This amazing match was as well-contested as this ball.
Fox Soccer's Rob Stone introduced this match thus: "Manchester City have dipped ten points behind league-leading United. Today the defending champs try to close the gap as they welcome 18-time league champions Liverpool."
It is an enormous match for City, surely. Anything fewer than three points at home to a side that is barely above .500—Liverpool has nine wins, eight draws and seven losses coming in—would be devastating for City.
Even three points will leave City seven back of United with just shy of two-thirds of the season gone.
For City: Hart, Zabaleta, Nastasic, Lescott, Clichy, Milner, Garcia, Barry, Silva, Dzeko, Aguero
For Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Enrique, Agger, Carragher, Lucas, Gerrard, Henderson, Downing, Suarez, Sturridge
Here is how it went down.
1' Silva thrashes a strike that Reina has to tip over the bar for a corner. Nearly a lightning strike in the first minute for City.
4' The camera settles on Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, who as usual looks like he just ate a two-day-old fish pie left out in the sun. Cheer up, lad.
7' Agger wrong-foots Reina with a back pass, cheaply giving away a corner that finishes limply with a shanked header from Javi Garcia off Milner's cross going well over the bar.
9' Play thus far fairly can be described as "deliberate" or "methodical," like watching two heavyweight fighters circle each other at moderate pace with a jab here and there but with no real haymakers being thrown.
14' Hart nearly costs City first blood by coming out to challenge Sturridge's run to a high ball into the box and getting caught in no-man's land; only a well-timed intervention from Zabaleta keeps Sturridge's effort away from goal.
Hart in the main is an excellent keeper but when he screws up, he leaves no doubt.
17' The pitch has tilted back down toward City's end in the past five minutes, with Liverpool earning multiple corners and looking legitimately dangerous. City has lost its way a bit. In a sport with time-outs, Roberto Mancini might call one to settle things down. Can't do that here, obviously.
19' Dzeko beautifully controls Silva's chipped pass in...except he does it with his biceps, clearly a hand ball. A bit surprising that it was not a yellow card.
20' Suarez' first real chance goes begging as Sturridge completes a run with the ball past Nastasic and crosses beautifully to Suarez 15 yards away. Suarez mishits it terribly though.
21' Lescott shows why Mancini has had him hammered to the bench all season by authoring a wretched turnover that gives Suarez another chance to strike. Suarez narrowly misses a hissing angled strike along the ground.
Maybe someone should cover Suarez. Surprised it was not in the scouting report.
23' GOAL EDIN DZEKO! Man, can Silva play. Aguero corrals a Clichy throw, touches to Silva...and then, MAGIC. Silva slides a through ball to Milner who crosses to an unmarked Dzeko who taps home from a yard. Against the run of play, really, but City is up 1-0.
27' Henderson leaves his feet and crashes into Barry, no card. Seems like it will take felony battery to get booked in this one.
29' GOAL DANIEL STURRIDGE! City fans are beside themselves as Dzeko is cut down in Liverpool's half by Agger and stays on the turf for 90 seconds as play goes on without him. City seem to be waiting for play to be stopped as the ball finds Sturridge just outside the area; he lashes home with a hellacious low rocket to Hart's left.
City gets punished for not playing to the whistle. Agger's challenge was a foul, but it was not called and City cannot be excused for standing around as play continued.
30' Dzeko is booked for whining about the lack of a call; insult added to injury.
34' Gerrard's corner sails over everyone, leading to a goal kick. City needs to settle things down, though good luck settling the livid Etihad patrons down at this point.
36' Henderson slides through Milner and earns a booking. At the rate he is going he will not be here to see the end of this one, either by substitution or by disqualification.
37' Suarez is legitimately terrifying. He took three City defenders on with Hart in position and still looked like he might score.
38' City finally earns a corner, it has been awhile. Silva's delivery is Gerrard-esque, finding no one and trickling out for a Reina goal kick.
40' A quick peek at the match stats on ESPN.com confirms that Liverpool has had 56% of the possession. Tough to recall the last time City had the ball so infrequently at home.
43' Say what you will about Suarez, but he is a very smart player. He cedes a ball at midfield to an onrushing Nastasic seeing that all the sliding City defender can do is knock it out for a Liverpool throw. No reason to take on a coming freight train in that situation. Suarez is pretty cagey.
45' Zabaleta and Hart (once again leaving his line without a good reason) nearly Keystone Kops themselves into an own goal off Zabaleta's toe as his slow back pass catches Hart out. The ball trickles harmlessly past the post, but, um, wow. This is quickly followed by another vicious strike from Suarez that Hart capably covers.
City will be very happy to get to the dressing area level after the two additional minutes ebb away. If they can.
HALFTIME "It really is a terrific contest, fabulously competitive," intones commentator Peter Drury sagely. Right he is.
If Liverpool can keep this pace up, a crippling result for City's title hopes is likely.
