City stall Liverpool’s title charge

Polished Negredo supplies cutting edge as Manchester side keeps 100% home record

Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany gets between defenders to level the game against Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium. Photograph: EPA/Peter Powell

Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany gets between defenders to level the game against Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium. Photograph: EPA/Peter Powell

Thu, Dec 26, 2013, 23:00

Manchester City 2 Liverpool 1

Manchester City preserved their 100 per cent home record at the expense of Liverpool’s attempt to climb to the top of the Premier League table, coming back from a goal down to secure the points that took them past their northwest rivals to go second behind Arsenal.

Both sides attempted to win the game and produced an enthralling contest, even if all the goals came in the first half. Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers withdrew Lucas Leiva towards the end to get another forward on the pitch, while City, who have won all their league games at the Etihad this season, introduced Javier Garcia as extra insurance.

It was a close contest that could have gone either way, especially as Liverpool had a legitimate goal chalked off in the first half, though City had the stand-out performer in Alvaro Negredo and made a much better job of shackling Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling in the second half. Ultimately the game was decided by what was either a sublime finish by Negredo or a basic goalkeeping error by Simon Mignolet, depending on your point of view.

City were at Liverpool right from the start, with Jesus Navas heading against a post after five minutes and Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure both seeing goal attempts flash narrowly wide in the two attacks that followed. Negredo missed the target from close to the penalty spot after Aleksandar Kolarov’s cross from the left before Suarez reminded the home side of the danger of pressing too far forward with a slick pass that played Sterling into the empty space behind City’s high defensive line. It was a pass worthy of bringing about the opening goal and in fact should have done, for since Sterling rounded Joe Hart with ease to pass the ball into the net he was brought back for an offside flag that replays showed to be incorrect.

Suarez reacted with visible indignation when the news was relayed to him from the touchline a few seconds later, though he remained calm and repeated the formula on Liverpool’s next attack to create a goal that did count. Taking a pass from Jordan Henderson, the Uruguayan again picked out Sterling’s run with a first-time flick, and though Hart this time forced him wide of the goal Philippe Coutinho was in support and still facing in the right direction so it was a simple matter to step in and sidefoot past the goalkeeper.

City needed to strike back quickly and did, Kompany cancelling Liverpool’s advantage by beating Martin Skrtel to a David Silva corner on the half hour, though it still needed a smart close-range save from Hart to prevent Coutinho restoring the visitors’ lead before the interval. Again Suarez and Sterling had been involved in the build-up, finding space in the City half and making good use of it, yet they do not have a monopoly on incisive and inventive passing as their opponents showed by finishing the first half ahead.

Negredo might have scored a couple of minutes earlier than he did when a strong run and measured pass from Fernandinho gave him a sight of goal, only to be denied by a combination of Skrtel and Mignolet. Undeterred he scored with his next attempt, when precise passing by Samir Nasri and Navas sliced open the Liverpool defence, even if his goal owed something to erratic goalkeeping. Negredo shot early and not particularly powerfully, yet his effort from the edge of the area appeared to surprise Mignolet, who got a weak hand to the ball but could not prevent it dropping behind him and over the line.

If Negredo had spotted that the goalkeeper was slightly off his line and deliberately attempted to chip him it was an audacious, almost Suarez-like finish, though having managed to reach the ball Mignolet should not have been beaten by a shot with so little behind it.

Liverpool had a chance to draw level at the start of the second half, when Henderson was correctly judged to be offside in getting in the way of a Suarez shot, before Negredo demonstrated some impressive ball skills in the centre circle then tried to chip Mignolet again without success.

Once in the lead City sensibly restrained their attacking ambitions, pulling Toure and Fernandinho further back to deny Liverpool’s strikers space and leaving just Silva and Navas to help Negredo forage up front. Hart still needed to make saves from Glen Johnson and Henderson to keep his side in front, though the threat from Suarez, in particular, was reduced in the second half.

On the one occasion the Liverpool captain did break free he found Sterling in front of goal, only to discover the teenager’s finishing does not quite match his positional sense. Sterling put the chance over the bar. Had the roles been reversed, one could not help but feel that Suarez would have made more of the opportunity.

Frustrated, Suarez ended the game with a ludicrously optimistic goal attempt from a free-kick 30 yards out then an absurdly exaggerated dive in the penalty area. He missed out both times, then picked up a slightly harsh booking for a foul on Hart. Evidently he cannot perform miracles every week.
Guardian Service