Ok in just a second we’re going to let our title expectations run wild. Are you all ready? 1…2…3…
Ahhhh, that feels good. But before I revel a bit too much and perhaps celebrate with a puff and a pint, let’s get down to what happened in today’s cracker of a match.
Overpriced Brazilian talent? check New owners drowning in the cash we’re hemorrhaging at the gas pumps? check again 3 points and a ticket to the top 4? Not so fast….
The opening minutes of the match found us more than on the front foot. I would go so far as to say we had both feet pedaling out the bottom of the car like Fred Flinstone in the opening credits of the cartoon going by the same name. We really couldn’t have pushed them any harder, and it all culminated in an utterly wasted sitter of a chance that fell, regrettably, to Dirk Kuyt. Regardless of all his hard work, grit, and determination I still find myself cursing loudly our lack of anyone with anything even resembling a first touch out on that right hand flank.
Following this opening surge, we allowed Man City to push further up the pitch and establish what would be their finest moments on the day. They had several shots on goal and were looking quite lively when a fairly harmless ball to the byline led to an opener. Rolled back across the front of goal Arbeloa should have done better in clearing the ball from a prostrate Robinho but it fell to Ireland who put past Reina with ease and the Reds found themselves one down.
What followed absolutely shocked me from the moment it took place and still has me shaking my head. A needless foul left City with a freekick on the edge of the penalty area. Being a direct freekick I fully expected us to form the wall, but to my and eventually all of our dismay there were only Torres and Mascherano being called into the formation of it by Pepe. Leaving this shambled defensive structure in place, he proceded to show Garrido far too much of the near post and predictably he curled the ball into the top corner.
2-0 to the good and bossing the tempo while harassing us constantly on the ball, I fully expected City to continue pushing on for a third, but as we see happen against us all too often the bus slowly was pulled in front of the goal for the remainder of the half. City remained content to float balls up towards the runs of Jo and Robinho, both of whom put in solid performances. Jo especially showed strength and composure on the ball, fending off many of our challenges which generally would have taken the ball off even the most skilled of competitors. For what it’s worth I see him as a much better buy than Robinho, and have done all along.
That said, we again dominated the middle third of the pitch. Elano particularly was invisible on the day with only one wayward shot that I can even recall of his entire performance. Without he and Wright Phillips being able to retain possession, it allowed us back into the game.
Opening the second half, we immediately took it to the home side with good wide play from Riera, who put in a man of the match effort offensively were it not for the heroics of Nando that were yet to come. Albert’s touch looked deft as usual and he seemed to have found a better understanding of when to keep his feet upon coming into contact with a defender. A few of his moves, a spicy little nutmeg for one, were inspired and showed real flashes of brilliance. Given the proper environment and confidence we may have a special player on our hands at a knockdown rate. (congrats Everton)
For all the quality on the left, it only made sense that it would be the right flank that produced our opener on the comeback trail. Robinho’s total lack of interest in defending left Arbeloa running onto the ball at the edge of the area before putting it across for El Nino to strike it home. Fernando did an excellent job of shielding the defenders with his body. Now at 2-1 again I expected City to attempt to push forward, but little did I expect the complete demoralization that was to follow that goal. Zabaleta, clawing and scraping all game, came in with a two footed cynical tackle on Xabi Alonso and was rightfully sent off. From that point we bossed the match to and fro with impunity.
It was only a matter of time before our sustained pressure would begin to tell I thought, and we were rewarded when a corner swinging in from the left met the gracefully rising head of Fernando Torres. 2-2 We were even. I must confess I was more than a little pleased to take the wind right out of the Arabian sails. The Eastlands were rocking from moment one, and absolutely exploded following their dream start. Unfortunately for City, that passion was only to be found in the stands for most of the match. For a side looking to push onward into the Champions League and challenging for the Premier League title as early as this season they showed remarkably little ambition to push the match out of our reach.
The difference between the two sides today was simple. Liverpool came out in the second half down 2-0 determined to leave with all three points. Man City in a far more advantaegous position were content to play for one it seemed to me. Down to 10 men, they seemed to play for even less. The comeback was in the air from the opening whistle of the second period. Again the pressure built and built until finally yet another Torres effort deflected to an onrushing Dirk Kuyt who punched it home for the 3-2 victory. I was sorely relieved to see that effort as it came on the heels of a glorious opportunity wasted very uncharacteristically by Torres.
These are the matches where you show your mettle and you come away with points that should have been forever out of your reach. My only disappointment was not to see Babel brought on for additional firepower early on in the second half. That pales in comparision however to my absolute joy in the determination and resolve our boys showed this afternoon. My hat is off to them and the work they put in out on the pitch. You could see from the moment the second half began that they had confidence in themselves to get the job done.
It’s that belief that will sustain us through the long schedule ahead. With some time off now for internationals we can go into that break knowing we are oint top of the table and well in line for qualification for the knockout rounds of the Champions League. Regardless of what you may say about the Stoke result or our early struggles against the likes of Standard Liege, we are off to an absolute corker of a start. Let’s keep it up you Reds.
Middlesborough, Scum, Marseille, and now Man City! We just don’t seem to know the meaning of the words dead in the water. Come the end of May if we find ourselves top of the table following a right scrap in the final matches we can look back at these fixtures in the early days and count ourselves fortunate to have the haul we do. Bring on the Bridge and first place I say.