Apr 13 2014, 4:12pm CDT | by Forbes
Liverpool entered the match leading the Premier League, two points ahead of Chelsea and four points up on Manchester City but City having played two games fewer. Liverpool has never won the Premier League since its formation in 1992 and their last title win came in 1990.
The emotion of the occasion was undoubtedly a challenge for both teams, but particularly Liverpool.
Quick start and set plays
Liverpool’s season has been marked by quick starts and very effective set plays. Fifty-four of Liverpool’s 90 goals have come in the first half which is unusual given that a predominance of goals normally come in the second half of games.
On the other Manchester City has been very effective in the opening 15 minutes of games this season having not allowed a goal during that time.
That changed 6 minutes into the game when Liverpool scored. While Liverpool’s Luis Suarez stands on the cusp of setting new record for Premier League goals in a season he has also shown on numerous occasions that he can create opportunities as well as convert them.
Corner kick and free kicks (as well as penalty kicks) have been potent weapons this season for Liverpool and most often Steven Gerrard has been the provider. On a number of occasions it has been centre back Martin Skrtel who has taken advantage of Gerrard’s delivery and he was at it again wrecking havoc in the opposition’s penalty area.
A Gerrard corner kick was swung into the near post and a flick from Skrtel gave Liverpool a 2-0 lead before 30 minutes had been played.
Manchester City was also dealt a blow when midfielder Yaya Toure had to leave the game in the 19th minute with what looked like a strain suffered as he attempted a shot. Toure’s exit meant that Fernandinho was pushed further forward and asked to play in a role he is very familiar with. Javi Garcia took on more of the defensive responsibilities when he replaced Toure.
With 18 goals already this season Toure’s departure meant City was deprived of a major goal threat.
Throw caution to the wind
With City trailing 2-0 and five minutes remaining until half time NBC Sports color commentator and US national team goalkeeper Tim Howard invoked City to throw caution to the wind in an effort to recover.
It was simply terrible advice./>/>
First of all 2-0 is not an insurmountable deficit even at Anfield this season – especially with over half the game remaining.
Second, throwing caution to wind would have meant throwing players forward and Liverpool has shown time and time again this season that they are very happy to play on the counter attack and with devastating effect.
Third, goal difference is a tie breaker in the Premier League and you only have to travel back to May 2012 to find Manchester City winning the title on said goal difference.
Going into this game Liverpool had a +50 goal difference to Manchester City’s +55. At 2-0 the numbers had changed to Liverpool +52 and Manchester City +53 – in other words if Liverpool had extended their lead to 3-0 they would have overtaken City in goal difference. A small matter perhaps with a month left in the season but something that could yet be crucial.
Liverpool now has a +51 and City +54.
Manchester City did engineer a comeback but it was achieved through probing and patience rather than a cavalry charge. City started to focus on the right side of the Liverpool defence and Clichy, Nasri and Silva started to link well and to pull Liverpool’s defence out of their shape.
Their combinations peaked at the start of the second half and with a quarter of the game left City had drawn level. Silva scored City’s first goal and he was the last City player to touch the ball on Johnson’s own goal equalizer.
The introduction of James Milner just five minutes into the second half gave City a more solid look but rather than being an inspired move by City manager Manuel Pellegrini it was more case of fixing a mistake. Starting Jesus Navas never really looked like working and he never once managed to get the better of Liverpool fullback Jon Flanagan. What’s more his distribution was erratic.
City striker Sergio Aguero has missed a good part of this season through injury. He started this game on the bench but there was a sense when he entered the game in the 68th minute replacing Dzeko that this was City going for the jugular.
On paper it made sense.
City had pulled back to 2-2, Liverpool’s defence was having trouble dealing with the craft of David Silva and there is Aguero’s ability to twist and turn and to play off the shoulder of the last defender. It looked like a tailor made chance for Aguero and City to win the game.
But it just didn’t work. Aguero’s influence on the final 20 minutes was next to nothing. No shots, only four passes attempted (3 successful) and one chance created.
Suarez and Sturridge
These two had scored 49 of Liverpool’s 90 goals going into the match and so it was not unreasonable to think that the outcome would be heavily influenced by how well Manchester City marshaled Suarez and Sturridge./>/>
Suarez assisted on the first Liverpool goal and was his usual vibrant self but City did a decent job of keeping tabs on him. Sturridge, on the other hand, was anonymous and offered virtually nothing to the Liverpool cause.
Prior to the game there were rumors that City captain Vincent Kompany had been injured in training during the week and might not play. His place in the starting line up was seen as crucial to City if they were to be successful.
Kompany played but he had a match that he will want to forget. He was culpable to some extent or another on all three Liverpool goals with the Liverpool winner the worst by far.
Under no pressure whatsoever Kompany’s sliced clearance landed at the feet of Coutinho and against the run of play Liverpool suddenly led again and this time for good.
It is difficult to find an important game (or any game?) in which the referee’s performance is not open to some criticism. For City fans the moment was a mistimed hack by Sakho in the first half that caught Dzeko in the Liverpool penalty box.
IMHO – City fans have a case; Liverpool fans do not.
What happens next?
Liverpool controlled their own destiny going into this match but still have work to do.
Table as of Sunday April 13, 2014
Manchester City – Sunderland (h), West Brom (h), Crystal Palace (a), Everton (a), Aston Villa (h), West Ham (h)
Two fixtures stand out. The first is in two weeks when Chelsea travels to play Liverpool in a game sandwiched between their Champions League semi-final against Atletico Madrid./>/>
The other is Manchester City at Everton. Everton are pushing for fourth place and need to beat Manchester City. Ironically, it could also be a win that allows Liverpool to place one hand on the Premier League trophy.
John W Henry and the Fenway Sports Group bought Liverpool FC in October 2010 so this is only the third full season in charge. The transition to owning a soccer team was not easy and hard lessons were dished out early.
Nonetheless, whether Liverpool goes on to win the Premier League or falls at the last hurdle the re-emergence of the club as a major force in English soccer has been accomplished. The aim going into this season was a top four finish and that is now close to a certainty.
The challenge for next season is to take the progress and to build on it. The squad will require strengthening based solely on competing in the Champions League and that will require additional investment.
Liverpool’s last financial results were posted for the year to May 31, 2013 and showed a loss of $80M and net debt of $180M.
The results for this year should show an improvement based on additional TV revenue and prize money from the Premier League as well as new sponsorship deals but it is highly unlikely to come close to breakeven. Access to the Champions League will deliver additional revenue but that will not kick in until the 2014/15 year.
Fears of banishment from the Champions League based on not meeting Financial Fair Play regulations appear overblown although some retroactive punishment is possible. Liverpool’s financial results for the year to May 2014 will not be monitored until next spring long after they have entered the competition.
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