Last night (Tuesday) saw a ten man Manchester City side cruise to a 3-0 victory against Northern neighbours Liverpool. Liverpool fans will be all too familiar with the scenes coming from the Etihad stadium, as the Merseysiders were probably the better side, enjoying 64% of possession and taking more shots, however their toothless attack was once again their downfall, as most of this possession was in front of their opponents back four, and they struggled to penetrate a well organised Man. City defence. Ultimately it is Liverpool’s inadequacy in front of goal that cause them to find themselves out of the top four, as in actuality if they had finished off games in which they found themselves in the upper hand they would probably find themselves above a couple of the London teams that sit above them. The match tonight is the first of three meetings between City and Liverpool in January, as they have two legs of the Carling Cup semi-final to contest, and the question must be raised as to whether the reds stand a chance of progressing to a final in which a Championship club in the form of either Crystal Palace or Cardiff await.
This season has seen Liverpool commit one of the worst sins in football, failure to convert dominance and a string of chances into goals, and in turn failure to turn a point into three. Six draws at Anfield against the likes of new boys Norwich and Swansea, as well then bottom Blackburn is disappointing, especially as they were in control and having the best chances in these games, which can also be said when both Manchester clubs made the short trip to Liverpool, who also both left with a point that they must have felt lucky to grab. Their top scorer this season, and creative mastermind, Luis Suarez faces an eight match ban after the Mersey club announced before the City game that they would not appeal the FA’s decision to hand the Uruguayan the unprecedented ban, and whilst £35 million target man Andy Carroll’s performances are slowly showing more promise the talisman that is Suarez will be difficult to replace over the eight matches even with the January transfer window re-opening. Suarez’s presence will be sorely missed, but as one big name becomes unavailable, another, in the form of Steven Gerrard, becomes available as his almost year long battle with injury finally appears to be at an end as the influential captain has made three substitute appearances in as many games, racking up over 80 minutes of gameplay.
So can the balance provided by skipper’s return push Liverpool to its first final since 2007 and rally the team to break the top four for the first time in a couple of years? The two meetings between the Northern clubs this season have both been thrilling games, the first resulting in a stalemate of 1-1, a game that was end to end and could have gone either way on a different day. The game last night was a different story entirely however, whilst Liverpool saw more of the ball and had more attempts their attack was toothless and they struggled to penetrate the back four of City that was impressive throughout, as the blue of Manchester showed their title winning credentials as they won in a game against the run of play, a key in the arsenal of any title contenders. Even when considering the return of powerhouse Gerrard it is difficult to look past Mancini’s men after reviewing the two meetings this season, and unless Liverpool acquire an out and out goal scorer whilst the market is open they’ll struggle not only to best City in the Carling Cup semi-final but also to best the three London clubs that they have to top if they hope to return to the highest European competition that has been so kind to the Merseysiders in their history.
Despite this somewhat bleak outlook I’ve laid on the Reds there are other things to consider when assessing their situation, and that is of course, their situation last year. This time last year the manager Roy Hodgson would have taken a point against Blackburn, as the Lancashire club eased to victory against Liverpool this match week last year, as the Reds found themselves in the bottom half of the table, and they were considered to be part of the relegation battle, they had also clocked up their lowest point tally since the 1953-54 season, and despite this an incredible run bought about by the return of legend Kenny Dalglish in the second half of the season saw them finish sixth, and if the Scot continues his habit of saving the best till last then Liverpool may just qualify for the Champions League, but other factors have to be considered, the almost flawless recent form of fierce London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham one of the main one of these factors.