A month of the campaign's still to go, of course, but that doesn't stop this one having a real end-of-season feel to it. Liverpool have little to play for. They've got next to no chance of qualifying for Europe next season; fifth place is realistically beyond them, and the only way sixth will make it is if City win the FA Cup but come fifth in the league. City will be hoping to increase their chances of a Champions League place, it's true, but the day we're obliged to get excited about fourth place will be the day we run the hot bath, put on some Leonard Cohen, and pour ourselves a large, relaxing gin.
City should be favourites tonight. They're coming off the back of a confidence-boosting 5-0 thrashing of Sunderland, and recall striker Edin Dzeko, Gareth Barry and James Milner, £££££££££s worth of talent. Liverpool, on the other hand, are without permacrock Daniel Agger, Glen Johnson and captain Steven Gerrard, their squad in such tatters that Kenny Dalglish is tonight handing a first-team debut to 18-year-old defender John Flanagan. But if any team can confound expectations when favourites, it's Manchester City.
Kick off: 8pm.
Liverpool: Reina, Flanagan, Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio, Kuyt, Lucas, Spearing, Meireles, Suarez, Carroll.
Subs: Gulacsi, Cole, Maxi, Wilson, Ngog, Shelvey, Robinson.
Man City: Hart, Boyata, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov, Barry, Toure Yaya, Milner, Tevez, Adam Johnson, Dzeko.
Subs: Taylor, Zabaleta, Wright-Phillips, Silva, De Jong, Balotelli, McGivern.
Referee: Mark Halsey (Lancashire)
Pre-match entertainment: This classic 1981 documentary charts one of Manchester City's many meltdowns. Who can resist?
Starting with Liverpool dishing City a terrible thrashing at Maine Road, it captures the bellicose genius of Malcolm Allison, as well as his successor John Bond's ability to brashly wing it. Enjoy, enjoy.
Juniper jaw-jaw: "What gin do you go for?" asks Johnathan Kaszynski. "Plymouth is my choice, even if it's soft and southern." Plymouth navy strength is indeed a fine boose, but since you ask, for me a long cool glass of Hendrick's, with a shaft of cucumber in it for one of one's five a day, is the way forward. Indeed, it's a positive lifestyle choice. Both brands come with inaudible whistle for summoning Black Dog to one's side the morning after.
Showtune time: A selection from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel as the teams take the pitch. Liverpool fans may like to remember, with a shudder, their Monday night visit to Eastlands in August, Javier Mascherano refusing to play, Roy Hodgson as manager, a 3-0 defeat. How times change. The Reds could lose this fixture by twice as many goals today, yet their fans wouldn't be half as depressed as they were then. More grounds for optimism for the home team: this is the first time Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll have started together at Anfield.
You'll Never Walk Alone: a sombre moment for the 96. It's the nearest home fixture to the 22nd anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy. There is an impeccably observed minute's silence, during which respects are also given to Lance Sgt Mark Burgen, who died in Afghanistan last week, and Janet Fairclough, the wife of Anfield legend David, who recently died suddenly.
And we're off! Liverpool get the ball rolling. They'll be kicking towards the Kop end in the second half, the Anfield Road end in this one.
2 min: All very bitty at the moment, with few passes sticking. But both teams have tried to put together quick breaks upfield, which augurs well. "I'm confused: when Liverpool don't qualify for Europe don't they just complain until they get admitted anyway?" quips Gerry Scott, reading selections from a joke book published in 2005.
5 min: It's 100mph at the moment. No shape whatsoever. A couple of nice flicks by Suarez, and a nice run by Johnson down the right, before he runs it out of play. "Recovered from the Masters yet?" asks Hubert O'Hearn. No. "To match yesterday's action, this would have to be a 5-4 barnburner with two sending-offs and someone coming from three goals down." Have a heart, Hubert. After Rory's unfortunate meltdown - and don't worry, he'll be back - I've got blisters on ma fingers: nil-nils have never sounded more appealing.
6 min: Carroll wins a high ball down the inside-left channel and feeds Suarez, who knocks it towards the inside-right channel for Kuyt. The Dutch striker, bombing in, hammers a shot over the bar.
7 min: Suarez and Carroll link up again, and Liverpool are unlucky not to be ahead. Carroll flicks a volleyed pass down the inside-right channel to send Suarez free. Suarez takes a low early poke towards the bottom-right corner from the edge of the area, but Hart anticipates and gets a fingertip to what is a very decent effort, turning it onto the post and away.
