The last time Manchester City were the reigning champions of England, they started their title defence at Anfield. The opening day of the season didn't go too well for them. Liverpool captain Ron Yeats set the tone. Instead of running out and pelting the ball into the net at the Kop end, he slowly led his team out towards the centre circle - think David Sole before the Calcutta Cup in 1990 - and lined them up to bask in the crowd's acclaim. "By the time City arrived in working gear," reported Eric Todd in the Guardian, "the Kop was on the boil, and not only because of the weather."
Bill Shankly's side set about Joe Mercer's men in robust fashion. Tommy Smith committed a "monstrous" foul on Mike Summerbee, who along with Colin Bell and Glyn Pardoe were kicked around like old socks. City actually took an early lead, through Neil Young, but Bobby Graham soon equalised, Peter Thompson finished off a Swansealona combination between Emlyn Hughes and Ian St John on 72 minutes, and City had no response. "We are the champions!" chanted the away contingent. "You won't be champions any more!" replied the Kop. Todd concluded that "City were made to realise ... as champions they must expect to work twice as hard as they did when they were ordinary mortals".
The message applies today as it did then. It's 1968 revisited: City travel to Anfield early in their title defence to face a Liverpool side very much in transition. They're favourites to win this match, having won their last seven league games on the bounce, while Brendan Rodgers' side were belted 3-0 at West Brom on the opening day - and are currently bottom of the division. Having said all that, City have only won once here since embarrassing Bruce Grobbelaar on Boxing Day 1981, a smash-and-grab by Nicolas Anelka against the run of play in 2003. Before those wins, we go back to 1953. Also, despite being the champs and the best side in the land, City are still City - it's part of their charm - and as such, you never quite know how they're going to go about things. Witness their shambolic brilliance against Southampton this time last week. Or, hell, the way they won the title back in May.
So, then, the jittery Anfield Artisans, an aesthetic work in progress, versus the unpredictable geniuses of Manchester City. It could be a cracker. It could be a dire 0-0, too, I'm promising nowt. But it kicks off at 4pm.
Liverpool, who go with the exciting 17-year-old Raheem Sterling: Reina, Kelly, Johnson, Coates, Skrtel, Lucas, Allen, Gerrard, Borini, Suarez, Sterling.
Subs: Jones, Jose Enrique, Carroll, Henderson, Carragher, Shelvey, Downing.
Manchester City, with no notable weak points, unless you count substitute Stefan Savic, who had a shocker at Anfield in the Carling Cup back in January, but you can't really do that: Hart, Zabaleta, Kolo Toure, Kompany, Kolarov, Milner, Yaya Toure, de Jong, Nasri, Tevez, Balotelli.
Subs: Pantillmon, Lescott, Savic, Rodwell, Razak, Silva, Dzeko.
Referee: Andre Marriner (W Midlands)
The teams are out! Liverpool are very red these days. Very red. The yellow splashes - the badge, the sponsor - give their kit a very 1970s feel. A 1970s burger joint, that is. City are kitted out in a crisp take on their traditional garb too: powder blue shirts, white shorts, three stars now above their badge. (I thought the two stars were meant to be purely decorative? Ah well, whatever.) A classic aesthetic to proceedings today. "Bill Shankly looms rather ominously over Brendan Rodgers' shoulder in your picture," notes Simon McMahon, who isn't about to let any cheap symbolism slide by. "I wonder what he's thinking? Ed Miliband, what have you done, perhaps?" I'm sure he'd have one or two words to the young Labour leader re: jiggering his beloved socialism, aye. I'm sure he'd approve of Mr Sahin, though.
A cracking atmosphere at Anfield today. You'll Never Walk Alone blasts from the speakers, then a warm round of applause as the teams prepare to start the match. Liverpool will kick off - playing towards the Kop in the first half. They've obviously lost the toss, then.
And we're off! A bit of skittering about, and then on 29 seconds Steven Gerrard takes his first flay towards the Kop of the season. It's a low shank, well wide left. A fast start, though.
2 min: Tevez drops a shoulder and tries to make himself a bit of space down the right. There's not a lot for him to work with, but he gets the ball into the area, where it's immediately hoicked upfield.
3 min: Johnson, cutting in from the left at pace, is tackled 25 yards out by Kompany. The ball breaks to Gerrard, who sends another low fizzer goalwards, but again accuracy's not his friend.
