Man City 0 Liverpool 1: Lessons learned from a feisty first leg
What did we learn from Liverpool's narrow victory over Manchester City in the first leg of their Carling Cup semi-final?
Stefan Savic is a less-than-able deputy for Vincent Kompany
Replacing suspended City captain Vincent Kompany, Stefan Savic had a torrid game at centre-half. An inept performance began when Andy Carroll burst past the Montenegrin defender and tested Joe Hart with a low shot. A shaky start from the defender culminated in a clumsy tackle on Daniel Agger in the City box in the 12th minute, giving Steven Gerrard the chance to score from the spot. The 21-year-old was afforded some respite in the second half as City pressed forward and Liverpool retreated towards Pepe Reina’s goal. However, Roberto Mancini will be hesitant to use Savic for City’s crucial home game against Tottenham Hotspur in 11 days.
Mario Balotelli was a damp squib
Mario Balotelli lacked enthusiasm and cut a miserable figure as he lumbered around a rain-drenched pitch on Wednesday. The Italian has impressed this season with 11 goals in 21 appearances and Mancini will be pleased with Balotelli’s improved attitude. But the former Internazionale striker appeared totally disinterested in this Carling Cup tie and looked ready to explode as he clashed with Charlie Adam. It was no surprise to see Mancini withdraw the 21-year-old before the break – but the City manager will be bitterly disappointed with Balotelli’s work-rate on a night when he needed his big players to produce a performance.
Captain Fantastic makes the difference
Steven Gerrard started his second consecutive game since returning from injury and capped his first start in the Carling Cup in over four years with a goal from the spot. The Liverpool captain wasted no time in exerting his presence in midfield, controlling the tempo of the visitors’ play, with his distribution impeccable in the first half. Kenny Dalglish’s side have struggled to convert penalties this season with Charlie Adam, Dirk Kuyt and Luis SuÃ¡rez all guilty of missing spot-kicks. But Gerrard expertly placed his penalty effort to Hart’s right with the England goalkeeper at full-stretch. After the interval, Gerrard was asked to play a deeper role and the 31-year-old tirelessly tracked the movement of City’s midfield, casting any doubts about his fitness aside.
Micah Richards lays claim to England’s right-back position
With two England right-backs on display at the Etihad Stadium, it was Micah Richards who impressed as he captained City in the absence of Kompany. He took on double the workload with the unreliable Savic next to him at centre-half – but the 23-year-old excelled as he marshalled Mancini’s defence expertly following a shaky opening 15 minutes. He also showed his attacking side, brushing off the attentions of Glen Johnson and squaring to James Milner, who fired his attempt over the bar just before half-time. Richards provided a constant outlet as he endeavoured to help the home side force their way back into the match. On current form, Richards deserves a chance to make England’s right-back position his own.
City are stuck in a rut
Roberto Mancini’s side are suffering from a blip in form following a scintillating start to the season. City have won just once in their last five games, including back-to-back domestic cup defeats which will strike a blow to their confidence. Perhaps most concerning is how easily the Eastlands fortress has been dismantled by Manchester United and Liverpool. It leaves the Premier League leaders contemplating the next few weeks without the instrumental Yaya Touré, whose presence was sorely missed as Gerrard controlled the game from midfield. Mancini will be desperate for his side to bounce back against Wigan Athletic ahead of the visit of title rivals Tottenham Hotspur.