by Anthony Jones at Talklfc
Some will claim that the inconsistency that has run through Liverpool's season returned on Saturday as they crashed to a last minute defeat at the hands of Manchester City. The truth of the matter though is that Liverpool's form has been perfectly consistent. Strong at home, Liverpool have been woeful on their travels. A recent run of four wins in five games was in large thanks to the fixture computer, with Anfield the backdrop for those results. Away from home though Liverpool have rarely won, a record that was continued here and will concern Benitez ahead of Wednesday's Champions League fixture in Turin.
Benitez made three changes, he may have wished to have made more but Liverpool's injury problems still haven't eased sufficiently. Both Pellegrino and Morientes, cup tied in the week, returned to the starting line up, with Warnock replacing Traore at left back. The changes may have had one eye on Liverpool's form after Champions League games, which has not been great, whether it reflects a physical or mental problem is not clear.
The game itself was in no way a classic. Played out between a team unhappy on their travels and another who were just generally unhappy with their season though keen to impress new management. This was a challenge between which set of players wanted it most, Liverpool's needing a win to push forward their hopes of Champions League football next season, City's wanting to keep Stuart Pearce as their manager.
The best chance of the opening exchanges came at the Liverpool defensive end. After Finnan showed the prickly side of his character by pulling Musampa back by his dreadlocks after the winger had deceived him, Barton swung in a free kick. The ball was perfect for Distin to attack and his downward header from just outside the six yard box was brilliantly saved by Scott Carson. Earlier in the game, Sibierski appeared to have broken clear but went down after a tussle with Pellegrino, the ref indicating both players had given as good as they'd got.
Liverpool's performance was in stark contrast to the aggressive approach used against Juventus and Everton. Instead Liverpool stood back, looking slow and uninspired. It is not the first time Liverpool have played this was and for all the good work Benitez has done there still remain many challenges.
Anthony Le Tallec, having been recalled to the starting eleven against Juventus continued upfront and nearly got amongst the goals for his side. Igor Biscan played some neat football on the edge of the City box and worked a shooting position. His low skidding shot appeared to lack sufficient malice, but James spilled the initial save. Le Tallec looked destined to slide the ball home, but James' reactions were in good order as he kicked the ball clear with just a second to spare. Biscan's shot would be the only save forced from James all game. Riise provided Le Tallec's other chance, a brilliant dipping cross from the left was struck on the volley by the young forward but he was unable to keep the ball down. Carson made a good save with his legs, deprieving Sibierski of the opener after good work from Fowler.
The second half was little better than the first. Neither side appeared to have the drive to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. Chances were even fewer than in the opening 45 minutes and it seemed a draw would follow. Musampa came close to wrestling the game City's way with a stunning strike from the edge of the box which flew back into play off the post, with Carson possibly having got a touch.
Benitez made changes, Smicer initially coming on for Garcia, possibly with an eye on Wednesday. However Morientes was then withdrawn, with Welsh coming on, a surprising move given the value of three points in this game and the fact that the Spanish striker will not be employed against Juventus. Benitez has impressed with his desire to win games this season, but he disappointed here, making a further change, Traore for Riise, a move that clearly indicated his ambitions had reduced to little more than taking a point.
Liverpool have been punished in recent seasons for their defensive mindset, and having returned to that nature for the closing stages, they were once again left to rue their approach. With time running out, Liverpool gave the ball away, a crucial error. City's young substitute Lee Croft charged down the right wing, and pulled his cross to the edge of the eighteen yard box. Musampa's low volley was well struck and left Carson with no chance. With his attacking options now sitting on the bench and just stoppage time remaining, Liverpool were unable to get back into the game. City however created one last chance with Bradley Wright-Phillips breaking the offside trap, but hitting his shot wide.
In a game of few chances, it was City who created the better opportunities and were more deserving of the points. The result leaves Liverpool's confidence of qualifying for next season's Champions League in doubt. With Everton having the opportunity to increase the gap to four points when they play on Sunday and Carragher having picked up his fifth booking of the season the doubts that were lifting last week have returned in full.