Manchester City 2: Dzeko 23', Aguero 78'
Liverpool 2: Sturridge 29', Gerrard 73'
Nearly all of the questions pre-match had particularly unsurprising answers--Jamie Carragher remained alongside Daniel Agger at the back, Jose Enrique came in at left-back with Glen Johnson shifting right, the midfield had no changes in personnel, and Daniel Sturridge and Stewart Downing both stayed in the eleven as well. Slight shift in the setup, though, with Jordan Henderson back to the spot he occupied against Norwich on the left, and Luis Suarez more withdrawn in attack behind Sturridge.
The first half unfolded much more evenly tempoed than the midweek draw with Arsenal, as the two sides shared spells of possession without the headless chicken stuff from the Emirates. Liverpool pressed much better and had more of a sense of calm about them, which could have all been ruined when Edin Dzeko opened the scoring for the hosts on 23 minutes.
A fairly innocuous throw-in on the left side all of a sudden sprung James Milner into space, and the midfielder's left-footed cross breezed past a rooted Agger to Dzeko, who tapped into an empty net with ease. As aesthetically pleasing as it was for City, it was another shut-off moment from Liverpool, especially Agger, who was supposed to be marking Dzeko but instead got caught out calling for offside.
Rather than collapse, though, Liverpool struck back just six minutes later through Sturridge, whose arrowed strike from 25 yards crashed past Joe Hart and leveled the match. It didn't come without a bit of controversy--Agger had fouled Dzeko at the other end, but as play wasn't whistled dead and it was fairly clear no injury could have resulted from the challenge, the visitors played on and got their goal.
It was Liverpool who were largely the better side for the rest of the first half and the opening ten minutes of the second, even if the chances weren't coming with any regularity. The introduction of Aleksandar Kolarov swung the momentum in the host's favor, but as the half wore on it was clear that Liverpool were more than capable of getting something from the match.
In the 73rd minute they took the lead on a vintage Steven Gerrard strike, chesting for control after a feeble clearance and lashing a dipping half-volley past a helpless Joe Hart. It was dreamland for Liverpool, and what was even better was the period of control they looked to settle into immediately afterwards. Sadly it was all undone by a moment of madness from Pepe Reina, who pursued a hopeless ball down City's right, leaving the goal open for Sergio Aguero, who curled a wonderful lobbed effort just underneath the crossbar and into the side netting. Level once again, and the points thrown away in a far too familiar manner.
The end result seems especially harsh given that, aside from maybe when these two teams met in the reverse fixture earlier this season, today was about as encouraged as I've felt about a Liverpool performance. They looked comfortable in their own skin, managed to fight back, pieced together some quality stuff, and had taken the chances it looked like they needed to earn all three points. Not perfect by any stretch, but against the title-holders, an impressive display.
But then it all goes to shit in a moment of brainlessness at the back. Rather than Skrtel and Tevez it was Reina and Aguero, and while the finish asked far more this time around, it all felt the same. What could have been?
Sadly we're left asking that question yet again, and what's supremely frustrating is that there doesn't seem to be the impetus to push on and go for all three points after the gut-punch occurs. Against Arsenal it was two quick goals but twenty minutes left to play, and today it was Reina's error with just over ten minutes to go. On neither occasion did Liverpool or their manager respond with any sort of changes that indicated they were going for it, instead looking content to be and keep level rather than go for the win after they'd been set back or, in this case, set themselves back.
And that's unacceptable. Amidst all the good from today--and there was so much, from the two astonishing goals to Daniel Sturridge's work up front to another good Jordan Henderson display to Lucas' regained form--that's the taste that lingers. Yes, progress and improvement and we really gave them a go of it, but sat opposite that is Liverpool could and perhaps should have taken all three points yet all indications are they were just as happy with one. Maybe it's the nature of the past two fixtures, both challenging away dates to perennial league powerhouses and matches in which Liverpool weren't expected to win.
But I expect more from Liverpool, even if I shouldn't. Twice in four days we've seen them take a lead away from home, twice we've seen it erased, and twice we've seen them look content with not losing. That can't and shouldn't be good enough, and if what we're witnessing is progress, this week needs to serve as an example of a mentality that needs to be much, much better.