CITY 2 LIVERPOOL 3
Report by Eddie Blount
Liverpool extracted deserved revenge for their Cup defeat earlier in the week at the same venue with a polished display of forward power which was irresistible at times particularly in the first half when they surged to a two-goal lead which could easily have been more.
From the start it was clear that City had a stern task on their hands. Going forward Liverpool were quicker, stronger and more creative, Coutinho inevitably to the fore in that last department. Before taking the lead in the 15th minute Can had struck a post with a ferocious shot from 25 yards, the ball rebounding instantly to the onrushing Salah who blazed wide of a gaping net.
Salah made immediate and full amends almost immediately taking advantage of a wonderful cross by Coutinho to head in at a sharp angle at the far post. Chilwell, who overall had a good game, lost his marker on this occasion as the regular left back, Fuchs, has also been prone to do this season.
One down very soon became two! Given that City play 4-4-2 as opposed to the 3-5-2 generally played by the top teams the loss of possession anywhere near centre midfield can be disastrous and so it proved when a City attack broke down leaving the cover stranded as the Reds poured forward. Ndidi, who toiled manfully throughout, almost got back but committed a yellow card foul, one for the team as they now say, five yards outside the box.
Around me there was unanimity that this would be fatal as Coutinho shaped up to deliver the inevitable coup de grace. It was like watching a medieval executioner polishing his axe. The free kick when delivered was well up to expectations and curled unstoppably into the far corner at great pace. Two down after 23 minutes – some sides would have crumbled but City stubbornly refused to bend the knee.
They had already showed that Liverpool were predictably vulnerable at the back -they are great going forward, much less so at the other job! At 0-0 Albrighton, a great trier throughout, had released Vardy whose shot was pushed away by the keeper, the ball lobbing away to Mahrez whose volley went over when it should have gone under. More on Mahrez later.
After the initial shock of going two down City – and the fans – rallied and began to get at least an equal share of the game. Vardy, a one-man attacking machine, harassed Mignolet into a poor clearance, leaving Okazaki with an untenanted goal though some distance out. I’ve seen these go in but the tame effort deflected off the keeper for a fruitless corner. Nonetheless City were encouraged by the weaknesses of Liverpool’s defending and a little spell of pressure on the verge of half-time paid dividends.
Mahrez’s corner caused the entire Pool defence, keeper included, to advance beyond the six-yard box leaving a chasm into which the battling Maguire sent a gentle header. The ball almost certainly would have been hacked away but Okazaki with a trademark toe-poke put City back in the game. We all spent half-time scratching our heads and wondering how we were still in the match!
The confidence of the late goal re-enthused both team and fans and City raised their game early in the second half without creating a really clear chance, Inevitably there is an element of risk in chasing the game and mistakes are likely to be punished by a good side. Thus it was. Maguire won possession well but with no cover behind him chose the wrong option of a dribble when a hoof was all that was required. It was all over in a flash but it decided the match as it turned out. Liverpool ran at City with four against two, eventually giving Henderson a simple chance to re-establish a two-goal margin.
Now we were to see City at their best! Albrighton’s long cross was volleyed magnificently by substitute Gray, pushed out by Mignolet but only to Vardy who duly headed into the empty net. If ever a striker deserved a goal…. Liverpool were unnerved by City’s refusal to accept defeat, rather like a boxer who is continually floored but keeps getting back up and knocking the other guy down! Immediately the 3-1 of moments before should have been 3-3 as Vardy stormed after a through ball only to be downed by the onrushing keeper for a clear penalty.
Vardy is not a natural penalty taker and although his effort was well struck it was far too close to Mignolet who pushed it away comfortably. The action was not over as the ball was returned to the box for a defender to handle, albeit inadvertently. TV replays showed a clear movement of hand to ball. The referee was understandably reluctant to give two penalties so close together and needed help from the West stand linesman who only flagged for ball out of play throughout the match. He had a clear view of the offence but predictably did nothing.
It seemed that this would be City’s last chance to get back on terms and so it proved so that a really spirited performance ultimately went without reward. Unfortunately I have to disassociate Mahrez from the ‘spirited performance.’ This was by some way the worst I have seen Mahrez play. I cannot readily believe it was due to lack of interest, though running round the airports of Europe to secure a move smacks of some lack of commitment, so I prefer to see it as a loss of confidence, a theory lent further credence by the speed with which Mahrez left the pitch, surely a Premiership all-comers best. Whatever, he was a passenger yesterday and Shakespeare must pick up his quill, scratch his name from the team-sheet and check whether you spell Gray with an a or an e. It was noticeable that City maintained parity with the Reds after the substitutions. On that score a little mention for Iheanacho who showed up well after his late introduction..
No report on this game should omit a comment about City’s midfield. Ndidi and King were over-run at times. The former battles brilliantly for every loose ball though more enthusiastically than skilfully but lacks the creative passing gene. King will keep going to the end but lacks the strength of top Premiership midfielders. The injury to James, regrettably not unpredictable, has left us threadbare in this vital area and the loss of form of Mahrez has left a situation in which three are often competing with five. This cannot go on unchecked!
City: Schmeichel, Simpson, Morgan, Maguire, Chilwell, Mahrez (Gray 60), King, Ndidi, Albrighton (Slimani 79), Okazaki (Iheanacho 74), Vardy
Liverpool: Mignolet, Gomez, Lovren, Matip, Moreno, Wijnaldum, Henderson, Can (Milner 74), Salah, Coutinho (Oxlade-Chamberlain 78), Firmino (Sturridge 64),
The views expressed in this report are the opinions of the Trust member nominated to file the report only and do not represent the views of the Foxes Trust organisation