by Anthony Jones at Talklfc
Liverpool put the pressure back onto Manchester United as they continued their run of victories in the Premiership. "One nil to the Liverpool" might just catch on amongst the repetoire of songs the home fans sing if Rafa Benitez's side continue to win by that scoreline as they have their last three league games. Today's game was a continued demonstration of the work Benitez has done so far, and the tasks still facing him. Liverpool controlled the game for the vast majority of the match yet could not close the game off. Joey Barton became the ninth player this season to see red against Liverpool, a reflection possibly of the pressure Benitez's side apply to the opposition.
Desperate not to continue where they left off against Benfica in midweek, Liverpool flew out at City in the opening minutes. With Momo Sissoko unavailable due top the eye injury suffered in Europe, Steven Gerrard returned to the centre of midfield alongside Alonso. Jan Kromkamp was the man chosen to fill the right wing whilst Agger came in for the suspended Jamie Carragher. Harry Kewell was finding space down the left wing against Danny Mills who had only just returned from injury. For all their pressure, Liverpool failed to create any threat against a well organised City side who were effectively playing with five in midfield.
Midway through the half, Xabi Alonso won a header in the City half but then suffered a blow to the header as he clashed heads with Joey Barton who had jumped fractionally late. The Liverpool playmaker had to leave the field to have the wound stapled shut. Whilst he initially returned, it wasn't long until he was to leave the game permanently due to blurred vision. Didi Hamann is a more than capable replacement, though the change resulted in Liverpool losing their early control and tempo for a short while. Both Crouch and Hyypia missed the target with headers whilst Kewell had a shot deflected wide.
City had seen off another wave of Liverpool pressure around the half hour mark and looked set to frustrate the home side until the end of the half. A rare City attack though allowed Liverpool the chance to attack a disorganised defence. Having stopped the City raid the ball was moved towards half way where Gerrard brought the ball down before spotting Kewell in space. The Aussie winger had avoided being dragged into the middle of the park and was offering good width which created the space for Gerrard's pass. With Danny Mills out of position, Kewell had the time to move towards goal before drilling a left foot shot across James and into the bottom corner of the net. Liverpool could have had another as Peter Crouch rose well to head a corner down and goalwards but this time Mills was well placed to head off the line. City's frustration could have seen Joey Barton depart for a late tackle on Daniel Agger but Dermot Gallagher the ref is one of the most lenient in the division and offered just a yellow.
Shortly after the interval, City's hopes seemed to fade as Barton was again late when going in studs first into a tackle and received his second booking leaving the away side with just ten men. The dismissal and the half time introduction of Bradley Wright-Phillips brought City to life as they brought Pepe Reina into the game. Wright-Phillips took advantage of the Liverpool backline misjudging the off-side trap though his shot was too close to Reina. A long range effort from Sinclair shortly after forced a great save from Reina. The keeper once again showed his ability to keep his concentration in games where he had little activity. On a couple of occasions he also demonstrated his speed off his line as he cleared dangerous situations. City's recent signing Samaras also had a chance but having found space between Agger and Riise, he failed to hit the target after setting himself up for the strike.
Liverpool's new boys were both having reasonable afternoons without setting the world alight. Agger looked calm on the ball and seemed better able to deal with the physical side of the game after his debut, but he was caught a couple of times out of position. Kromkamp was steady on the right, improving as the game went on and keeping a good shape on the right.
Liverpool were continuing to look for the goal that would kill off the game without ever convincing that they would find it. Nobody came closer though than Peter Crouch who put in an excellent performance. He was unfortunate not to score when cleverly flicking a ball from the left that was drilled in behind him. His effort though tantalisingly drifted wide of the post. He was even closer to scoring shortly after when he brought a high ball down, moved to the side of his marker and hit a dipping volley that would have nestled into the back of the net but for a touch from James that pushed it onto the crossbar. Crouch was withdrawn from the action late on to a chorus of boos from the Kop. Thankfully for the player who has found himself booed frequently by England supporters, the noise this time was a show of frustration from supporters who were disappointed to see his afternoon ended early. It might also have been aimed at Fernando Morientes who once again worked hard, took up some good positions but ultimately displayed a complete lack of confidence in the final third. One pass from Hamann played him into space inside the City area, only for his touch and shot to lack conviction.
There was a scare late on for Liverpool when Gerrard latched onto an excellent throughball from Luis Garcia, another second half substitute. Gerrard dragged the ball onto his left side only to find Richard Dunne sliding in to make a great block as he shot. Gerrard stayed down for some time, as he clearly made contact with the big defender on his follow through. He was able to return to the action though and is expected to join up with the England squad, though all Liverpool supporters will hope the national side limit his match action. City tried to push in the closing minutes for a goal, and there was an air of tension as memories of the recent game against Birmingham came back. However this time there was no late disappointment and Liverpool were back on level terms for second spot.