5 min: Poor old Lucas, who was injured for such a large chunk of last season, is jiggered again. He's got something wrong with his right thigh, if the way he's pulling his shorts up is anything to go by. He walks off, straight down the tunnel, in some pain and with no little unhappiness. Shelvey comes on in his wake.
6 min: It's got a nice, open, end-to-end feel, this game. Sterling goes on a sortie down the left, but ends up down a blind alley. Then Balotelli powers down the inside-right, but can't quite get the ball inside to Tevez, Skrtel getting in his way. Ninety minutes of this should produce a goal or two, one would hope.
9 min: Balotelli spins round Skrtel and looks to charge off down the inside-right channel. Skrtel drags him down. Coates is over to cover, so there's no worry of a red card, but you'd expect the defender to be booked. The referee shows leniency. Skrtel can count himself lucky there. The resulting free kick, belted by Kolarov from the best part of 30 yards, flies straight down Reina's gullet.
10 min: Sterling kills a long, raking, diagonal Coates pass with one superb touch, then cuts inside from the left at high speed. He loses control, but the ball breaks to Borini, who tries to release the young winger down the inside-right channel. Kolarov gets in the way. Borini claims handball and penalty, but no way. Kolarov sweeps up, racing off in the calm style.
12 min: Brilliant skills by Milner down the right, who drops a shoulder this way, feints that way, and reaches the byline. He gets a cross flying towards the six-yard box, with Tevez and Balotelli waiting, but Reina comes out to claim.
14 min: Tevez zips down the left and turns Coates inside out. He checks back and whips a cross into the area. Too strong, as it turns out, but not by much, and Nasri was in space to volley an effort goalwards from the edge of the box had the ball been a tad closer to him. Coates has the good grace to look slightly embarrassed after that passage of play, hands on hips, his eyes darting this way and that, possibly still haunted by an imaginary Tevez.
17 min: What a miss by Borini. Sterling jiggles in from the left wing, and whips an inviting inswinger towards the penalty spot. Rushing in from the right is the young Italian, who connects well, but guides a firm shot wide left of goal. Hart was rooted to the spot, and wouldn't have got that were it on target. Sterling has started very well indeed.
19 min: This is farcical. Tevez is released down the inside-right channel. Reina comes to claim, but can't get to the ball before the City man, who tinkles an effort past the keeper from an exceptionally tight angle. The ball looks like it's going in, and rolls right across the face of the goal, hitting the inside of the left-hand post - but coming back out, allowing Reina to claim. Why the nearby Balotelli didn't chase that in is anyone's guess. But the woodwork, so cruel to Liverpool last season, has done them an absurd favour there.
22 min: Brendan Rodgers is all about possession, right? Well, to illustrate the size of the task he's got at Liverpool, City are currently enjoying 61% of it. The only way is up.
24 min: Sterling is a real jack in the box. He scampers down the left, is knocked to the ground, then springs up immediately to show for a one-two with Suarez, who is this close to carving out a chance from a tight angle to the left of goal. Nothing comes of it, but that's better from Liverpool, who have been under the cosh of late.
25 min: Balotelli fights and scraps down the inside-left channel, first besting Coates, then winning a free kick from clumsy Kelly. Nasri swings the set piece, from the left-hand corner of the Liverpool box, to the far post. Reina flaps, but gets away with it, the ball flying out on the full. Anfield is beginning to feel a wee bit nervous, as City slowly turn the screw.
28 min: Liverpool triangulate awhile in front of the City box. With the dangerous Sterling hugging the left touchline, Liverpool are stretching the City defence a wee bit, and Borini finds space down the inside-left channel to have a dig. His shot is deflected and spins out for a corner, which is wasted. But this is a better spell from the home side, and the crowd holler accordingly.
30 min: Shelvey steams in from the right and feeds Suarez, cutting in from the other side. Suarez opens up his body and looks to sidefoot into the top right, but the effort is blocked. "Any thoughts on what Brendan Rodgers is writing on his notepad?" asks Gary Naylor. "My guess is the
names of Swansea City players whom he would like to see in his squad. I hope
he's got a sharp pencil." And a bigger pad?
31 min: Suarez is brushed off the ball near the City area. No foul. He's got the hot heat. Play moves down the other end, where Balotelli spins and sashays down the left, into the area, and blasts a shot over the bar from reasonably close range. What a chance.
32 min: Suarez is still up the other end, gesticulating in the expansive style. He's on a rolling boil. He's a bain-marie of belligerence.