9 min: A really good atmosphere in Anfield tonight, both sets of fans trading songs. City's travelling support are enjoying the better of it at present, bellowing Blue Moon at top volume. Liverpool are having much the better of it on the pitch, though, Suarez twisting and turning down the left before crossing, forcing Barry to head behind for a corner. "If there's a stranger juxtaposition of imagery than talking about Hendrick's and cucumber just above an image of a topless Malcolm Allison, I've yet to encounter it," writes Phil Sawyer. It'll be a poster campaign before you know it, Allison with his tight blue tracksuit bottoms, complete with cucumber arrangement.
12 min: WHAT A FIRST GOAL FOR LIVERPOOL BY ANDY CARROLL!!! Liverpool 1-0 Manchester City. Nothing comes from the corner, but no matter. The ball's cleared by City, but it soon comes back at them. Carroll latches onto a loose ball 30 yards out, dead centre, and belabours a low shot at the goal. It's not tight in the bottom-left corner - in fact it's nowhere near it - but such is the ferocity of the swerving thrash that Hart can't get down to it in time, never mind keep it out. That was hit with uberviolence. Anfield erputs. That £35m fee already looks slightly less preposterous.
15 min: A bad start gets even worse for City, Carlos Tevez going off with a pulled hamstring. That's terrible news ahead of the weekend's FA Cup semi-final with Manchester United. News is that he might have torn it. Mario Balotelli comes on to replace him. "Rodgers and Hammerstein, eh?" begins Jonah Gadsby. "That makes a change from Woy's I am the very model of a modern major general."
18 min: City can't keep hold of the ball at all. This match is a high-paced nonsense, really, but it's only Liverpool who have managed to put any moves together. "I'm not trying to be a pretentious goon," begins Alexander Netherton, "but obviously I might be nonetheless. I like both those gins you mentioned but try Sipsmith. I had it a couple of months ago and it's delicious." OK.
22 min: It's been a very quiet start for the young debutant Flanagan. He's had precious little to do, just as I imagine he'd like it. "I was introduced to Blue Sapphire gin martinis whilst working on cruise ships," begins Peter, from his sofa in Formby, home of the golf club Kenny Dalglish is a member of, I'll be bound. "Tini time, he called it. Large shot of the blue bottled devil, shaken like a good un with ice and served with a twist if anything at all. Keep the vermouth as close as the next room. Like breasts, he said. One's not enough and three will make you question your sanity."
26 min: Dzeko nearly breaks free down the left, but Lucas mops up just in time. Not sure where Flanagan was there, to be honest, but as I don't know I'll refrain from drawing any conclusions. "Did Carroll's fee ever really look preposterous?" wonders Robin Hazlehurst. "'We'll give you £15 million if you accept this striker who scores goals in exchange for your striker who can't score goals' doesn't look like the sort of deal that many managers or chairmen would turn down. Although 'we'll give you £50 million and you can have neither' does also have a certain something."
28 min: Aurelio is booked for a terribly late lunge on Johnson. From the resulting free kick, 35 yards out, Balotelli attempts to score. He's interesting, Balotelli, isn't he? The ludicrous attempt is deflected away for a corner, which is headed clear easily by Skrtel.
30 min: Flanagan is supposed to "love a tackle", according to the club's official site. And here's proof, a thundering 50-50 challenge with Barry in the centre circle. It's one he wins too, much to Anfield's delight. Comes to nothing, but that's not the point.
31 min: Johnson dances past Aurelio and Meireles brilliantly, a real one-two tippy-tappy zig-zag down the right. For a second he's clear on goal, but Skrtel suddenly appears from nowhere and hacks clear.
32 min: City are suddenly getting back into this. Kolarov tears down the left and hammers a low shot across goal, the ball flashing wide of the right-hand post. Balotelli, sliding in, is this close to toe-poking home.
34 min: WHAT PRESSURE FROM LIVERPOOL. Liverpool 2-0 Manchester City. Liverpool batter City's defence around the area for the best part of a minute. First Meireles breaks clear down the left, miscontrols when he should shoot, and pulls the ball across into the centre. Suarez, Carroll, Aurelio and Meireles take turns to attack from all angles, before Kuyt cuts in from the right and hits a beautiful first-time shot into the bottom-left corner. What placement.
35 min: THIS IS TURNING INTO A ROUT. Liverpool 3-0 Manchester City. A mere 93 seconds later, Meireles whips a ball into the area from the left, in the general direction of Carroll. He's doing well to even challenge for the ball, but manages to go one better, guiding a clever header on and into the top-right corner, Hart with absolutely no chance whatsoever.
