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Liverpool 1 - 1 Manchester City: Match Report
Liverpool came oh so close to causing a major boilover against Manchester City at Anfield, as the match finished in a highly-entertaining one-all draw. In undoubtedly their most impressive performance of the 2011/12 season, the Reds dominated City for periods of the match but were unable to breakthrough for the winner due to a Herculean performance from City keeper Joe Hart.
Both sides sprang shocks at the selection table, as Liverpool brought Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson into the starting line-up in place of Craig Bellamy and Maxi Rodriguez. Bellamy was left out due to the death of mentor and Wales boss Gary Speed, whilst Maxi could consider himself unlucky after scoring the opener at Stamford Bridge last weekend.
Roberto Mancini was back to his pragmatic self; leaving out both Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli, which heaped the pressure on an out-of-sorts Sergio Aguero to lead the line. Samir Nasri returned to the starting line-up, but had every right to be disappointed with his performance.
Manchester City got off to the better start of the two sides, but in a cagey opening they had a number of shots go harmlessly wide. There was no shortage of feeling in this game as City captain Vincent Kompany was yellow carded following a rash challenge on Luis Suarez on 13 minutes, ensuring his approach for the remainder of the game had to be reigned in. Kompany didn't dwell on his booking as he opened the scoring on 31 minutes in fortuitous circumstances. From a David Silva corner Kompany beat Dirk Kuyt to the ball and it ricocheted off his shoulder and in off Pepe Reina's far post.
Why was Dirk Kuyt marking the City captain at the corner? And where was the Liverpool man guarding the back post?
No sooner had City finished celebrating they found themselves level once again; Joleon Lescott diverting a Charlie Adam strike past Joe Hart and into the back of the net. The shot was going well wide and it's hard to see exactly what Lescott was thinking, however as a former Evertonian the Liverpool fans took added joy from the goal.
Three minutes later and Joe Hart made the first of a string of world-class saves that kept City in the game. Some excellent lead-up work from Suarez and Kuyt setup Adam who unleashed a stinging right-footed drive which looked destined for the bottom corner until Hart stuck out his foot to turn it away. The sides went into half-time at one-all; neither side made a change at the break.
City were immediately on the attack in the second half, as Samir Nasri blazed wide from distance almost immediately after the restart. From there the sides exchanged half-chances before Downing's mistimed volley on 67 minutes from the edge of the area forced Hart into an acrobatic save. Balotelli, sporting blonde hair, was brought on just prior to Downing's chance in place of Nasri. Balotelli received a yellow card on 77 minutes for pulling back Glen Johnson, and from the resulting free-kick a scramble inside the box nearly brought about the go-ahead goal for Martin Skrtel. Skrtel found himself tangled with a City defender and was unable to get the desired power and angle on the shot.
The last ten minutes were all Liverpool, apart from a chance to David Silva, but one of the main talking points was a second yellow card to Balotelli for a forearm on Skrtel. It looked innocuous but Martin Atkinson was having none of it and duly gave Balotelli his marching orders. Mancini looked none to impressed with his young star, however he later claimed that Balotelli was provoked and that Liverpool players influenced the referee.
Big-money January signing Andy Carroll was brought on in the 84th minute and nearly won it for Liverpool at the death. His angled header from Glen Johnson's tame cross looked to have the City keeper beaten, however this was Hart's day as he parried Carroll's header into the path of Suarez and was fortunate to block the Uruguayan's follow-up with his legs. And so it ended, one-all, with Liverpool fans sure to be the happier set of supporters, if not slightly disappointed.
Performer of the Day
It's a toss-up between three Liverpool men, Daniel Agger, Pepe Reina and Lucas, and the aforementioned Joe Hart. Hart for everything mentioned previously; without him the game would have been lost. Agger didn't put a foot wrong all day and is once again showing that, when fit, there are few better central defenders in the world. Reina was immense all day; not so much in the saves he was forced to make, but due to the three occasions that he came out of his box to spare the blushes of his team-mates. But if we had to pick just one the Man of the Match it would be Lucas. David Silva threatened to split Liverpool open at times in the first half but Lucas put the clamps on in the second half as Silva was largely anonymous. His passing has improved significantly in the past year, signalled by his deft touch to setup Suarez with a chance in the last five minutes.
Liverpool travel to Chelsea on Tuesday in the Carling Cup quarter finals, whilst Manchester City face a resurgent Arsenal in the same competition.