Verdict: Liverpool 3 Manchester City 0
Goals: Carroll 13 mins, 35 mins, Kuyt 34 mins for Liverpool
City managed to conjure up their worst performance of the season to go three goals down after 34 minutes at Anfield and never at any stage looked like getting something out of the game. For Roberto Mancini this was a particularly bad night as he rightly shouldered the blame.
“I am disappointed with myself. This game was all my fault.”
A teamsheet that showed de Jong, Silva, Balotelli and Zabaleta being rested on the bench in such a difficult fixture was bizarre and brought back memories of Gerard Houllier in the FA Cup. Only this time we were Villa.
For some reason Mancini appeared to seriously underestimate Liverpool, sending out a team weaker than that we deployed against a Sunderland side on a losing streak. Kenny Dalglish may have had injuries to his defence but the attack still consisted of Suarez, Carroll, Mereiles and Kuyt. It was most un-Mancini not to guard against this level of quality.
Liverpool started with a high tempo and looked to put us under pressure. This should not have been a surprise, but we were criminally ill prepared. Suarez and Mereiles were able to roam at will without de Jong patrolling in front of the back four. The lack of pace and dynamism within a midfield of Barry, Milner and Yaya saw them overwhelmed.
At full-back it was equally bad for Mancini as this was the kind of competitive fixture which called for Zabaleta’s committed defending. Instead the Argentine, who could have done with a game before Wembley, was left on the bench. Kolarov was typically poor defensively and off the pace going forward.
Boyata deserves some sympathy. Being asked to play out of position at home to an out of form Sunderland is one thing, doing it at Anfield against a Liverpool side unbeaten at home under Dalglish is another.
Playing Dzeko rounded off the mistakes in Mancini’s starting eleven. His presence in the middle reduces the effectiveness of Tevez, while he offers little in being able to drop back and augment the midfield. Tevez is excellent in this ‘false 9’ position while for Dzeko it is alien.
There are calls for patience with Dzeko with the hope that he may come good next season. For this to happen he needs to do some serious work over the summer, and then be given the supply he needs – namely regular, accurate crosses from the flanks. The summer work needs to see him develop the physical strength found in the likes of Andy Carroll and Drogba. Then he can look to improve his hold up play which is essential for a centre forward in English football.
After the first goal went in, the injury to Tevez gave Mancini the opportunity to bring on de Jong and attempt to wrestle back the midfield. This should have been the priority as we needed to get a foothold in the match from which to provide service to Dzeko.
Instead Balotelli came on, and to no great surprise flitted into play only occasionally. Lucas and Spearing had a grip on the midfield that stifled any serious attempts to service our forwards. The early threat from Adam Johnsn diminished while serious doubts were again raised about the quality of our central midfield in the absence of de Jong.
After the plaudits Mancini received for his attacking line-up against Sunderland, there was an irony that the adventurous outlook we initially displayed here proved catastrophic. City were quickly needing the kind of anti-football Mancini deploys at the Emirates, at least until Liverpool’s initial high tempo had subsided. Trying to go toe-to-toe was naive and disastrous given the team selection.
Where does it leave us? Back in the mix with Spurs in the race for fourth place. Mancini’s job security is depenent on champions league qualification and his authority over the squad is likely to be undermined with increased speculation about his future.
As for our Wembley prospects, well no-one will now be heading to London with over-confidence. Mancini may well take a very different approach to this game with a return to the tight defensive unit that looks to hit opponents on the counter.