Manchester City 2 Liverpool 1 match report: City show their class but Brendan Rodgers’ streetwise approach earns plaudits

City came back from a goal behind but it could have been Liverpool's day had Raheem Sterling been correctly ruled onside and Simon Mignolet not made a hash of the winning goal

Etihad Stadium

An affirmation of who really holds the cards at the top of the Premier League. The team is Manchester City, who take a stride towards the top, rather than Liverpool, whose slip to fourth reveals that leading the race at Christmas does not carry quite the same comforts as usual in this incredibly fluid season.

But the scoreline made the night no less a statement of intent from the players Brendan Rodgers sent out. Some very strong squads have been taken apart at this stadium in the past four months but Liverpool’s performance was materially better than any other seen here from a visiting side.

There have not been many occasions before this when we could say that City needed the resilience of Fernandinho and the goalkeeping of Joe Hart to preserve their 100 per cent Premier League home record. Manuel Pellegrini, their manager, punched the night air and his Etihad superiors will doubtless have nodded, knowingly. Rodgers is a manager who seriously impresses them.

At times in the first half, the football was as enervating as anything we had seen in City’s dismantling of Arsenal two weeks ago, though written through with none of the same inequality. Rodgers sent out a team that looked and played like they actually believed they could stand toe-to-toe with the most powerful side in the Premier League. So although City quickly came at their weakened and vulnerable right flank like a battering ram, with Aly Cissokho up against Jesus Navas – a match made in Manchester heaven – Liverpool were not cast aside.

There were certainly some ominous moments for them in the early stages, with Navas racing ahead of Cissokho to head a cross against the top of Simon Mignolet’s right-hand post: the third attack down that flank in the first 10 minutes. But Liverpool looked the sharper team, brimful with incision and imagination in the 30 minutes before half time. Luis Suarez was at the axis of some wonderful creation in the final third, Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling combining with him intricately, and you only had to cast your mind back to the Liverpool we saw last Boxing Day night – dismally defeated at Stoke – to know how far they have come in a year.

Sterling found himself dancing around Joe Hart to fire the ball in the net just before the 20-minute mark, after a finely timed and weighted through pass by Suarez. Though he had manifestly beaten City’s offside trap, referee Lee Mason’s linesman didn’t see it that way, so there was a form of justice about the way he helped put Liverpool ahead after another move of liquid football five minutes later. Suarez’s deft touch created it again – spinning Jordan Henderson’s pass into the path of Sterling, who rounded Hart once more and allowed Coutinho, positioned beside him, to pick up the script to send the ball into the net from an acute angle.

The problem for Rodgers, though, was that his defence was not equipped to withstand the way that City came back at Liverpool. City counter-attack with a power which makes concession of the ball to them a danger anywhere on the field and the standard of defending which allowed City to equalise was dismal. It was a repeat of their well-known vulnerability to the set-piece which allowed their opponents back into the game. Vincent Kompany jockeyed in front of Martin Skrtel – for whom this was a generally good night – to deposit David Silva’s corner past Mignolet, who might have done better, and Joe Allen, who failed to clear from the line. 

Liverpool might have gone back ahead, as the football was played back and forth with incredible intensity. Another beautiful interlinking move concluded with Sterling levering a ball into the area for Suarez to lay off for Coutinho, whose shot Hart leaped sharply to his left to save. But then City counter-attacked in all of their finery – box to box, five players involved, with Nasri’s clipped long ball the best component and Negredo the beneficiary. The Spaniard’s early clipped shot seemed to surprise Mignolet, who put a weak glove on it but could not prevent it looping over him into the net. He should have done better.

It was measure of what Liverpool were offering that a City whose manager says they will always attack tightened up a little after the interval, with Fernandinho reducing the threat of being caught on the break.

Yet it was hardly a defensive outlook. The tally of 28 shots on goal after 75 minutes showed what kind of game this was. But Suarez was subjected to some unsophisticated handling from Lescott at times and though he launched a theatrical late dive under the defender’s challenge to seek a penalty, his shirt was being pulled at the time. Suarez was unfortunate to be booked for hurtling into Hart as he chased a late ball at the end but his greater frustration was felt for the way the clearest goalscoring opportunity of the second half – carved out by him – was squandered.

His low, whipped cross – delivered behind Kompany and Lescott – reached Sterling with a pace which was too much for him. The 19-year-old put the ball over the bar from five yards and his gesture when he left the field soon later – his shirt lifted over his face – revealed a teenager who knew the significance of that miss.  Liverpool’s challenging Christmas continues at Chelsea on Sunday but they will travel without fear.

Match facts

Manchester City: Hart 7/10, Kompany 7, Toure 6, Fernandinho 8, Zabaleta 6, Lescott 5, Kolarov 5, Silva 7, Nasri 7, Navas 6, Negredo 6

Liverpool: Mignolet 5, Johnson 6, Sakho 5, Skrtel 7, Cissokho 5, Allen 6, Lucas 6, Henderson 7, Coutinho 6, Sterling 7, Suarez 8

Goals. Manchester City: Kompany 31, Negredo 45. Liverpool: Coutinho 23

Subs: Man City Milner (Nasri, 72), Dzeko (Negredo, 77), García (Silva, 87).

Liverpool  Moses (Coutinho, 68), Aspas (Lucas, 82).

Booked: Man City Zabaleta

Liverpool Johnson, Suárez, Moses.

MOM Suarez Rating 8/10.

Possession: Man City 52% Liverpool 48%.

Attempts on target: Man City 6 Liverpool 5.

Ref L Mason (Greater Manchester) Att 47,351.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot