Monday, 22 February 2010

LIVERPOOL FC 0 Man City 0: That's not entertainment

 Manchester City 0 Liverpool 0

IT was a game neither side could afford to lose - and it showed.

The riches of the Champions League - combined with its ability to lure worldwide talent to the north west - is vital for both Roberto Mancini and Rafa Benitez.

Yet with the top three now seemingly out of reach for the pair, fourth place in the Premier League isn't big enough for the both of them.

And wins for both Spurs and Aston Villa mean the coveted spot could still elude both managers with just one point seperating Martin O'Neill's side in seventh and Harry Redknapp's Spurs in fourth.

With that in mind, fear was the key word at Eastlands.

A nervy, edgy encounter, not helped by over-fussy and poor refereeing by Peter Walton, produced little in the way of entertainment.

Liverpool started the better side, but despite having more of the ball the creative edge that was so elusive in a frustrating Europa League win over Unirea Urziceni was again missing from the Reds' play.

Ryan Babel was rewarded for an impressive cameo against the Romanians at Anfield but yet again failed to shine when given a chance from the off.

If you were to compile a list of players that have frustrated in the red shirt, the Dutchman is a shoo in for top billing.

But Babel can't shoulder all the blame for making it Liverpool's third successive Premier League game on the road without a goal.

Some of the Reds' build-up play was decent enough, but time after time the final ball was lacking - a fact acknowleged by Benitez in the post-match press conference.

Without that incisiveness - a problem which dogged City on the day, too - goal attempts were at a premium.

It was 24 minutes before Liverpool produced a shot of note - a hopeful 18-yard left-footed effort from Steven Gerrard that flew over the bar.

For City, their first real effort took even longer - Pablo Zabaleta's shot deflecting off Emmanuel Adebayor to safety.

The best chance of the first half fell to Martin Skrtel. Liverpool were wrongly awarded a corner after the ball went out off the Slovak and from Gerrard's delivery the defender headed wide from close range.

The second half was a similar story. City were improved and forced a couple of corners early on but attack after attack of Liverpool's broke down once the ball came to Babel's feet.

In a ten minute spell, the 23-year-old gave the ball away three times, once criminally so after dallying once he had beaten a man.

Also in that spell he failed to keep in a raking pass from Lucas Leiva - then having the temerity to blame the Brazilian - and he was rightly booked for a terrible challenge on Zabaleta as his frustrations boiled over to match those of the fans in the away end.

At that point there must have been many Reds fans who would have liked to have followed Adam Johnson's lead - the City winger felling Babel when he powered a cross into his face.

The hour mark brought the first effort on target from either side, Adebayor drawing a smart save from Pepe Reina with a powerful shot from the edge of the area.

Minutes later, Yossi Benayoun - out injured since the FA Cup defeat to Reading in January - came on for the disappointing Maxi Rodridguez.

The Israeli immediately showed willing to beat a man, something sadly lacking for most of the afternoon from Liverpool.

Top scorer Fernando Torres also made a 15-minute appearance, his first since knee surgery.

But neither could conjure up a goal, although Benayoun did have a penalty shout and perhaps paid the price for staying on his feet where others would fall.

City could point to a penalty area shove from Daniel Agger on Adebayor, while the City striker was also denied an effort on goal by a super saving tackle by Skrtel - the frontman also heading over when well placed from the corner that followed that challenge.

The point satisfied neither manager, although both agreed it was the right result.

For Liverpool, their ugly progress on performances built on defence continues - that's just two goals conceded in seven Premier League games now.

Flair and goals will surely come with the return of Torres and Benayoun, and while the pessimists amongst the Liverpool support count this result as an opportunity missed, is a draw against a side unbeaten at home since April and with the scalps of Chelsea and Arsenal under their belts on home turf really that bad?

Time will tell, but with 11 games to go, there will be plenty more twists and turns in the race for fourth.

Next up in the league for City - booed off by their supporters - is a trip to Stamford Bridge while Liverpool take on Blackburn at Anfield on Sunday after their Europa League return against Unirea on Thursday.

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