Manchester City closed the gap to within one point of league leaders Arsenal after defeating a valiant Liverpool side in a thrilling top of the table clash on a boxing day.
The game at the Etihad was a true test of Liverpool`s title credentials according to millions of football fans and pundits all over the world. Brendan Rodgers` side passed the test with flying colors although they lost the game in the end. Manchester City recovered after a 1-0 deficit and eventually ran out 2-1 winners, once again showed their class and aura of invincibility at The Etihad, which has become nothing short of a fortress in the last three years.
End to end game
Manchester City entered the game with a perfect home record in the premiership where they had won eight games out of eight. Bayern Munich were the only team to emerge victorious from the Etihad and Liverpool had their task cut out as City started the first half with their typical attacking style, minus the mercurial Sergio Aguero. Pellegrini lined up City with a 4-2-3-1 formation. Silva, Nasri and Navas supported Negredo upfront with Fernandinho and Yaya
Toure shielding the defence from the threat Luis Suarez posed. Jesus Navas and Pablo Zabaleta had a field day in the right flank against the hapless Aly Cissokho as City looked menacing right from the beginning. Liverpool settled into the game after a shaky start and should have found themselves in the lead had it not been for the linesman`s poor decision when Sterling was flagged off side. Coutinho gave Liverpool the lead after finishing off a smooth move by Suarez and co. Skipper Suarez’s flick played in Sterling, who rounded Joe Hart , as Coutinho guided the ball into an empty net from an acute angle. Rodgers would have been desperate to see his side build on their lead but City found themselves level inside seven minutes when Kompany`s headed effort from a corner found the back of the net. Martin Skrtel, for the umpteenth time in as many games was more keen on tugging his opponent`s shirt rather than defending a set-piece. Both sides were keen on attacking throughout the game and it made for a wonderful spectacle unlike the bore draw played out by the London sides last Monday. Alvaro Negredo got on the score-sheet just on the stroke of half time, his scuffed effort beating the Liverpool custodian, after a wonderful counter-attack by the Citizens. Mignolet would have been very disappointed with his effort, as he usually sets very high standards for himself. The Belgian`s howler proved costly in the end, even though Liverpool tried very hard to get themselves back in the game.
The second half stated with Liverpool pressing for an equalizer and the likes of Henderson, Johnson and Sterling squandered numerous opportunities to get Liverpool back into the game. Joe Hart was excellent for Manchester City and proved to everyone that he is still England`s number one and the top dog at Manchester City. Pellegrini`s men had some chances to put the game to bed in the second half, which they didn’t take, and it was left to some dogged defending by Vincent Kompany and his troops to thwart Liverpool till the end.
Manchester City is in a rich vein of form at home, and it will take an extraordinary performance from the opposition teams to upstage them. Liverpool nearly managed to breach City`s fortress, but were held back through a combination of poor decision making, finishing and poor refereeing decisions. Aguero`s absence will be the perfect opportunity for the likes of Dzeko, Jovetic and Guidetti to stake a claim in the starting eleven and with a lot of fixtures in store during the festive period, Pellegrini will be hoping for his talented squad to come to the fore and make this a season to savor for the blue side of Manchester.
Brendan Rodgers, on the other hand will have bitter-sweet feelings after Liverpool’s exhilarating performance in Manchester. Liverpool would be kicking themselves after that flurry of missed opportunities, but the performance of the ever improving Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling would have surely brought some smiles on the faces of Liverpool fans, who have become accustomed to enjoying the brand of football this stylish and fearless Liverpool side exhibits week in, week out. A visit to Stamford Bridge is up next for Liverpool and if they manage to perform like they did in Manchester, one would not bet against them to break Jose Mourinho`s unbeaten home record at the Bridge.
Brendan Rodgers was distraught after the loss at the Etihad and complained about the refereeing decisions:
“The linesman gave Raheem offside in the first half but they were not even on the same cut of grass. If you are working at this level you have got to get those right.
“I’m asking young players to make those runs, he does it perfectly, and is given offside.
“There was another incident in the second half when Luis should have had a free-kick on the edge of the box and arguably there was a penalty late on.
“Luis can’t jump because [Lescott’s] tugging at his shirt.”
Manuel Pellegrini was happy with his team`s performance and the way his defence coped with Luis Suarez.
“It is not easy when you face such a difficult team, especially on the counter-attack when you are losing 1-0,” Pellegrini said.
“I think today we defended very well especially against Suarez.”
Vincent Kompany echoed his manager`s sentiments after leading City to a hard-fought win and his epic duel against Suarez.
“The three points are massive, that’s the hardest game so far. Liverpool are a good team so it’s great for us.”
‘I loved every single minute, I live for those games.
‘After the game we had a handshake – he (Luis Suarez) appreciates the battle, I appreciate the battle, we won but it was a tough game.’
Both teams looked evenly-matched from a statistical point of view, but it can be said that City won the crucial moments and its defense was calm enough to hold on to a victory which put them in second place, one point behind league leaders Arsenal.