Liverpool 3 Manchester City 2: Some Painful Thoughts
Ah, that horrible feeling waking up the day after an important defeat. A Monday morning and a league title slipping away. Wonderful.
I had tried my hardest to stay off the internet last week, the tidal wave of Liverpool sycophancy from the media unbearable. It barely seemed worth City turning up. My work colleague said he watched the hour leading up to the match on Sky Sports and you wouldn’t have known who Liverpool were playing. City were gate-crashers to a private party. And as much as the title may have slipped away, it grates me almost as much at missing out on stopping this avalanche of sentimental, mawkish bull****. Oh I wanted a win SO much.
(and just to make it absolutely clear, as sadly it is necessary nowadays, all the above is not an attack on Liverpool fans, but media coverage).
Eventually the day was here though, with the accompanying butterflies. This was not the title decider being portrayed by many, but it could tilt the race hugely in one team ‘s favour.
The club had done well to keep out of the media spotlight in the days preceding the match, as Brendan Rogers speed his usual pseudo-bollocks. Let the football do the talking and all that.
Unfortunately mini-hysteria erupted the day before the match as Vincent Kompany limped off the training ground. Bullets were sent in the post to Micah Richards (u r waste off space Micah please go now #gudriddance). Why do things like this never happen to the opposition?
The negative 93% of me thought this was just part of the Liverpool story that would see them sweep to glory. No injuries, everyone fit, on a roll. Meanwhile we are sweating as usual over key players. I was right.
The team line-up was announced, late, no doubt due to a coin-toss over whether Kompany played, and as it turned out he did, though the elation at this was in the end misguided, his inclusion proving decisive for all the wrong reasons. Just as decisive was the inclusion of Navas over Milner, something every fan in the land could see was risky if not outright wrong. This was not Navas’ type of game. It was certainly Milner’s. It was one of those team selections that just seemed obviously wrong.
The minute’s silence was impeccably observed, as I knew it would be. A time to remember is often tainted by the anxiety that someone will break the silence and there has been a recent trend to clap instead of remaining silent. For many occasions this is fine, but I think silence is appropriate for the anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy.
There is of course a rivalry between Manchester and Liverpool which often crosses a line. Football is also tribal and we basically hate each other for whatever spurious reasons we settle on. We portray scousers as over-sentimental souls who would lay a wreath next to a dead chicken (true story).
The Hillsborough tragedy transcends all rivalries. What happened that day should never be forgotten by any football fan. For any match-going fan over 35 or so, it could have been you or me that day. Liverpool fans’ persistent references to that day in 1989 ever since is not only acceptable but necessary, because as tragic as the day itself was, what happened afterwards is despicable beyond words and crucial to why coverage is on-going. To see your loved-ones never return from a football match (including many children) is unbearable on its own, but to then have their names smeared for years afterwards is beyond the pale. Until the reputation of every one of the 96 Liverpool fans is totally clean and the whole truth about what the authorities did thereafter, then the fight must continue. If you want to moan about the lack of coverage of Heysel or the Bradford fire then I cannot stop you, but the Hillsborough story is not just about the tragedy itself but about justice.
And so to the match. The supporters were “unleashed”, which basically meant booing every time City got the ball. How twee. This seems to have wound up a lot of City supporters, but I didn’t have a problem myself, though it all seemed a tad pointless. It was hardly intimidating, but the fans were trying to ram home the advantage of playing at Anfield, so they can do as they see fit.
All week the tactic seemed obvious – see out the first twenty minutes or so and we would be in a great position to win the match. That went well. Quite simply, City were appalling for the first half hour. The defence was all over the place, players being pulled out of position at will, the team could not keep hold of the ball and all the best-laid plans went out of the window. It was frustrating to see the team succumb to what was an obvious tactic from Liverpool (not that I have all the answers on how to combat it), and City were soon two goals down, and it could have been more. Kompany and Hart share the blame for the first goal, Kompany for the second. At a crucial time our captain had a nightmare day, making you wonder if he was fit to be on the pitch. You need runners, stamina and work-rate to combat Liverpool, not a player running on a jarred knee.
To add to the woe Yaya Toure limped off, possibly ending his season. Everything that could go wrong was going wrong. In a way it could have helped us as that first half was not “his type of game” and at least Garcia could help protect the back four, but he could have had such an influence in that second half. The only question is why Milner didn’t come on then and when he did come on, why was it four minutes into the second half? Very strange.
After half-an hour I was ready to go home and hibernate until the World Cup. But City edged their way back into the game and should have reduced the deficit before the break. A blatant penalty was of course ignored by Clattenburg, Fernandinho’s weak shot was well-saved and a ball was cleared off the line.
