Manchester City 2-2 Liverpool. Liverpool Improving, City Lose Ground on United

Matt JonesFeatured ColumnistFebruary 4, 2013

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 03:  Daniel Sturridge of Liverpool gestures as he is substituted during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium on February 3, 2013 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Manchester City were certainly there for the taking, as Liverpool showed yet more promise, but a lack of ruthlessness under Brendan Rodgers.

City set up in a 4-2-2-2 system, with David Silva and James Milner operating in the inside-left and inside-right positions respectively.

Matija Nastasic came back into the side, taking up the right-sided centre-back slot. Joleon Lescott was his central defensive partner.

Liverpool brought Jose Enrique back in, with Glen Johnson taking up his more familiar right-back berth. In the only other tactical change to the midweek game with Arsenal, Jordan Henderson operated from the left, with Luis Suarez in the hole behind Daniel Sturridge. 

The pattern of the game was set very early on. Like in midweek, Liverpool looked happy to sit back in their own half, pressing City once they intruded their half of the pitch.

Lucas Leiva and Steven Gerrard look to be developing a defensive understanding as a double-pivot midfield partnership. Once again, they limited the space for the opposition's creative players to operate in. So much so that it was actually City's holding midfielder Gareth Barry who completed the most passes of any City player in the final third.

Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero played as an orthodox front two, but neither really saw much of the ball in areas they could influence the game regularly. Lucas again, did a good screening job in front of the back four.

Liverpool were much more patient in their play compared to Wednesday's game at the Emirates. They worked the ball out from the back in a much more controlled manner. Sturridge constantly drifted out towards the left-hand side, looking to drag Nastasic out of an already unfamiliar position. In turn, this created gaps for Suarez to turn and attack City's back four, which was often out of shape.

With Sturridge threatening down the left, City's right side in in particular had to put a real shift in. The industrious combination of Pablo Zabaleta and James Milner made more tackles than any other players in the match

As the half progressed, Liverpool found it much easier to find both Suarez and Sturridge in dangerous positions in comparison to the Arsenal game. City's central midfield pairing of Javi Garcia and Gareth Barry lacked the energy to cope with their clever movement and work-rate between the lines.

With Liverpool dominating the ball and City unable to find a way through, Dzeko's goal came somewhat unexpectedly. Glen Johnson switched off to allow Silva to link up with Milner, who fired across the face of goal for Edin Dzeko to poke home. The Bosnian's movement was too good for Daniel Agger on this occasion. 

Liverpool continued to go about their business well following the concession of that goal, and they grabbed the equaliser they deserved. With Dzeko down injured and City penned in, Garcia was unable to clear his lines. Sturridge picked up on a loose ball and slammed past Joe Hart.

With Suarez and Henderson both joining in the midfield area, City found themselves often outnumbered in the centre of the pitch. Roberto Mancini looked to address this, and 10 minutes into the second period, he switched to a 3-4-1-2 formation. Nastasic was withdrawn after an especially uncomfortable time against Sturridge.

This also looked to be an attempt to get Silva more involved in the play, as he was moved behind the two strikers, with Aleksandar Kolarov and Milner providing genuine width on either flank. City resultantly managed to get more crosses into to box in the last 30 minutes than they did in the previous 60 minutes of play. Their attacking play certainly improved following this change, as they matched Liverpool in midfield and pressed a lot higher up the pitch.

But for every action, there is a reaction. As City's midfielders pushed on, space was left down the sides of a narrow back three, which allowed Stewart Downing and Jose Enrique plenty of time and space in the latter stages of the game. Liverpool's go-ahead goal eventually came from one of these crosses. Gael Clichy, operating as a make-shift centre back at this point, looked uncomfortable clearing the ball away and with the City midfielders advanced, Steven Gerrard had the time to pick his spot and fire in from distance.

Downing and Enrique continued to threaten down either flank before City's equaliser. Aguero rushed on to a long ball and with Jose "Pepe" Reina in no mans land, somehow finished from an acute angle. Reina, who had little to do throughout the 90 minutes, has made eight errors leading directly to opposition goals this season:

8 - Since the start of last season Jose Reina has made eight errors leading directly to a goal in the Premier League. Misjudge.

— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 3, 2013

A worrying stat for a keeper who has long been considered one of Europe's best.

Overall, Liverpool will view this as an opportunity missed. They outplayed City in midfield, shut down David Silva and created far more chances than the Champions. But once again, they proved to be wasteful in front of goal, hitting the target just four times in their 22 attempts.

Roberto Mancini on the other will be glad to welcome back Yaya Toure from the Africa Cup of Nations, who's energy and positivity is missed enormously at the heart of the City midfield. Getting the Ivorian and Vincent Kompany back into the side will be key if they have any chance of overhauling the nine-point gap to rivals Manchester United, who sit atop of the Premier League.

What were your views on the game? Let me know in the comments section or on Twitter: @MattJFootball


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