46' Milner hits a diagonal cross that, untouched, almost finds the far post, followed by Gerrard conceding a corner. Just the start Mancini's men need, even though the corner is headed high and away over the bar.
48' Garcia commits a semi-needless foul to give Liverpool a free kick in a fairly dangerous area, reminiscent of where Suarez scored from at Anfield in August. Gerrard and Suarez both line it up, it is taken by Suarez off the wall for a corner.
If you did not know which one of these teams won the league last year, you would say Liverpool is demonstrably better.
50' Gerrard's strike is muted by Nastasic, but City are giving up far too many scoring chances to survive, much less win.
52' City is scrambling in their own box as Suarez' cross is cleared at the last second by Lescott. City is reeling. Downing pushes a header wide for a City goal kick, but it feels like only a temporary respite.
53' Sturridge dives after light contact from Lescott in the City box. Suarez's impact on his side is seen again!
56' Kolarov comes on for Nastasic to add some veteran savvy and theoretically calm the Sky Blues down a bit.
57' Carragher goes through the back of Aguero's legs for a yellow card, giving City a free kick from 25 yards just in time for specialist Kolarov to line it up, but the threat goes for nothing.
58' Suarez throws an elbow at Garcia, but misses. Play continues, but the pace and the fervor in the stadium and on the pitch continue to ratchet up.
61' Aguero is hit in the side of the head by a leaping Agger, who then fairly kicks the ball out so Aguero can receive treatment. Tevez begins to loosen up, but Aguero continues to play.
62' Another Suarez strike from a menacing position rushes well past the far post. This is in a lot of ways a typical Suarez game: He is sometimes off target but his industry and his ability to get himself open makes him very difficult to contain.
65' A lung-busting run up the right side from Aguero ends in the Liverpool box as he falls down untouched, and a real scoring chance is gone.
66' Liverpool has 14 shots on goal to City's seven. That sounds about right.
68' For the first time today, the all-out/balls-out pace of this match seems to be catching up with both sides. The play is still exciting, but fatigue is beginning to show up.
71' Garcia commits a wise foul on Suarez at midfield, dispossessing Suarez and earning a yellow card. Suarez was primed to charge forward with help until Garcia erased him.
73' GOAL STEVEN GERRARD! Impossible to say this was not coming. Gerrard rifles home a volleyed missile from 30 yards out past a diving Hart and just inside the right post. Clichy's clearance of a cross in the seconds before was just not good enough.
City brings Maicon on for Silva, which appears to be related to a Silva knack. Anyway that substitution made sense (maybe) when it was 1-1. Down 1-2, well, it is a serious head-scratcher from Mancini.
76' Skrtel is on for Enrique. Reverberations of the Gerrard goal still echo in the Etihad.
77' Now a really dangerous free kick for Liverpool just a few yards outside the City box. It is all going wrong for the Sky Blues now, even as Sturridge's header narrowly misses putting the game out of reach.
78' GOAL SERGIO AGUERO!
What the hell just happened?
Reina comes off his line to corral a harmless-looking pass to Aguero up the right flank, and Reina is OUTSIDE OF HIS AREA as Aguero chips the ball from a few yards away from the corner flag just inside the far post and into the vacated net.
An unbelievable error from Reina, though in the past year or so the unbelievable errors from Reina are becoming the status quo.
And what might happen next?
85' The sides exchange parries but neither side can seriously threaten. Liverpool, particularly, is indulging in efforts from outside the box (Agger, Johnson); two long shots for the Reds have found the net so far, so why not?
86' Maicon's header from a City corner fizzes just over the bar. One of the best matches of the season so far from both sides.
88' Nasri on for Barry, who must be given full marks for an excellent shift in this one. Mancini now makes an offensive-minded substitution, but will it come too late?
89' Two corners in quick succession for City, who clearly seek another "can you believe it" late winner.
90' Five extra minutes. Of course...no one wants a match like this to end, much less in a draw. Sturridge hits another scud that Hart deftly parries to no one in particular, eventually resulting in a Liverpool corner.
And now all of a sudden it feels like a draw would do City just fine, all things considered.
90'+1 Sturridge off for Allen. Sturridge has "Man of the Match" potential on this effort, and wouldn't Chelsea welcome him back now?
90'+3 City earns another corner through a nice run from Maicon, but Kolarov air-mails it over a dozen men in the box. Reina takes his time with the ensuing goal kick, reasoning perhaps that the last possession might be the winner.
90+5 Liverpool earns what appears to be the last corner as Lescott thwarts a rush from Suarez into the area. The corner pings around the box for 15 seconds, it is cleared, and the final whistle blows.
WHAT. A. GAME.
In the end, City is fortunate to take a point from this, and Liverpool deserved at least that. In truth, Liverpool was two late errors (errant back pass from Skrtel at Anfield, horror show mistake from Reina at the Etihad) from doing the double against the defending champions.
But the slim point City saved is little help as far as the league standings are concerned. United is nine points clear and three up in goal difference.
It is not the end for City.
You can see it from here, though.