33 min: Gerrard plays a delicious curling ball into the City area from a deep position on the right. Kompany sticks out a leg, and sends the ball shinning just over the crossbar. That was so close to an inept own goal. Corner to Liverpool, though, from which...
34 min: GOAL!!! Liverpool 1-0 Manchester City. From the right, Gerrard whips a ball into the six-yard area. Skrtel bombs in, level with the left-hand post, and nuts a violent header into the net. Liverpool once had a fanzine called Another Wasted Corner, did they not? The erstwhile editors will have enjoyed the vicious simplicity of that.
37 min: Anfield is bubbling, and Liverpool are hunting down City, and passing the ball around, with more confidence now. Liverpool have responded brilliantly to a shaky start to this match. City are currently struggling to retain possession. What a turnaround.
39 min: The balls aren't quite arrowing to City feet any more. A long pass down the inside-left for Balotelli, but it skids off the turf and harmlessly out of play. Meanwhile here's Joshua Collis, with a cry from his old-school heart: "Full blooded tackles can't happen in footy anymore. Full blooded use of the shoulder or body isn't allowed. Thank god for the centre-back thumping header, because without it, there wouldn't be much left for the likes of me."
41 min: Balotelli looks to release Tevez straight down the middle, but Reina is out quickly to smother the ball, and the City striker is a shade offside anyway.
42 min: Space for Suarez on the edge of the City area. He takes a touch and looks for the top-right corner, but can't quite get enough curl on the ball, which sails harmlessly into the Kop. "The photo heading your MBM report makes me wonder whether Shanks in the background is pulling the ever popular rabbit ears behind the new boss or, perhaps more prosaically, Ronnie James Dio's Devil's horns," notes Neil Macknish. "I suppose it will only take one more game for our 'you'll never walk alone' singing brethren to decide."
44 min: With Balotelli looking to break clear into the Liverpool area, Johnson toe-pokes out for a corner. Milner can't beat the man at the near post. It's cleared. But here they come again, Milner winning another corner. This one goes deep, and is volleyed clear by Kelly. Apart from that ridiculous incident with Tevez, Reina hasn't had much to do.
HALF TIME: Liverpool 1-0 Manchester City. Sterling and Balotelli battle down the City right. Balotelli, a wily veteran compared to his pursuer, goes down under the lightest of touches. A free kick's sent towards Nasri in the centre, but Skrtel - the man of the half - blocks. And that's that for the half. Liverpool just about deserve their lead, they were superlative for the last 15 to 20 minutes of that half, but City will reasonably point to Tevez hitting the post, a spinning shot which would have gone in 99 times out of 100. We're lined up for a cracking second 45.
HALF-TIME ENTERTAINMENT FROM GRANADALAND:
Two legendary figures from the 1970s Manchester scene - plus Rodney Marsh!!! A marvellous decade of football, arguably the greatest. By way of illustration, one of the era's most iconic games is Fulham versus Hereford United, for goodness sake.
And we're off again! An eager Liverpool take to the pitch early doors, and are forced to wait for City, who troop out in the shambolic style, no doubt trying to lull their opponents into a false sense of security. One of their men kicks the ball off the spot painted in the middle of the pitch, and we're underway once more.
47 min: An early free kick for City down the right. Kolarov lumps a quite useless set piece out of play to the left of goal. There are mild recriminations from Kolarov's team-mates, but nothing wholly dramatic, everyone's still pals. "The US Open starts tomorrow, so here goes: football teams as tennis players," begins Simon McMahon. "Liverpool - Stefan Edberg; popular, stylish and relatively successful but unable in the end to compete with more powerful rivals. Man City - Jimmy Connors; brash, successful, loyal fanbase but unable to emerge completely from the shadow of a more illustrious neighbour." But who are Fulham and Hereford United? John Lloyd? Jeremy Bates?
48 min: Sterling goes shoulder to shoulder with Kolo Toure down the left, no mean feat seeing there's about a foot in height and a fair few kilos between man and boy. The City man lands on top of the Liverpool youngster, and somehow wins a free kick upon doing so. On the touchline, Brendan Rodgers throws semaphore shapes, possibly spelling out EFF and CEE. The crowd bay for the referee's blood. They have really taken to Raheem Sterling.