And that trend continued into the second half. City’s first goal was the goal of the day, and whilst the equalizer was rather fortuitous, it was reward for City’s dominance. There and then, City were in control. Liverpool were as shambolic as we were at the start and control of the title race was there to be grasped.
I can always excuse a shanked clearance or an individual mistake. It happens, and it happened for City at the worst possible time. But the key moment was what should have been an easy pass to David Silva to complete a remarkable comeback and put City 20 minutes away from a glorious victory. Silva stabbed the ball wide when it seemed easier to score, not helped by an over-hit pass from Aguero and the rest is history.
Soon after City were behind to complete Kompany’s misery and sadly could not come back strongly and exert any significant pressure, though Skrtel still found time to get two players in a headlock and punch the ball away. We were never going to get a penalty.
As for Suarez, he did what he did best, which is basically cheat, dive and fake injury. If he ever signs for City I will be in a very difficult position about supporting him in a blue shirt. His dive behind Demichelis’ back was pathetic, only outdone by him writhing around on the floor, and then berating the referee, who of course was never going to hand out a second yellow card. I haven’t seen 100 replays and have seen it claimed there was contact or that he was just evading the lunging Demichelis, but for pretending he was seriously injured alone he is a cheat so deserves no sympathy. I haven’t seen a single replay of his later penalty appeal, but perhaps that was one penalty that Liverpool themselves should have had. I wasn’t sure at the time, and am not now.
With defeat though comes so many annoyances:
We all knew how Liverpool would fly out of the block, so why weren’t the team prepared?
Why allow Kompany to play if not 100%? You can’t carry players in games like this.
Why Navas over Milner?
Why is Skrtel allowed to do what he wants at corners?
Why has the Premier League’s worst diver never been booked for diving?
(maybe he has?)
How did we lose a game we were in complete control of?
But at least we know for sure that this City team has pedigree. Few teams from the past would have had the fight, skill and nous to come back into this game and take control.
The decision to bench Aguero proved correct. He did little once on and would have struggled even more from the start.
For a team that has been widely labelled as lucky we got none in the biggest game of the season. From our captain injuring himself the day before the game, to our powerhouse midfielder going off injured early on, to Aguero not being match fit, to the refereeing performance and so on.
The result opens the Pellegrini debate again. It seems only other managers are allowed transition periods, but those early away defeats always looked likely to come back and bite us on the behind. Greater criticism is directed his way for some of his team selections, one in particular this weekend. I have been happy with what Pellegrini has brought to the club, but he has been far from perfect. Let’s hope he grows with time. Many have opined that with Mourinho we would be winning the treble this season, but the argument is irrelevant. Our owners ditched Mancini and hired Pellegrini for very clear reasons that some seem still tot his day incapable of grasping and our owners who have invested over a billion in the club do not want “his sort” as the club’s figurehead. They made the club what it is, so it is their call – they are not just concerned about results.
This is what Matt Stanger over at football365.com has to say about him:
There appears to be a consensus that City will have underachieved should that prove to be the case, but I would vehemently disagree with that position.
Firstly, there has been enormous improvement across the board at the Etihad – notably in the club mounting a much more convincing league challenge than last year, winning silverware, and progressing to the knock-out rounds of the Champions League for the first time – which included beating Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena in the group stage. Were it not for City’s investment in the summer, it would be agreed that the club have enjoyed an excellent campaign.
However, just because City spent significant funds in the summer, it doesn’t mean we should have expected them to walk the title. It takes time to build a team and fashion a playing style – especially one so different to the previous regime – and Pellegrini has taken huge strides in this regard. When City play at their peak, there is no-one better in the Premier League, and the frequency of their top performances is only going to increase as the manager has more time with the squad.
Perhaps the most telling aspect of Pellegrini’s tenure is that the biggest problems for City – namely the lack of back-up in defence and a significant drop in quality from Sergio Aguero to Edin Dzeko – are now more apparent than ever before. With City forced to play at their attacking limits – which wasn’t always the case under Roberto Mancini – theses issue have become more obvious. The first is likely to be solved by further recruitment in the summer; while Stevan Jovetic and Alvaro Negredo will offer more variety in attack if they can remain fit for a full campaign.
Demichelis was superb. Just remember that.
And so onwards. This title race feels lost, but it far from being so. City must now just take stock and concentrate on two highly winnable home games. And pray.
Too harsh over the Liverpool love-in? Over to you Ian Herbert (Telegraph):
“It felt like the triumph of a development club over a spending club. Millionaires over billionaires.”