Liverpool may have suffered a humiliating exit at the hands of League One’s Oldham Athletic last weekend but the FA Cup loss clearly has not affected their confidence. Brendan Rodgers’ side squandered a two-goal lead to eventually draw at Arsenal on Wednesday and the Reds continued their good league form against the defending champions. The visitors enjoyed 56 per cent of possession in the opening period but failed to convert their early chances and were punished when Edin Dzeko struck in the 23rd minute. Sergio Aguero danced his way out of a tight spot with two Liverpool midfielders closing in, fed David Silva, who in turn found James Milner galloping down the left wing. The England international’s low cross found Dzeko with pinpoint accuracy – and the Bosnia-Herzegovina striker couldn’t miss. It was a superb team goal, which showed City’s attacking ability at its very best, but was the home side’s only real standout moment of the match.
With Demba Ba heading to Stamford Bridge for a bargain £7m, Liverpool’s willingness to part with £12m for the less prolific Daniel Sturridge was heavily scrutinised. The 23-year-old’s talent is unquestioned but lingering doubts remain over his ability to produce match-winning performances on a consistent basis. However, the England international has made a brilliant start to his Liverpool career, scoring his third goal in four Premier League appearances. Returning to the club where he started his career, Sturridge was the danger man for the visitors as he ran the channels and looked to constantly create. The former Chelsea man was sprightly in the opening period, out-pacing Matija Nastasic and crossing for Luis Suarez, who mistimed his effort. Sturridge was clearly brimming with confidence as he produced numerous tricks, intricate short passes, superb long-range balls and sharp movement to bamboozle the City defence. So it was no surprise to see Sturridge finally make his mark at the Eithad in the 29th minute. With the striker lurking on the edge of the area, Gerrard’s short pass handed the striker a chance to test his former team-mate Joe Hart, and he struck a thunderous drive past the despairing City goalkeeper to restore parity. Despite picking up a slight knock in the second half, Sturridge was still electric and could have scored a late winner with another ferocious shot, which drew a top save from Hart.
Gerrard’s poor start to the season led many to predict the imminent decline of Liverpool’s captain. After a bout of injuries in the 2011-12 campaign, a new club manager and a testing Euro 2012, the 32-year-old looked a shadow of his former self. Asked to drop deeper alongside midfielder Joe Allen, his passing was not at its mnemonic best. However, the Reds skipper has returned to his very best over the past few months. The England international had seven goals and eight assists before Liverpool’s trip to City, and he added to both tallies in an influential display, with help from the ever-improving Jordan Henderson and Lucas Leiva. His passing was crisp and incisive, although he teed Sturridge up with a simple ball, which the striker duly dispatched. Gerrard was also fulfilling his defensive duties, encapsulated with a thumping tackle on David Silva in the second half. It was vintage Gerrard and up until the 73rd minute, the midfielder was only missing a long-range strike to cap a performance which reeled in the years. In typical talismanic fashion, he produced it. Gael Clichy’s clearance fell to Gerrard, who chested the ball, before launching a powerful effort which nestled in the City net.
Gary Neville was scathing in his criticism of Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea a fortnight ago after the Spaniard was at fault for Tottenham’s late equaliser in a 1-1 draw. The Spain international was further criticised after a mix-up between De Gea and Michael Carrick led to Jay Rodriguez scoring for Southampton at Old Trafford in midweek – the ex-Atletico Madrid man rushed off his line but appeared to pull out of a tackle on the Saints striker. With De Gea still settling into the United No1 role and rigours of the Premier League, mistakes will occur. So perhaps we should instead over-scrutinise errors from more high-profile keepers, such as Pepe Reina. The Liverpool goalkeeper was at fault for City’s equaliser as he rushed out of his goal but failed to clear the ball, allowing Sergio Aguero to net from an acute angle. It was a brilliant strike but all down to Reina’s poor judgement. The former Villarreal shot-stopper struggled in the early stages of the season with his future in doubt. However, Reina bounced back but with talk of a Barcelona move rife, questions will surely be raised about his frame of mind after his latest error.
City certainly looked a side battling to keep hold of their top-flight crown. The Citizens were edgy throughout, most notably with Hart’s opting to punch crosses and corners clear as opposed to catching the ball. City were lucky to escape unpunished for a near defensive disaster of Reina proportions when Pablo Zabaleta’s wayward back pass caught Hart wrong-footed and out of his net – the ball trickled narrowly wide. City failed to gain a stranglehold on the game as Liverpool produced 14 shots on Hart’s goal – only Arsneal and Fulham have enjoyed more possession at the Eithad Stadium this term. The sooner Yaya Touré returns from the Africa Cup of Nations the better for City, who are lost without a leader in midfield. “We were so nervous, I don’t know why,” admitted Mancini after the match. With gap between City and United now at nine points, Mancini’s men will have to cope with increasing pressure in the final 15 league games – so nerves cannot be inhibitive.
MORE: Man United latest news
MORE: Arsenal latest news
MORE: Chelsea latest news
MORE: Liverpool latest news