Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Men Against Boys: City Too Good For Reds

Five minutes left to play at a wet City of Manchester Stadium and, with Liverpool losing 3-0, both managers decide to make a substitution. Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini replaces £47 million Argentinean Carlos Tevez with the largely un-used £19 million man Jo, whilst Hodgson is left to replace free signing Milan Jovanovic with 19-year old Academy starlet Daniel Pacheco.

And in that one minute of time the vast gulf in quality between the two sides was subtly, yet painfully displayed.

Manchester City, aided by the eye-watering wealth of their owner Sheikh Mansour (who witnessed his first City game last night), clearly have a much better, and far deeper squad, leaving Liverpool to trail in their wake.

The chasm of quality and strength in depth separating these North West rivals was evident last night as money-rich Manchester City taught Liverpool a footballing lesson.

City's five-man midfield, including the combative Nigel De Jong and Gareth Barry, the hard-working James Milner, former Barcelona player Yaya Toure and the simply sensational Adam Johnson, was too good for the Reds midfield, who struggled to cope in the absence of Javier Mascherano.

The main team news saw Roy Hodgson revert to a 4-4-2 formation with David Ngog partnering Fernando Torres up front. This was seen to be a positive step by Hodgson, and a statement of intent, however it turned out to be tactical suicide as the home side dominated the midfield and controlled possession, leaving the front two inactive as we laboured to win the ball back.

The first chance of real note came on nine minutes, as England international Adam Johnson's scorching effort from all of 25 yards screamed inches past Pepe Reina's post.

It was a warning, which we failed to heed as only four minutes later City deservedly took an early lead. Johnson skilfully slid a pass through to James Milner. The new signing then pulled the ball back from the by-line and into the path of Gareth Barry, who comfortably steered the ball into the bottom corner from 12 yards.

It had been a bad start for Roy's Reds and it was almost even worse when Tevez threatened to double their advantage as he curled a shot into the side-netting when well placed.

City were controlling the game, and denying our star players the ability to influence proceedings with pressurising tactics that kept us stuck in our own half. In fact, Liverpool were so desperate to test keeper Joe Hart that they resorted to potshots from range.

With half an hour gone Agger blasted a volley well of target after Gerrard's cross had been headed away by Micah Richards. After that, Ngog's low shot was easily saved by Hart, but Liverpool were still failing to wrestle control away from the home side and really get into the game.

Gerrard curled a shot well wide on the stroke of half time meaning that we went in at the break a goal behind and looking for inspiration and possibly a change in tactics from Roy Hodgson.

Unfortunately, neither of those materialised, as the pattern of play remained unchanged. The one-way traffic continued to keep Reina busy in the Liverpool goal. Admittedly, we did improve slightly for the first five minutes of the second period, however it was City who struck first to make our task doubly difficult.

Adam Johnson's deflected shot resulted in a City corner. From the set piece Richards rose highest to power Milner's corner goalwards, and Carlos Tevez got the final touch to take it past Pepe Reina.

A reaction was needed, and that was precisely what we got as Liverpool finally seemed to come to life. Minutes before the hour mark Liverpool went close to grabbing a critical goal back.

Gerrard's shot rebounded back to Milan Jovanovic off the base of the post. The Serbian international squared the ball to David Ngog, who forced Hart into a fantastic save. The ball fell to the feet of Fernando Torres, however Hart was quickly up to block and deny Liverpool a route back into the match.

The final nail in the coffin arrived with just over 20 minutes to play as Johnson went down under Skrtel's challenge in the box, and a penalty was correctly awarded. In fact, Skrtel was fortunate to still be on the pitch, as he had already been booked earlier on. Tevez stepped up and cleverly waited for Reina to make the first move before powering the ball into the corner of the net.

By this stage I, along with most Reds fans, was just hoping that the defeat wouldn't be any more embarrassing, and that we wouldn't suffer further humiliation. Thankfully that was the case, and we even created a few chances, however it was far too late to have any effect on the outcome of the match.

Torres flashed a left-footed shot just wide of the far post after a piece of skill created space for himself inside the penalty area, before Babel drilled a shot goalwards only a minute after replacing Torres. Apart from that Manchester City spent the remaining time keeping possession and causing further frustration.

This heavy defeat understandably leaves Liverpool supporters looking for an explanation. We can argue about the formation, zonal marking and the team selection until we're blue in the face, but ultimately the fact remains that City are quickly developing a better, stronger team and squad than ours, and there seems to be little we can do to stop this unless a change in ownership occurs soon.

Hodgson may have displayed his lack of tactical know-how in comparison to his predecessor last night, but there is little he can do to change the side until new investment arrives.

And, with that investment appearing to be further away then ever after the news that Kenny Huang has retracted his offer for the club, Liverpool could be trailing in the wake of their Manchester neighbours for the foreseeable future.


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