Manchester City vs. Liverpool: 10 Things We Learned
On a weekend where the traditional and supposed Premier League heavyweights dropped valuable points, this was an opportunity for Manchester City to make a statement of intent.
They duly obliged.
The 3-0 home win was emphatic, perhaps more so than the balance of play suggested. But City were as clinical as Liverpool were profligate, and therein lies the difference between title contenders and top four hopefuls.
Here are 10 things to take away from City's win at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday. Feel free to continue the discussion below.
City Are Back on Track
Perhaps Pepe Reina played a big part in allowing Manchester City to break their 226-minute mini-goal drought.
Perhaps Yaya Toure went down a little too easily on Martin Skrtel's challenge for the penalty.
But take nothing away from City's performance: This was as accomplished and as professional as title statements come.
A recent draw at West Brom and a defeat at Sunderland augmented claims that City were feeling the heat of a sustained title challenge. But a draw or defeat was never on the agenda for Roberto Mancini's men, as they turned in a clinical performance to dispatch of Liverpool, who themselves wanted the opportunity to send out a message to their fellow top-four challengers.
The league title is awarded to the team that exhibits the greatest "bounce-backability" throughout the course of the season.
City certainly look like that team.
Clinical, Clinical City
With 13 league goals from 29 shots on goal, Sergio Aguero scores a goal for every two or so shots he fires on target.
And he's a symbol of City's ruthlessness this season, especially against other big teams.
Here are just a few statistics:
v Manchester United: seven shots on target (SOT), six goals
v Tottenham: nine SOT, five goals
v Chelsea: two SOT, one goal
v Liverpool: three SOT, one goal; six SOT, three goals
v Arsenal: six SOT, one goal
Little wonder that they are currently the highest scorers in the league, with 56 goals from just 20 games.
It is precisely this ruthless streak in front of goal that has seen City come away with so many emphatic scorelines this season, even if the balance of play generally suggests that they should not be such one-sided encounters.
Vincent Kompany Is the Best Central Defender in the EPL
Rather unlike City's big personalities and explosive talents, City skipper Vincent Kompany just gets on with what he does.
And he's pretty darn good at what he does.
No-nonsense, uncompromising in the tackle, dominant in the air, professional yet competitive, Kompany exudes class and stability from the back. He dealt with the considerable presence of Andy Carroll admirably, his last-ditch block prevent Dirk Kuyt from hitting a close-range goal and his excellent positioning denied the Liverpool attack the space they so craved.
As evidenced by his goal at Liverpool in November 2011, he provides a goal threat in the opposition's box as well.
To think that he only cost about £6 million back in 2008.
Yaya Toure Will Be a Big Miss for City
Let me go out on a limb and suggest that Yaya Toure is every bit as important to Manchester City as David Silva is.
Toure, who already commands an intimidating physical presence, can do it all. He shields the back four, dribbles the ball out of defence, sets up attacks with inch-perfect passes, storms through opposing defences and possesses a fine finishing touch.
He showed this last night with a top-notch performance against Liverpool, giving Jay Spearing and Jordan Henderson a generally torrid time, and of course winning the penalty that killed off the contest.
Mancini is already fretting about his departure for the African Nations Cup after this weekend's FA Cup tie with Manchester United. He'll have his work cut out for him to replace Yaya Toure.
The Carling Cup Does Not Bode Well for Liverpool
In case Kenny Dalglish needed reminding, Liverpool still have to face City twice in the coming three weeks in the semifinals of the Carling Cup.
While Dalglish will draw plenty of encouragement from Liverpool's performance at home to City earlier this campaign, and their fine win over Chelsea in the previous round, he will have every reason to be wary of a City side back in their stride.
The importance of taking your chances, especially in Cup ties, will not be lost on either manager, and City have all the advantage in this area.
In their recent absence of Champions League football, Liverpool fans will have to recreate their famous European atmosphere at Anfield, where the second leg will take place.
Provided that City don't have the tie killed off at the Etihad, of course.
Liverpool Already Miss Luis Suarez
An hour prior to the game, Liverpool released a statement saying that they would not appeal Luis Suarez's eight-game ban, and that he would begin serving his suspension immediately.
