Manchester City 0-1 Liverpool Match Report
Liverpool returned to Manchester little more than a week after being humbled by the League leaders for the Carling Cup semi-final first leg at the Etihad Stadium. Since the defeat last week Liverpool despatched Oldham Athletic in the FA Cup, while City lost at home to neighbours Manchester United in the FA Cup. Liverpool knew that a similar 3-0 score line would be disastrous in their quest to reach the new Wembley for the first time.
Dalglish brought Agger, Johnson, Skrtel, Henderson, Downing and Andy Carroll back into the side, from the side that beat Oldham last Friday night. Gerrard started his second match in a row after his return from injury. A slight surprise to Dalglish’s team selection was the omission of Jose Enrique, with Glen Johnson switching over to the left of defence with Martin Kelly starting at right back. Craig Bellamy also started against his old team after his good recent run of form.
A travelling support of 6,000 Kopites were buoyed by a bright start by the away side as they took the game to the hosts, and inside 5 minutes Andy Carroll was sent clear by Downing, but the big striker’s effort was brilliantly blocked by Joe Hart. Moments later Hart had to be at his best again, as he saved a curling Gerrard effort from outside the box. From the resulting corner, Gerrard’s cross found Downing on the edge of the box and his deflected volley was superbly saved by Hart once again.
Then in the 13th minute Agger was fouled in the box by Savic, resulting in referee Mason to point to the spot. Gerrard made no mistake from the spot, shooting low into the bottom corner past the despairing dive from Hart. It was no more than Liverpool deserved as they continued to dominate.
But Liverpool were dealt a blow when Jay Spearing pulled up with an injury in the 23rd minute, Charlie Adam replaced the midfielder. The change never changed the pattern of play as Liverpool continued to have more of the ball. Andy Carroll had Joe Hart worried with a headed effort that just missed the target after a good cross by Kelly.
The ineffective Balotelli was replaced before the break by Nasri, and it was the substitute that had City’s first real effort on goal just before half-time as his wicked shot forced Reina into a very good save diving low to his left to parry. Then shortly after Richards raced past Johnson before cutting the ball back to Milner, but he failed to hit the target ensuring Liverpool would hold a slender lead at the break.
As expected City came out with intent on getting back into this tie and they forced Liverpool into their own half as they struggled to hold possession. Martin Skrtel had to produce a very good tackle to thwart Aguero as the pressure mounted and then the hosts’ were almost gifted an equaliser when Kelly’s pass back went straight to Aguero, but Pepe Reina did enough to force the striker wide and forcing him to shoot over. Then Reina made a brilliant point blank save from a powerful Richards’ header as the visitors tried to hold onto their advantage.
Dalglish made defensive substitutions as he hoped to hold onto Liverpool’s slender lead, with Enrique and Carragher coming on for Downing and Bellamy. Liverpool defended stubbornly for the remainder of the match with a late Aguero header being the closest City came to drawing level. So Liverpool held on for a 1-0 advantage as they head back to Anfield for the second leg in a fortnight.
As expected Dalglish fielded a very strong side, although I was surprised to see Johnson play left back instead of Enrique. Liverpool started the match superbly and took the game to City and could have been a couple of goals up before they took the lead. No doubt about the penalty, a stone-waller, with Gerrard as cool as you like with the finish. Liverpool passed the ball very well in the first half and had to be resolute defensively in the second half as City upped their game. Although City had most of the ball in the second half, Liverpool limited them to very few chances, the Reina save from Richards’s header being the nearest they came. Dalglish made a couple of very defensive substitutions which I wasn’t keen on, but his tactics worked and to come away with a 1-0 lead away from home is a superb result. Johnson was a bit lucky to stay on the field at the end with a two footed tackle, but I thought it was ok the first time I saw it, but it looked pretty bad in slow motion. But you can tell when a bad tackle has been made by the reaction of the players, and there was none. Nothing can take away from the superb result and performance.
Man Of The Match – Johnson – played brilliantly in an unorthodox role on the left. Defended brilliantly and looked dangerous going forward.