Martin Skrtel was linked heavily with a move to the Premier League champions during the summer, but the Slovakia international ignored Manchester City’s overtures and signed a new long-term contract at Anfield earlier in August. The 27-year-old established himself as a first-team regular alongside Daniel Agger last season at the heart of Liverpool’s defence under Kenny Dalglish, ousting long-term Reds servant and crowd-favourite Jamie Carragher. The defender, signed from Zenit St Petersburg by Rafael Benitez for £5.7m in 2008, has been one of few consistent performers during a bleak three-year spell at Anfield. For his goal, Skrtel brushed aside Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksandar Kolarov to thunder a header past Joe Hart from a Steven Gerrard corner – it had shades of Neil Ruddock’s thumping effort in a 3-3 draw against Manchester United in 1994. It was the first time City have trailed at half-time in an away match since April 2011 – Roberto Mancini’s side went on to lose 3-0 at Anfield – and it was a richly deserved advantage at the interval. Unfortunately, Skrtel’s afternoon was spoiled as his hopelessly blind back-pass was intercepted by Carlos Tévez, with the Argentine duly punishing the Reds to snatch a flattering point for the visitors.
Rodgers will have been pleased by his side’s reaction after a 3-0 loss to West Brom last weekend, although his wait for a first league victory goes on. Liverpool were much-improved from a disastrous display at The Hawthorns, but mistakes were again a common theme. Gerrard and Skrtel were guilty of sloppy errors in the opening league fixture, and at Anfield on Sunday, the Slovakian was again at fault. Liverpool had worked hard for their opening goal, and even harder to maintain their advantage. However, Tévez’s buccaneering run and subsequent cross on the edge of Reina’s area caused panic, with neither the Liverpool goalkeeper nor Martin Kelly asserting dominance over the situation – the ball ricocheted unkindly off Kelly’s leg and into the path of Yaya Touré, who tucked his finish into the empty net. Luis Suárez looked to have spared the duo’s blushes with a sublime free-kick which outwitted the City wall and Joe Hart to give the home side the lead for the second time. But in the 80th minute Skrtel, looking for an available team-mate, resorted to rolling the ball back to Reina without affording a glance to his right – Tévez was lurking and rounded the Reds shot-stopper to restore parity. Can Liverpool take consolation from the result? Well, City are still without a win at Anfield in their last seven visits, while the last time the Reds conceded more than two goals in each of their opening two league games, they were crowned champions (1975-76).
Touré is the epitome of what a modern-day footballer should be able to do – the midfielder is equally adept at defending and attacking, as highlighted during his time at Barcelona, while possessing supreme athleticism. The Ivory Coast international was often used as a deep-lying midfielder, and even at centre-half by the Catalan side. Since arriving at the Eastlands outfit, Touré has been largely deployed as a sweeper in front of the defence. However, when City were struggling in their title-winning campaign, Mancini often opted to push the imposing midfielder further up the pitch mid-way through the second half, usually with a devastating effect. It was Touré who scored twice in the final 20 minutes of City’s 2-0 victory over Newcastle United at St James’ Park to move Mancini’s men three points clear of United in May. The tactical change worked again at Anfield, as the arrival of Nigel De Jong gave Touré the liberty to orchestrate City’s attacks, which paid dividends when he was on hand to capitalise on a mix-up between Reina and Kelly. With De Jong and Jack Rodwell willing to play the defensive role in Mancini’s starting line-up, plus Gareth Barry still to return, the Italian would do well to hand Touré a more offensive role, which could herald an even more dominant era for the Eastlands outfit.
Raheem Sterling was rewarded for an eye-catching display in Liverpool’s 1-0 win at Hearts on Thursday with a starting sport against the English champions. It was huge vote of confidence for the winger after Rogers had hinted Sterling could expect more playing time this season. The 17-year-old was a constant threat, scampering down the left wing, and the former Queens Park Rangers youth graduate also showed he can produce a final product, curling a delicious cross into Fabio Borini, who miscued his effort wide in the first half. The Italian, although a touch wasteful, impressed with his endeavour and ability to appear in dangerous positions. In the 50th minute, the 21-year-old dispossessed the menacing De Jong, and broke rapidly, but Suárez was unable to finish the move. Rodgers’ second summer signing Joe Allen looked comfortable in midfield, and up until 52nd minute, had successfully completed 100 per cent of his passes. In addition, Martin Kelly, Jonjo Shelvey and Sebastian Coates were all up-and-coming stars who proved they could compete with the champions in a promising all-round peformance. Indeed, for Liverpool supporters, it was an exciting glimpse into the future, with Rodgers fielding the club’s youngest starting XI since December 2003 – the average age standing at 24 years and 364 days.
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