to arms and just after the half hour a series attacks inevitably involving Silva resulted in a corner which he floated in to the near post. Kompany got in front of Skrtl to head home the equaliser giving him three goals in two matches one of which was a laughable own goal. This time the downward header bounced over Allen on the line.
This signalled a period of end to end football in which both teams could have taken the lead. A magnificent move by the visitors involving Henderson, Suarez and Countinho resulted in the kind of save that had once become Joe Hart`s trade mark and he was equal to that here as the crowd fully expected City to once again be trailing. However in virtually the next move of the match neat interplay involving Fernandinho and Silva set up Negredo who went a little too wide and couldn`t drill the ball home.
But he made up for it on the stroke of half time when a Manchester City Masterclass of a move ended up in the back of the Liverppol net. Lescott`s clearance found Silva, who moved the ball quickly to Nasri and equally as quick to Navas, all first touch. Navas spotted Negredo`s run and played him in. The Beast`s first timer was part palmed, limp-wristed by Mignolet and in slow-motion monochrome it went up and over and into the net as the Liverpool fans in 115 prayed in unison for it to land on top of the net whilst the blues in 116 could see it falling into the back of the net.
Clearly it was something that would disturb both team talks at half time.
Would the once mighty reds fold like another team in red did earlier in the season? No, sir. The disappointment of going a goal behind spurred them on to co-produce a second half that did not trouble the scoreboard programmers, but entertained the watching world to the edges of their seats as Liverpool pressed and pressed and City retaliated.
Henderson and Suarez combined to produce another great save from Hart despite the offside flag going unnoticed. Then Silva and Navas set up Negredo whose delicate chip this time didn`t fool Simple Simon in the Liverpool goal.
Hart was once again called into action to save from Johnson and shortly thereafter from the resurgent Henderson before Suarez set up Sterling unattended in the six yard box and he somehow lifted it over the bar when it looked easier to score. And with that probably went the final chance for Liverpool to become the first Premier League side to collect anything from Fortress Etihad this season, as City, Bayern Munich style played out the rest of the match to fully earn three points and creep one step closer to the top of the league.
In amongst this arrived the poorer side to Suarez game. Yes Lescott was having a tug of his jersey in the same way as Skrtl had been doing all evening, but his Ashley Young special dying swan was as woeful as the forged tickets circulating around the away turnstiles before the match..
Make no mistake. This was an excellent win for Manchester City, especially as few sides with have the ability to come from behind against a top quality Liverpool side that is once again on the march after years of underperforming and dwelling in the lower reaches of the upper echelon of the Barclays Premier League where in effect they have been overtaken by City.
The stats all favoured City in this encounter, but needless to say Brendan Rogers didn`t see it that way at all blaming a Greater Manchester-based referee for getting the big decisions wrong. City showed character to overhaul Liverpool and keep their noses in front against a team with a potent attack, the ability to play wonderful creative football, but who came up just short in probably the best league match so far this season.
Next up are Crystal Palace and my hope is that once again Pellegrini goes with his best team getting the job done in style. Everyone wanted to see how City would cope behind a slender lead at the Etihad. Well now we have the answer.
Date:Friday December 27 2013
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