Gosh, things sure have changed here on Walton Mountain. Last week, Manchester City was rolling out 3-0 winners in the Premier League, but this time it’s us doing the winning. A Steven Gerrard penalty was enough to strike down the Citizens on their own patch of grass in a somewhat disjointed Carling Cup semi-final first leg. It might have only been a goal, scored from the spot no less, but the Reds now have a crucial advantage going into both the second leg at Anfield in two weeks time and our meeting with Stoke City this Saturday.
Maybe being dumped out of the FA Cup by their neighbors affected City more than everyone thought. It’s possible the loss of Kompany, both Toure’s and an injury to David Silva gave them a shock to the system. Whatever the case, Liverpool opened the match the clearly better team. Passes were crisp, runs were penetrating and confidence was high; it was almost a shock when the go ahead came from the spot.
Joe Hart impressively stopped Andy Carroll’s early chance in an almost carbon-copy reproduction of Stewart Downing’s similar chance the week before, yet when Steven Gerrard stepped up to the spot after Daniel Agger was bowled over by a shaky Stefan Savic, you could see that the Captain had eyes only for goal. To be fair, the City ‘keeper was unlucky not to pile onto Liverpool’s penalty woes when he guessed right, but he would rarely be troubled after this.
In September, Stoke’s Asmir Begovic frustrated us to no end during the 1-0 reversal we suffered at the Britannia Stadium and even though Joe Hart didn’t have to do much after the penalty was slid home, the 65% of the possession we were enjoying during the first half falls right in tandem with the lions share we held throughout at the Potteries. Our failure to convert our chances, both at the beginning of the season and now in the middle, continues to baffle as much as it frustrates.
With Manchester City looking absolutely atrocious and the traveling Kop rocking the Etihad Stadium, it’s an absolute wonder that we didn’t add to our lead. Andy Carroll cut a forlone picture up top as Dalglish parked the bus for the second half but against Stoke tomorrow, at Anfield no less, things should be entirely different. The Potters have made a living by stifling and shutting down the opposition with their imitation of football, but a battering ram like Carroll could be the key to unlocking their ugly defense.
You could see echoes of Mourinho era Chelsea in the methodical style that Liverpool soaked up the continual pressure Manchester City heaped on them. Steve Clarke was undoubtedly the architect of that display with the Special Ones former protege now working on shoring up our defense. It’s highly unlikely that Steve had anything to do with Glen Johnson’s tackle though as the England man was lucky to not be given his marching orders after his two footed diving tackle on Joleon Lescott raised the hackles of the City faithful for it’s similarity to the one that saw Vincent Kompany red carded only 48 hours previously.
The question of whether one goal for us will be enough to see us through is a moot point since there’s another 90 minutes yet to play, but with the chances City created during their second half onslaught and Liverpool’s resolute if not sometimes lucky defending, you can also wonder if Manchester City isn’t about to enter a goal drought of their own.
Stoke City scored 3 in their last outing in the FA Cup against Gillingham, but it’s unlikely that form will carry over into league play unless their able to exploit the Red’s fragility from set pieces. Michah Richards came the closest to evening things up with a blistering header only to see Reina make a split-second reaction save to deny the stand-in captain. Peter Crouch may not be the best in the air despite his impressive frame; although corners continue to be our weak spot with far too many goals conceded when chaos rules the area.
The race for a Champions League spot hasn’t slowed down one bit as the top of the table remains an extremely tight race with only eight points separating the Potters in eighth all the way to Chelsea in fourth. I can bang on about us needing to win, but you know it as well as I do. January is going to make our break our Premiership aspirations and even though the Carling Cup is a healthy distraction, the focus shifting back to the League makes a result against Stoke more important, for the time being anyways, then the second leg to come.