16 Conclusions On Liverpool 3 Man City 2

Rodgers deserves credit for his bold team selection, while City are not out of the race despite Kompany blowing their fight-back. There was also encouragement for Chelsea...

Last Updated: 14/04/14 at 08:36 Post Comment

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*This was everything you would hope for in a potential title-decider; a rare occasion in a match of such importance when nerves didn't give way to a war of attrition. It was an encounter drenched in drama, goals, and moments of wonderful flowing football as Liverpool and Manchester City confirmed their status as the two most entertaining sides in the Premier League. With the Reds eventually sneaking a 3-2 victory, the title race is left on a knife edge. It might be Liverpool's to lose at this juncture, but we can expect plenty more twists and turns in the final four matches, especially knowing that they still have to face Chelsea at Anfield.

*Jose Mourinho will be encouraged by the lingering sense that neither Liverpool nor City have really proved they know how to win matches of this magnitude this season. All three challengers thrashed Arsenal at home earlier in the campaign, but the only fixture to truly rival the importance of Sunday was Chelsea's 1-0 win at the Etihad in February, when the Blues limited City to just three shots on target in a masterful counter-attacking performance.

While Liverpool would argue that they eventually got the job done against City, the manner in which they threw away a 2-0 lead will worry Brendan Rodgers. Chelsea came from behind to beat the Reds 2-1 at Stamford Bridge in December and, if the Blues can cope with what we can expect to be another blistering start from Liverpool on April 27, their chances of sneaking a potential title-winning victory will be significantly enhanced.

*Therein lies City's failure on Sunday. They knew that Liverpool would burst out of the traps in a cauldron of noise at Anfield, but still looked completely unprepared for the task as they conceded inside 15 minutes for the first time this season and shipped a second before the half-hour mark. In the first ten minutes Liverpool averaged 70% possession as City struggled to get to grips with the Reds' relentless attacking. The visitors just didn't have their heads in the game before the break, despite Joe Hart and Vincent Kompany's bellowing calls for focus as the teams made their way out of the tunnel.

It was perhaps ironic that both were at fault for the first goal. Kompany was made to look a mug - and not for the first time this season - by Raheem Sterling's cute feint, which inspired memories of Geoffrey Green's famous match report after England's 6-3 defeat to Hungary in 1953. On Ferenc Puskas deceiving Billy Wright, Green magnificently wrote that the defender looked 'like a fire engine going to the wrong fire' and Kompany was left similarly scorched by Sterling, along with Hart who also fell for the winger's smart turn as he rifled home at the near post.

*City's defending in the first half-hour didn't get much better. If Sterling's strike hadn't woken them up, Steven Gerrard's free header from a corner - saved superbly by Hart - should have snapped them into life. But moments later, Gerrard's whipped delivery was converted by Martin Skrtel when he evaded Kompany at the front post to make it 2-0. Were it not for City possessing the best second-half record in the Premier League, and Sergio Aguero a looming figure on the bench, it would have seemed like game over.

*A lot has been written about City's failure to sufficiently strengthen their defence last summer, and being forced to play Kompany despite serious concerns over the captain's fitness reinforces the criticism.

"Kompany has a problem, but we will see in the warm-up if he's fit," said Manuel Pellegrini in his pre-match interview after Kompany limped out of training with a knee injury on Saturday.

Given their vast spending, should City really be left crossing their fingers on a player making it through the warm-up? Kompany certainly didn't seem to be 100%, lacking his usual desire to step up and take the battle to his opponent and then making the crucial mistake with his sliced clearance that fell for Philippe Coutinho to score the winner. It was a moment that could haunt him and his manager for a long time to come.

*It was startling that City took an age to get going, but credit for that should also go to Brendan Rodgers. In Liverpool's biggest test of the season, it would have been understandable for the manager to adopt a little more caution, bringing in either Joe Allen or Lucas ahead of Coutinho or Sterling. But this was a team running on incredible belief after nine successive victories, and the last thing Rodgers wanted to do was burst that bubble by placing too much focus on the strengths of the opposition.

"There is no need for us to change, we've had an outstanding season so far," said the manager of his selection before the game. "The confidence is high. We just had to change the game tactically last week to help us (when Lucas replaced Coutinho at half-time against West Ham) but the players have worked well this week and there's no need to change."

*The manager was handsomely rewarded by Coutinho's performance, with the Brazilian's involvement stretching far beyond his winning strike. There have been questions over the defensive side of the midfielder's game, but he made more tackles than any other player on the pitch in the first half as he hassled and harried City's midfield. There was still a hint of naivety about the 21-year-old - particularly when he tripped Edin Dzeko on the edge of the box shortly before the interval - but that is to be expected at this stage of his development.

Coutinho may have dragged two shots wide in the first half when he could have played in Suarez, but he struck a beautiful, opportunistic winner to crown his best display of the campaign so far. It was the second of only two Liverpool efforts in the second half, but how crucial it could prove in the title race.

*It would be unfair to single out Coutinho and not also mention Sterling's mature contribution in a rampant first half for Liverpool. As well as putting the Reds in the lead with his composed finish, the 19-year-old impressed in a central role, taking advantage of the space afforded by Yaya Toure's enforced substitution and putting City under pressure with his direct and purposeful runs. It was only the second time Sterling has started a match in what can roughly be described as the No. 10 position, but he once again proved his adaptability - and why he should be certain to make the England squad for the World Cup.

