Verdict: Manchester City 0 Liverpool 0
With neither Mancini or Benitez willing to go for broke, Liverpool and City cancelled each other out in a hard fought draw where all the heroes were in defence. It resulted in one shot on target apiece with Adebayor forcing the harder save from Pepe Reina.
Adebayor also came closest to scoring on two other occasions; putting a header from a corner just over, and being tackled at the last by Skrtel on the one occasion he looked to have broken free from the Liverpool back line. This was not a game for the neutrals, yet for those who appreciate a hard fought tactical battle there was something to admire.
With both teams having lost the defensive frailties that plagued their early season form, this was always likely to be a tight affair. Here there were a couple of surprises in the defence selected by Mancini.
Early morning rumours of an injury to Toure saw Kompany restored to the side alongside Lescott. Zabaleta also returned in place of Richards. With all due respect to Kolo, this was the central defensive pairing that many were hoping to see and it didn’t disappoint.
Both in open play and set-pieces Vince and Joleon were dominant. Nigel de Jong looked happy to be seeing the ball on the ground again and was hugely influential in stopping Liverpool playing the ball through the middle. Gerrard was never able to influence the game as a result.
Mancini went for a more attacking midfield featuring Ireland in his favoured role, with Johnson starting on the left and Wright-Phillips on the right. Adebayor was the lone striker and he worked hard despite being constantly outnumbered. During the first half in particular, the Togolese was winning a lot of headers, but none quite fell for City to take maximum advantage.
Adam Johnson demonstrated his fine close control on both flanks, but also bore an unfortunate resemblance to Petrov on an off-day with his erratic deliveries from set-pieces. Gareth Barry used to take many an effective set-piece for Villa and maybe he should be given more opportunities at City.
After Liverpool had territorially dominated the early stages, City steadily came into the game with Johnson showing his skills. Ireland may not be enjoying his best form under Mancini, but he plays a vital role as an attacking midfielder in the absence of Tevez. The midfield had a much better balance, and it showed once we started taking the game to Liverpool.
In an attempt to further test Liverpool, Mancini switched Johnson and Wright-Phillips. Not for the first time this didn’t appear to work. Johnson may be ok on the right wing, but Wright-Phillips looked lost on the left and there was the sense that Carragher wasn’t being subjected to the test he might have been.
Sadly for Wright-Phillips, the wingers were rarely switched back and eventually he made way for Bellamy. The Welshman came on to a great cheer and showed his usual commitment, but there’s no escaping the fact that his attacking form has deserted him at the moment. Several times, he threatened to break through, but never did.
With Johnson tiring badly on the right flank, the chances of City carving open a winner faded. Bringing on Ibrahim for Ireland was a surprise call from Mancini, and didn’t pay off. At the same time, Benitez brought on Torres. With Benayoun already introduced and Aquilani following, the Liverpool manager appeared to be following a game-plan to try and snatch three points in the final portion of the game.
That these attacking substitutes failed to create a single clear opening is a big compliment to our defenders on the day. Torres in particular was quickly frustrated, getting booked for elbowing Lescott and spending his time arguing with the officials.
“Anyone watching the game would sense that neither team wanted to lose. There was so much to lose if the other team got three points. It was very tactical out there.
“Shay Given only had one shot to save, and Pepe Reina only had the one shot from Emmanuel Adebayor. It was just so tight, because nobody on that pitch wanted to lose the game.”
Prior to the game this fixture looked like a must-win if we’re to be confident of remaining in front of an improving Liverpool side. Yet having watched the game, no-one could argue against a draw being a fair result. Even the managers agreed! With Villa and Spurs both winning, the battle for fourth place is now tighter than ever.
Recently, it’s the games we’re expected to dominate, particularly away from home, where Mancini has struggled. Stoke on Wednesday will be another chance to try and rectify this.
The Italian looks happier when having to set his side up to play the bigger teams, and the close tactical battle here was reminiscent of the Carling Cup games against United. That may be just as well given we’re off to Chelsea next Saturday. Let’s hope the defence can continue from this excellent performance, and Tevez will return with his goal-scoring ways.