In what could oddly be described as the best loss of the season, Liverpool showed little fear and plenty of determination to play for all three points at the Etihad despite being down a goal going into the half time break. Liverpool were the better side for vast stretches of the match, and while controversial calls and failure to put away clear chances left the Reds wanting, the performance was largely filled with positive take-aways.
Manchester City: Kompany 31', Negredo 45+1'
Liverpool: Coutinho 24'
With Jon Flanagan out of the side due to injury, Brendan Rodgers' team selection remained unchanged from the one fielded against Cardiff City save for the inclusion of Aly Cissokho as Flanno's replacement. City have a terrifying amount of talent at the best of times, but the recent discovery of a midfield that can midfield helped Liverpool keep the Citizens largely in check despite a nail biting opening fifteen minutes.
Liverpool finally found their moment in the 19th minute when Luis Suarez played a through ball to Raheem Sterling that was then disallowed do to an egregiously incorrect offside call. (Paging Sian Massey.) Five minutes later Philippe Coutinho, who has been inexplicably off target with the vast majority of his shots lately, finally found the back of the net with some assistance from Sterling and Liverpool looked to be on their way.
Coutinho's work was quickly undone by none other than our old friend, the poorly defended set piece. Martin Skrtel's failure to properly mark Vincent Kompany brought the Citizens level and back into a match that Liverpool had been quietly beginning to dominate. It's almost as if this isn't something you could totally work to improve in training or something. Play stretched from one end of the pitch to the other, and just before the half time whistle blew, Liverpool got caught out on a counter attack that resulted in a goal from an Alvaro Negredo strike just outside the box.
Although the score line didn't change after the half, Liverpool returned to the pitch with an obviously strong desire to come out on top despite being down by one. Liverpool had a few more chances to draw level — the Henderson back-heel that rendered Ed incapable of writing this recap, Sterling's chance from close range that he launched over the net — but they were unable to put two and two together to find that elusive second goal, despite putting in great effort until the final whistle.
The result was a strong team effort, although perhaps greater than the sum of its parts. Luis Suarez continued to lead the team well while wearing the captain's armband, although shades of his previous self that likes to complain for every single call seeped through at times. Simon Mignolet could have done a bit more on the second goal, but given the number of times he has saved points this season he can be forgiven just this once. Martin Skrtel was either really awesome or really terrible depending on your feelings regarding his ability to do more shirt-tugging than a teenager at the drive-in. Raheem Sterling is benefitting incredibly from the show of faith from his manager and despite not finding the back of the net today, looks to be improving each match.
That Liverpool sit fourth after today's performance will be disappointing, but given the tightness at the top of the table they're still one win away from continuing to challenge with the likes of Arsenal, City, and Chelsea for those Champions League spots. To go to the Etihad and challenge the way they did against a City team that have not lost at home in the league this year is something, especially in the context of Liverpool's other rivals losing by margins of three goals or more during their own visits. It was a close and hardly fought match, and Liverpool probably deserved more and could have done more to get it, but there is little to be ashamed of in the overall performance.
Liverpool may not have come away with any points to their name, but Brendan Rodgers cancelling Christmas seems to have been the correct choice. The team remained focused during the first of two matches that could be season-defining, and despite the loss Liverpool are in an incredible headspace leading into their visit to Stamford Bridge on Sunday.