50 min: Borini, alert, robs the ball from De Jong in the centre circle and tears down the inside-right channel. He feeds the ball on to Suarez, who is never quite in control of the ball and pokes a lame, low shot wide left of goal. Hart had it covered all the way. "Anyone know why, if Sebastian Coates' dad is Scottish, all the commentators pronounce it KerWatEz instead of Coats?" wonders Fraser Thomas. Fair point well made. I've been prosthelytizing for COATS too, oh aye, but then I still pine for the innocently ignorant days of JOOventus and A-Jacks, so I'm probably not the best person to chair this debate.
53 min: City can't get going at all. Liverpool are looking very comfortable. Until the visitors step it up a gear or two, complacency is the home side's biggest foe. "Has nobody emailed in to thank you for your use of 'bain-marie'?" enquires Mark Taylor. Nope. In fairness, everybody's probably maxed out on Cookery Patter after spending the morning with Tim Lovejoy. "Every day's a school day. At least for those of us who aren't frustrated would-be chefs."
55 min: Allen and Reina execute a hellishly risky long-range one-two. Tevez was sniffing around, but the keeper escapes from danger with a drop of the shoulder. Both players seem to enjoy the moment. You sense Liverpool are going to concede quite a few goals from self-inflicted wounds as they learn their new possession game. One way and another, they're probably going to be fun to watch this season. Something for everyone.
57 min: Liverpool Swansea it around for a while, a proper minute or two's worth of possession football. Eventually Johnson attempts to skin Milner down the left, but doesn't manage it and runs the ball out of play. "Surely Liverpool are Ivan Lendl?" writes Duncan Smith. "Dominant in the eighties, haven't done much since."
58 min: Komik kutz in the City area, Balotelli accidentally deflecting a clearance into the path of Suarez. The ball's bouncing to the right of goal, and it attracts not only Suarez but also Borini and Gerrard. Suarez dinks the ball into the middle - where he expects his two team-mates to have remained - and City clear. Farcical play all round.
60 min: Nasri is sacrificed for Rodwell. "Arsenal would be Tim Henman," suggests Tom Shaw. "Pretty to watch but never going to win anything big." And proving
fools seldom differ great minds think alike, here's Gary Naylor: "Swansea City are Anna Kournikova - look good, but never going to win anything."
61 min: Milner dances down the inside-right channel, reaches the byline, and pulls the ball back for the onrushing Balotelli. The City man hits the right-hand post, the woodwork once again repaying its karmic debt to Liverpool, but it's a wasted payment, because it turns out that Milner's offside.
62 min: Another change for City, Balotelli - who started brilliantly only to fade - being replaced by one of the visitor's QPR-slaying title heroes in Dzeko.
63 min: GOAL!!! Liverpool 1-1 Manchester City. Tevez bullies his way past Sterling down the right, and whips a dangerous ball towards the far post. Kelly clumsily miscontrols, the ball landing at the feet of Yaya Toure, six yards out. He's not going to miss, and doesn't, clipping home past an irate Reina, who starts jumping up and down in the cartoon style, with jets of steam coming out of his lugs, and all that.
65 min: Gerrard takes a whack from distance - some things never change - and his effort is handled by Rodwell. That'll be a free kick, 25 yards out, just to the right of goal. Before it's taken, Jose Enrique replaces the hapless Kelly. And then...
66 min: GOAL!!! Liverpool 2-1 Manchester City. Suarez steps up, and whips a majestic free kick around the right-hand side of a well-positioned City wall, and into the bottom-right corner. That ball squeezed in between post and Hart's despairing hand, with not an inch to spare. That was a simply wonderful free kick. Rodwell has the radge on, believing the free kick was a bit unfair - he was sliding across the floor to block at the time. But this is how it is.
69 min: City were 2-1 down last weekend against Southampton, and came back to win. Can they do it again? They certainly can't afford to concede again, and nearly do so when Borini tears off into acres of space down the right, but fails to find either Suarez or Gerrard in the middle when the red shirts are three on two. A really good opportunity spurned. "Stoke City = Marat Safin," begins metaphor mathematician Liam Kiney. "Both very tall, both like breaking things."
72 min: Liverpool are attempting to take the sting out of this game by stroking it around the back a lot in the 1980s style. They're doing a half-decent job of it, but these are early days, and the team are making the crowd edgy. "Hear, hear, Mark Taylor, you can never have enough bain-marie or rolling boil references in a MBM," suggests Simon McMahon. "But forget Tim Lovejoy, I listened to Brendan Rodgers lookalike Paul Hollywood giving Ronnie Corbett instructions for making ciabatta this morning on Saturday Kitchen Best Bites. It's what John Logie Baird would have wanted. TV just doesn't get better than that."
