Friday, 27 December 2013

Unlucky Liverpool denied a point at City

Officiating of the quality you’d expect to see in park football prevented Liverpool getting the point their performance at the Etihad deserved on Boxing Day.

The Reds did remarkably well to restrict home side Manchester City to just two goals- Hull City are the only other Premier League team to have achieved that feat this season- and also posed a significant attacking threat throughout the 90 minutes, claiming the lead midway through the first period thanks to a strike from Philippe Coutinho and crafting a few decent goalscoring opportunities during their second half search for an equaliser.

However, they were denied in no small part due to some unbelievable errors from officials, the most ludicrous of which was to flag Raheem Sterling offside when he was on a different cut of grass to the defender.

Should have gone to Specsavers...
Yes, Manchester City performed well, as is expected considering their perfect home record this campaign, but things could have been so different had Sterling’s legitimate goal been allowed to stand. As it turned out, rather than possessing a formidable two-goal lead, Liverpool had a slender one-goal advantage that was quickly wiped out by Manuel Pellegrini’s dominant side.

City started the better, with Nasri’s shot requiring Skrtel to make the first of several excellent blocks and Navas nodding a header against the woodwork after only five minutes had been played. Liverpool’s attack weren’t going to let their City counterparts overshadow them without a fight, though, and started producing some exquisite football halfway through the first 45 minutes, as the match gained an entertaining end-to-end feel.

Raheem Sterling was particularly impressive and, after seeing his goal wrongly chalked out for offside after Suarez’s perfect pass had put him through, the revitalised teenager breached City’s backline once again. To round off a rapid Reds’ move, Coutinho took over possession of the ball and placed it perfectly into an empty net to give the visitors the lead after 25 minutes.

Coutinho and Suarez's joy at taking the lead proved short lived
Frustratingly, that lead only lasted six minutes, as sub-par defending from a City corner, especially from Martin Skrtel, who seemed pre-occupied with pulling shirts, gifted the hosts a leveller. The Blues’ captain Vincent Kompany was the first to reach a near-post corner and sent a header into the net, with Joe Allen rendered unable to clear off the line due to poor positioning.

Before a combination of wonderful one-touch football from City and abysmal goalkeeping from Mignolet allowed City to net what turned out to be the winner on the stroke of half time, Liverpool had a great chance to enter the interval in the lead themselves.

The Reds’ attacking triumvirate of Coutinho, Sterling and Suarez intricately exchanged passes in a free-flowing move of the highest calibre, but frustratingly Coutinho’s final effort lacked the power necessary to trouble Hart, who made a relatively comfortable save.

City then punished their opponents for their profligacy, as a series of one-touch passes from Nasri and Navas ripped apart the Reds’ defence and sent Negredo in on goal. The 28-year old Spaniard’s strike seemed surprisingly unthreatening, but Mignolet somehow managed to make a hash of it and essentially turned the ball into his own net when he could have quite easily caught it had he stood tall.

Mignolet was dismayed at his mistake that handed City the lead
It was the type of error we’ve become accustomed to seeing his opposite number, Joe Hart, making, not Mignolet, who, on the whole, has been a safe pair of hands so far this season, even if his footwork still needs to be improved.

In the second half, City continued to enjoy a large amount of possession, although Liverpool created the better goalscoring opportunities.

Soon after the restart, a goalmouth scramble in the City box ended when the offside Henderson inadvertently blocked Suarez’s shot, which seemed to be heading into the far corner. Henderson’s cheeky back-heeled effort was then saved by Hart, before Sterling somehow squandered the best chance to equalise.

After sprinting down the left wing, Suarez sent a brilliant cross across the penalty area to Sterling, who had the simple task of converting from close range but ended up volleying over the bar. It was a poor miss that would have kept him awake into the early hours last night.

Meanwhile, at the other end Mignolet was only called into action twice, first to catch Negredo’s chip and then to catch his header. If only he’d been so adept at catching Negredo’s efforts on goal in the first period!

In the closing stages, referee Lee Mason gave Reds’ supporters another reason to be aggrieved at his display, as he failed to penalise Kompany for blatantly pulling Suarez’s shirt at a corner kick. Admittedly, Skrtel had got away with doing similarly nefarious things earlier on, but two wrongs don’t make a right and Liverpool should have been given the chance to score a last gasp equaliser from the penalty spot.

Suarez and Kompany remonstrate with the officials
In the end, Liverpool can be pleased with their performance, even if they are understandably disappointed with the result and angry at the officials. They displayed commendable determination in refusing to alter their expansive style of play to try and combat City, and showed that their attacking force more than matches the Citizens’.

For coming the closest to ending City’s 100% home record the Reds can be rightly proud and should head into Sunday’s clash with Chelsea full of confidence.


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