Liverpool, whose patchy form in the first two months of the season suggested May's Champions' League win was a fluke on the scale of scooping the National Lottery jackpot, are looking a force again. This was their fourth successive Premiership success, and if they are not playing teams off the pitch, they are reducing them to impotency.
Organised and obdurate, it is now more than 500 minutes since they conceded a goal, and, seventh in the Premiership with games in hand on those around them, they are assuming a consistency to earn respect if not incur awe.
"We are defending much better than last season, home and away," Rafael Benitez, their manager, said, "and we are still attacking well." Yesterday was a case in point as Manchester City had only one shot on target and Liverpool stole away with the points thanks to John Arne Riise's goal.
This means City have gained only one point from their last three games (two of them at home) and the early-season bloom of Stuart Pearce's reign is beginning to fade. "We lacked that bit of quality to get our strikers into positions that hurt," he said. "What we put into today's game would have beaten most teams, but we were playing the champions of Europe."
The match was preceded by an attempt at a minute's silence for George Best, a hostage to fortune if ever there was one, given the supporters involved. It was less than immaculately observed, the referee brought it to a halt after 15 seconds and was followed by boos. As Best himself might have observed, he could not escape booze even in death.
Both managers praised the majority who observed the silence rather than condemned the minority, but at least no one could say the gracelessness was out of keeping with a first half that was worlds away from Best in his prime. There was little skill and the referee's attempt to keep the game flowing was just about the only example of finesse, too.
After 13 minutes Kiki Musampa lifted the proceedings out of the humdrum with a sudden spurt that put him beyond Steve Finnan. His cross was also delivered expertly and deserved better than Darius Vassell's attempt to wrong-foot Jose Reina with his header, an attempt that sailed wide.
Liverpool did not show as an attacking force at all until the half hour when Peter Crouch's knock-down gave Djibril Cissé a chance that a braver forward would have made more of. Instead of going where angels fear to tread, he attempted a flick that David James saved easily.
Steven Gerrard also curled a shot wide after he had the luck of the bounce as he cut inside Richard Dunne, but Benitez clearly expected more from his forward players and he got it when he introduced Harry Kewell after 51 minutes.
The Australian, playing just behind Crouch, twice ran dangerously at the centre of the City defence and, with a weakness exposed, Liverpool exploited it to take the lead after 61 minutes. Dietmar Hamann passed to Riise, who played a one-two with Gerrard and then crashed a shot past James.
City attempted to press forward, but the closest they came to causing Liverpool concern was when Andy Cole went down after a challenge by Jamie Carragher. Even that was outside the area.Reuse content