73 min: Johnson swaggers in from the right and looks to carve open some space in the area. Kolarov leans in from behind, sending Johnson sprawling, but there's not much contact, Kolo Toure is hacking clear anyway, and the Liverpool defender doesn't make any claim whatsoever. The crowd scream for a penalty, but the referee's quite rightly having none of it.
75 min: Liverpool are pressing very well. Borini and Gerrard cause City all sorts of bother down the right, and the captain's nearly sprung clear into the area, but Kompany isn't having any of it and steps in to clear.
76 min: Roberto Mancini makes his last roll of the dice, and what quality he brings on, swapping Milner for Silva.
78 min: Yaya Toure slides a pass down the inside-left channel towards Dzeko, who spins and hammers a shot from a tight angle over the bar. He did well to get anything away there. "Chelsea last season were the football equivalent of Jim Courier," writes David Wall. "Unattractive and attritional but efficiently boring their way to the major trophies. Their transition towards providing something entertaining this season so far also mirrors his re-invention to be entertaining and informative in the commentary box."
79 min: City are beginning to ramp it up. Tevez disco-dances across the face of the Liverpool area, then nearly releases Dzeko, but Skrtel bounds in to hack upfield.
80 min: GOAL!!! Liverpool 2-2 Manchester City. "You sense Liverpool are going to concede quite a few goals from self-inflicted wounds as they learn their new possession game. One way and another, they're probably going to be fun to watch this season. Something for everyone." And so Liverpool lay on their second gift of the afternoon. Skrtel, under no pressure whatsoever down the left, turns and plays a blind backpass towards Reina. The ball only finds Tevez, who jogs into the area, rounds the keeper on the right, and rolls his 100th goal in English football into the empty net. Oh Martin! Hw cld y!
82 min: Liverpool looked momentarily stunned, but have decided one last push is better than sitting around feeling sorry for themselves. Gerrard, down the inside-right channel, tees up Shelvey, whose rising drive towards the top right only just flies over the bar.
83 min: Down the other end, Dzeko is very, very close from threading a long-distance shot into the bottom-right corner. Reina had that covered, just about, I think. Brendan Rodgers then makes his last change, sending Andy Carroll on for Borini, who has had a mixed afternoon.
86 min: Kolarov bundles down the left and slides a low ball into the area. Dzeko sidefoots over the bar from close range. What a chance, and how close were Manchester City to yet another 3-2 victory? There's still time! "Manchester United must be Andre Agassi," argues Justin Kavanagh. "Very successful at serving up the $$$, but a little too Las Vegas for most people's taste. And not opposed to the odd hair enhancement."
88 min: Corner for Liverpool down the right. The ball ends up at the feet of Shelvey, on the edge of the area to the left of goal. He looks for the top-right corner, but his curling effort is deflected out for a second corner. From which the ball's shuttled out left to Suarez, who clips the ball back to the right-hand post, where Carroll guides a header goalwards. There's not enough meat on the effort, though, allowing Kolo Toure to eyebrow it away.
90 min: There will be four added minutes. If anyone looks like scoring a winner, it's City, who are enjoying the lion's share of possession right now.
90 min +1: Each team take their turn for a sortie down the right, Gerrard failing to find Carroll in the middle with a low cross, Tevez not quite latching onto a loose ball down the inside-right channel, Reina coming out to smother.
90 min +2: City win a throw down the right, deep in Liverpool territory. They're quite happy to run the clock down, making no effort whatsoever to take it quickly.
90 min +3: City eventually get going, and after a fashion win a corner down the left. Silva swings it in. The ball breaks to Tevez on the edge of the box. He attempts to Le Tissier a spectacular effort into the net, but the ball sails miles wide left.
FULL TIME: Liverpool 2-2 Manchester City. Suarez is booked for some mouth music. Allen takes a shot from distance that's miles wide right. And that's that. A fair result, though it'll be Liverpool who feel slightly deflated, having gifted the champions two goals. Skrtel hangs his head as he leaves the pitch, but he scored a thunderbolt as well as presenting Tevez with the equaliser, and shouldn't feel too bad about things. But will do, needless to say. Still, a point well earned by both sides. City can be happy with their escape at a venue where they rarely do well, while Liverpool can look back at fine home debuts for Raheem Sterling and Joe Allen, and are off the bottom - where Aston Villa now reside. Po' Paul! Po' Paul Lambert!