"Raheem is a clever footballer," said Rodgers after Sterling played in a central role in the 3-0 win over Manchester United. "For a young boy, tactically he's very good. When he starts in the centre he offers us penetration with his speed." That was certainly the case on Sunday as City struggled to deal with the youngster's threat in the first half.

*It looked as though Toure's injury could end City's hopes of a comeback, and doubts over Javi Garcia's claim to be a capable understudy increased when the Spaniard picked up a booking only two minutes after coming on. However, City are simply too good to go a whole 90 minutes without demonstrating their quality and the gradual understanding that Fernandinho and Garcia developed was influential in their comeback. As Rodgers said at full-time: "They've got top players and top players respond."

*No-one was more vital to City's response than David Silva, who began to find pockets of space in Liverpool's defensive third and scored the goal of the game to halve the deficit. Silva's strike resulted from a wonderful flowing move as Fernandinho broke across the pitch and exchanged passes with James Milner, who crossed for Silva to convert to his third goal in six matches after none in the previous 17. Milner's introduction for Jesus Navas helped to change the game in City's favour, and his well-worked assist for Silva was a sign of Pellegrini's side finally beginning to click.

*The contrast in the two teams' defending at this stage was enormous with Skrtel, so commanding in the first half, suddenly becoming a bag of nerves. While City's back line began to assert some authority and keep Liverpool at arm's length around the penalty area, the hosts frequently allowed City to invade the box, with Silva, Nasri and Milner all involved in moments of delightful link-up play. City were now moving the ball at speed as they showed the incision that was lacking in the first half, while Liverpool struggled to mount a purposeful attack.

*Silva's goal sent Liverpool's nerves into overdrive and suddenly they began to play within themselves, losing the pleasing arrogance of their first-half performance. It was at this point that Rodgers must have considered sending on Lucas to strengthen Liverpool's resolve. However, as the manager pondered his options, City struck again when Samir Nasri found Silva in the box and the playmaker's cross deflected off Glen Johnson to level the score.

With Liverpool needing to win to keep themselves in pole position in the title race, Rodgers then opted for a more positive move by sending on Joe Allen for the disappointing Daniel Sturridge. Allen's contribution may have been minimal, but the intent was clear from Rodgers as he aimed to control the midfield battle again and create chances for Suarez and Sterling. It was further reinforcement of the manager's willingness to take risks and think of solutions outside of simply throwing on more attackers to try and gain the desired result.

*Pellegrini claimed after the game that "there was just one team on the pitch" in the second half as City "scored two goals and had two or three clear chances to score". Indeed, the match turned hugely in City's favour once Johnson's own goal had brought them back to 2-2, but shortly after they missed a brilliant chance to take the lead as Aguero span Skrtel on the left to cross agonisingly ahead of Silva. Had the Spaniard been able to supply the finishing touch, City would probably have gone on to win.

*As Martin Tyler announced after Sterling and Skrtel's goals had put Liverpool 2-0 ahead, the Reds relied on an entirely different SAS against City, with both Suarez and Sturridge uncharacteristically subdued. The duo didn't muster a single shot on target between them and only three attempts in total, although Suarez did provide his 12th assist of the campaign when he played Sterling in for the opening goal.

Sturridge's form has dropped noticeably in recent weeks and he was particularly poor on Sunday, repeatedly over-running the ball and making the wrong decisions as Liverpool broke on the counter-attack. The striker is perhaps beginning to tire after only his second full season as a regular fixture in a Premier League first XI, following his 28 starts at Chelsea in 2011/12. After 12 goals in 12 matches for club and country between November and March, Sturridge has now scored just twice in his last six appearances as he continues to show signs of slowing down.

*City should have had a penalty when Skrtel punched the ball clear in the closing stages, but the replays showed that Mark Clattenburg wasn't in the best position to see the defender's handball.

The same excuse could not be offered to the referee in the first half, however, when Mamadou Sakho took Dzeko out with a swing that would have been more appropriate at the Masters. The incident came just seven minutes after Liverpool had scored their second and, had Clattenburg rightly awarded a spot-kick, the complexion of the game would have changed entirely.

There is also a case to be made that the ref should have shown Suarez a second yellow card for a dive. If the Urguayan's theatrics had occured in the box to try and win a penalty, he would surely have been booked - so why was he allowed to escape when throwing himself to the ground outside the area?

*Liverpool have now lost Jordan Henderson for three matches - including the Chelsea game - after his straight red card for a reckless tackle in the 90th minute, but they have been boosted by Gerrard avoiding a tenth booking before today's (April 13) amnesty. Had he picked up another yellow against City, the captain would have been ruled out for two matches, but is instead able to look forward to the run-in.

"We showed today we're going to go to the wire," said Gerrard after his stirring huddle at full-time. "That was our biggest statement so far. It was the longest 90 minutes I've probably ever played in. It felt like the clock was going backwards."

Rather than looking ahead to the Chelsea game, both Gerrard and Rodgers emphasised the importance of beating Norwich next Sunday, with the captain repeating that "it's important not to get carried away".

City, meanwhile, will now have to wait to take advantage of any slip-ups. The possible loss of Toure could harm their hopes, but they are far from out of it with two games in hand and a favourable fixture list.

Matt Stanger - he's on Twitter.

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