Man City 2 Liverpool 2
The days of Liverpool winning the league title may be well behind them but, thanks to goals from Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard at the Etihad Stadium yesterday, the fallen giants of the English game showed they are still capable of deciding the destiny of the championship.
Brendan Rodgers’ side turned in, arguably, their performance of the season as City required a 78th minute equaliser from Sergio Aguero, after a blunder by Liverpool goalkeeper Jose Reina, to earn even a point.
The result allowed the defending league champions to reduce the lead of first-placed Manchester United to nine points but the stark reality is that this was a day on which City required nothing less than all three.
With 13 games left in this absorbing season, one in which the title race has long since become a private Mancunian affair, City must make up that nine-point deficit, a tall order no matter how defiant manager Roberto Mancini might sounded post-match.
“Today we didn’t play well,” conceded Mancini, while insisting the title race is not over. “The last month we played well in all the games. Today we were so nervous, I don’t know why.”
The league table might have even looked worse for City this morning had Reina not decided to sprint with Aguero to chase Gareth Barry’s through ball outside his area in the direction of the right-hand corner flag.
When Aguero won the race to the ball, there was plenty of work to do, chipping a magnificent finish into the open net from a difficult angle.
Yet this was just one of three memorable goals, the only routine effort being Edin Dzeko’s 23rd minute opening goal when he appeared on the end of a slick passing passage of play between Aguero and David Silva which allowed James Milner to cross from the left hand byline for the Bosnian to tap home.
It was against the run of play, the result of a nervous display from City, and while Liverpool’s equaliser five minutes later was shrouded in controversy, it was no more than they deserved.
Dzeko appeared to be fouled by Daniel Agger and remained on the ground while Liverpool, at the behest of referee Anthony Taylor, played on and did not kick the ball out of play for the home forward to receive treatment.
Still, a patient Liverpool attack looked to have ended when the ball landed at the feet of Javi Garcia inside his area but his poor clearance fell to Gerrard whose short pass to Sturridge was clinically converted with an unstoppable, 18-yard shot.
There were moments of comic cuts defending from City — Pablo Zabaleta clearing off the line from Sturridge after a misjudgement from Hart and the same defender almost tapping a back pass into his own goal — and moments of brilliance from Sturridge and Luis Suarez.
It was little surprise, therefore, that the next goal came from the visitors after Gael Clichy’s poor clearance of a 73rd minute Jose Enrique cross was neatly controlled by Gerrard, 30 yards from goal, and sent sailing back into the City goal with an astonishingly clinical strike.
Sturridge might have stretched Liverpool’s lead to 3-1 when he glanced a Gerrard free-kick inches wide and, at 2-2, the closing stages brought a golden chance for each team. After 86 minutes, Maicon’s powerful header cleared the crossbar from a Milner corner, while in the final minute, Sturridge’s 18-yard “toe poke” drew a fine, reflex diving save from Hart.
“It was an outstanding performance, we were absolutely brilliant today,” said Rodgers. “It’s all part of our growth and important to see the quality of the players and their desire. Nobody would deny we deserved to win.”
For all Rodgers’ enthusiasm, a draw was, as Mancini later claimed, a fairer final result but one which will still have brought far more satisfaction for Liverpool… and Manchester United.
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