Liverpool struggle to locate X Factor
Liverpool 2 Manchester City 2
Monday 23 November 2009
There is only one Manchester rival for Liverpool, as the latest edition of
The Kop magazine makes all too clear. The faces of the Neville brothers are imposed on a picture of the Jedward twins beneath a back page headline: "Annoying brothers achieve success despite apparent lack of talent (and good looks)." The Kop found it hard to find much annoyance in the city's other team on Saturday, despite all their spending and pretensions. £200m and not a lot of X factor, you might say.
The United rivalry has been built on that Mancunian ability to discern and exploit weakness and vulnerability; to make you worry for the kind of cobbled defence, callow front line and less-than-fit Steven Gerrard, which Liverpool deployed, and make a kill. But City had no killer. Gareth Barry, who took the Arab dirham and turned his back on Anfield, was not subjected to any of the anticipated derision because he barely seemed to be there. He should have been thumping into challenges and reminding his friend Gerrard why he so badly wanted him at Anfield. Instead, by taking up a series of curiously advanced positions behind Emmanuel Adebayor, he gave pockets of midfield space to Javier Mascherano. The kindest interpretation is that Barry, struggling with the calf problem he brought back from England's trip to Doha to meet Brazil, needs rest.
There were flashes of the exuberance expected of City as the game wore on; Shaun Wright-Phillips whipping exquisitely around the leaden Sotirios Kyrgiakos to thread the pass which Stephen Ireland diverted in to put City ahead. That the lead lasted for 27 seconds summed up City's self-belief. "The game-plan was to restrict the influence of their midfield and their full-backs from getting in higher positions and I felt it worked really well," manager Mark Hughes explained. Odd, that. When Glen Johnson's calf played up on Saturday morning, the "wing-backs" turned out to be Jamie Carragher and 20-year-old Emiliano Insua – hardly a hurricane down the touchlines.
It meant that the season's most unenterprising 2-2 draw turned on four moments of defensive deficiency, Liverpool's beleaguered zonal marking system allowing Emmanuel Adebayor to score by taking a half pace to his left and ducking in to a header. "When you're using a zonal marking system you have to attack the ball and if there's a player near you, you have to challenge," manager Rafael Benitez said. "It is clear you have to attack the space or the player. "
Mark Hughes speaks often of the "consecutive errors" in defence which have contributed to City's six successive draws and there were four more of them in the five seconds or so it took Ngog to seize on Nedum Onuoha's poor clearance, beat Wayne Bridge, deflect a cross off Bridge and Joleon Lescott and watch Yossi Benayoun react faster than Pablo Zabaleta to preserve a point for a manager with one win in 10. Adebayor went missing, too, when Skrtel converted Gerrard's corner.
It took a player of Manchester United pedigree to take the game to a higher place. A seat on the Anfield bench was the kind of prospect Carlos Tevez left Old Trafford to avoid and Hughes insisted that his first-team place is not guaranteed: "He won't play every game. There are a lot of players who won't play every game; we have a good squad and you just have to make sure the player understands the thinking behind it."
But the intensity which Tevez injected – his hoist on Skrtel out near the corner flag and reverse pass which Wright-Phillips seized on to set up Ireland was the epitome of it – will make him hard to leave out too often.
The two sides will conclude that their next opponents – Everton and Hull – are the ones they really need to beat and that shared honours are acceptable. But on this evidence, Adebayor's claim that the fight for the top four is "between Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool and us" looks highly presumptuous.
Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Reina; Carragher, Skrtel, Agger (Kyrgiakos 11), Insua; Mascherano, Lucas; Kuyt, Gerrard, Babel (Benayoun, 18; Aurelio, 85); Ngog. Substitutes not used: Cavalieri, Aquilani, Riera, El Zhar.
Manchester City (4-1-4-1) Given; Zabaleta, Touré (Onuoha, 46), Lescott, Bridge; De Jong; Barry (Tevez, 61), Wright-Phillips, Ireland, Bellamy; Adebayor. Substitutes not used: Taylor, Johnson, Santa Cruz, Kompany, Weiss.
Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).
Booked: Liverpool Carragher, Lucas.
Benitez asks squad to rise above the injuries
Rafael Benitez will not have Fernando Torres aboard Liverpool's flight to Hungary this morning and still does not seem ready to deploy £17m Alberto Aquilani against Debrecen, with his side's Champions League hopes hanging by a thread.
Benitez, desperate for a turn of fortune after one win in 10, will be forced to turn to Europa League football if Lyons win in Fiorentina tomorrow but in the meantime needs a better display than the 1-0 win over the Hungarian champions in September. "We have to do our job. We have to be ready to win and that's it," he said.
Benitez is unlikely to use Ryan Babel, who injured his right ankle under a two-footed challenge from Manchester City's Nigel de Jong. But the manager has some hopes for Daniel Agger, who needed five stitches to a head wound after Kolo Touré inadvertently butted him. Yossi Benayoun, Fabio Aurelio and Albert Riera are also in contention.
Meanwhile Manchester City manager Mark Hughes hopes to have Robinho on the bench for the visit of Hull City next Saturday, having been without him since 27 August.
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