Following their easy win against Newcastle the before the New Year, a game that Suarez sat out in punishment for his gesture at Fulham, they would've been forgiven for thinking that life without Suarez wouldn't be too bad after all.
And how wrong they were.
Sure, Suarez does miss a hatful of chances, but the creativity and unpredictability he brings to the side are precious commodities. There are just a few forwards in the Premier League that are able to cause panic amongst opposition defenders. Suarez is one of them.
Without him, Liverpool's attack looked insipid, sluggish and uninspired at the Etihad.
Not an encouraging start to life without Luis Suarez.
Liverpool Still Rely Too Heavily on the Old Guard
Dirk Kuyt, Craig Bellamy, Maxi Rodriguez, Steven Gerrard.
Kuyt started the game, such is his reputation as a big-game goal-getter.
The other three entered as substitutes, such are their reputations as game-changers.
Ultimately, none of the the four provided the cutting edge needed. Yet none of them were on the field for the entire 90 minutes.
This is supposed to be a Liverpool team in transition. The young players signed for big money suggest an emphasis on the future. A bright, British future. Instead, the match-winning quality, the names that the fans cried to see on the field, were on the bench.
For a team supposedly looking forward to the next era under the old master, it is only too fittingly ironic that the calls and rumors around Anfield are linking Liverpool with a move for former favorite and fallen hero, Fernando Torres.
Stewart Downing Isn't Good Enough
20 league games, 0 assists, 0 goals.
Such stands the record of Liverpool's £20-million winger Stewart Downing.
Given the sheer number of chances Kenny Dalglish has afforded Downing, the England man has been a categorical failure at Liverpool.
For a player whose pace and dribbling have been so hyped up, Downing doesn't even possess the ability or the confidence to take on his marker. For a player whose left foot has been so treasured, Downing can't even trouble the goalkeeper with his shots. For a player whose crossing has been touted as Andy Carroll's dream, Downing has sent in too few direct crosses with pace for Carroll to get his head onto.
Too soon to label him an expensive flop? Perhaps, but one doesn't claim to emulate such past Liverpool greats as Steve McManaman and John Barnes and go on to be less useful a winger than El-Hadji Diouf once was.
Downing was given yet another 90-minute run-out against Manchester City. If Dalglish's patience isn't running out yet, Liverpool fans' will be.
A Painful Lack of Quality Service for Andy Carroll
Yes, Andy Carroll's goal drought extended by yet another game last night.
But he cannot and should not shoulder all the blame coming his way and all the criticism he's had to take.
Put simply, he is a striker that thrives on service, specifically quality service from the flanks in the form of dangerous, whipped crosses. That is his specialty, his kind of game. His horrible first touch against Newcastle aside, he also has a knack for finishing goal-scoring.
But a forward who creates something out of nothing he is not.
When he did get on the end of crosses at the Etihad, he laid off a great second ball for Charlie Adam, who was fouled. (Jordan Henderson wasted the ensuing free kick.) He also knocked the ball down for a goal-bound finish from Dirk Kuyt, only to be denied by an excellent last-ditch block from Vincent Kompany.
Against the fantastic Kompany and the experienced Kolo Toure, Carroll won most of his aerial battles.
Pity that the battles were for long, diagonal, hanging balls without pace, requiring him to head them with his back facing the goal. Hardly goal threats.
Liverpool's January Transfers Will Be Pivotal to Their Season
So, while City will be looking at the January transfer window to offload some deadwood, Liverpool will need to strengthen considerably.
The lack of a clinical finisher has been well-documented and is of utmost importance. Given the number of chances Liverpool create in every single match, it is a true pity that their outstanding play doesn't have the number of points and the league position to show for their dominance.
And without Suarez for the near future, they will need to inject some badly-needed creativity into their side.
As important as Steven Gerrard continues to be, Liverpool cannot afford to yet again rest their hopes on his shoulders. Top four contenders possess quality all over the pitch, and Liverpool currently lack the cutting edge both in midfield and attack.
If they are to finish in a league position they so desire and with some silverware, further major investment in the winter transfer window will be required.
Otherwise, their hopes for a long-awaited trophy will again be dashed. And their nearest opportunity for silverware starts against Manchester City.