36 min: This Liverpool team is cobbled together, remember. What a performance from them. On the touchline, Roberto Mancini looks like he's just woken up after a pints-of-Gordon's bender.
40 min: It's tipping down at Anfield. City are in shock. Carroll and Suarez already look like quite a partnership. Carroll eagerly intercepts a poor pass from Toure and romps off down the left. He feeds Suarez just inside, the Uruguayan attempting to knock a first-time ball round Kompany and tear clear on goal. City's stand-in captain manages to get something on the ball as he falls, though, and the move breaks down. Fine football, though. "Though my gin of choice is Gordons," begins David Flynn, "I find the tonic gives me hangover-like symptoms complete with banging headaches. Oh and the tonic also causes me to weep uncontrollably for extended periods."
43 min: Carroll is very entertaining to watch when he falls over on the sodden turf. Eager to get up and get on with the game, he resembles Bambi. A drunk Bambi. It's an impressive dedication to the cause. Liverpool are first to everything this evening. "Why no criticism of Dzeko?" asks James Byers. "Everyone is talking about Torres having played seven league games without a goal, but Dzeko hasn't found the net in any of his nine
league games for City. In fact, he has made fifteen appearences in all competitions and the only teams he has scored against are Notts County and Aris Salonika. Surely Ctiy have a right to expect more for £27m."
HALF TIME: Liverpool 3-0 Manchester City. From the left wing, 40 yards out, Balotelli attempts to volley home. Dearie me. And that's that for the half. Reina hasn't had a save to make. "Oh, man!" cries Robi Polgar. "I know what I'm drinking after work tonight!!! 35 million pounds worth of gin." We're a good influence on you people, aren't we. Gotta love your Guardian.
Half-time advertisement break:
[Warning: this stuff, which goes well with pints of gin, gives you thundering depression and amplifies the sound of the blood pumping around your head.]
And we're off again! City get the ball rolling, Dzeko and Johnson's kick-off routine matching their team's first-half record for consecutive passes strung together.
47 min: City don't look any more composed in the second half, though admittedly we're working with a small dataset at the moment. Boyata slices a terrible clearance miles into the air - the highest the ball's been at Anfield since Momo Sissoko hoofed one into the stars against Everton a few years ago - but Kuyt can't control when the ball comes back out of orbit. "As a long-term Ajax supporter, albeit currently in a bar on a tropical island sipping beer not gin, Suarez and Carroll being a success isn't really a surprise," writes Jerry Dawson. "He was at his best playing off Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, a similar sort of striker, and one that my other team Arsenal could use."
49 min: Hart nearly kicks a clearance straight at the head of Carroll, two yards away from him. He's proving a real throbbing pain in the City buttocks, is Carroll, and 30 seconds or so later he hits another dangerous low hammer that's travelling, but blocked. "Personally I tend to agree with Snoop Dogg," begins Linda Howard. "Gin 'n' juice - grapefruit, that is. Dangerously delicious. (Yes, that's me with the afro puffs. Buckets of it and I still luckily do not end up in a corner of my living room weeping and talking to my cat. That is whisky."
51 min: Suarez twists and shimmies down the inside-left channel and forces Kompany to hack behind for a corner. From it, Kuyt finds himself clear, six yards out in the centre, but flashes his header wide right. That really should have been Liverpool's fourth. "You know, I sincerely think the Reds are a better side without Gerrard," writes Hubert O'Hearn. "Better shape, Meireles doesn't have Stevie clipping his heels...I wrote Barry Glendenning a few months ago that a) King Kenny would be back b) Fenway would spend lots of money and bring in talent and c) Stevie MBE would be gone to Europe by January 2012. I like my trifecta bet." Your 5-4 barnburner (5 min) is still on, too. You don't know who's going to win the US Open, by any chance?
53 min: Spearing, who has been quietly efficient tonight, slices a hilariously poor shot from distance miles over the bar, and wide to boot. Such is the current party mood in Anfield, nobody seems to mind much. "I am in the US plying my trade as a part-time barmaid and the most frustrating thing is when people ask for a martini and get angry that I made it with gin," writes Chriss Mari. "Martinis are made with gin. Vodka martinis are some namby-pamby bastardisation. Now, I suck enough at my job that I always forget to ask whether they want gin or vodka but I am too stubborn to forgo my gin loving principles. Though after City's performance this evening, any liquor will do."
55 min: City are as poor now as they were in the first half. This is great news for Tottenham, who must fancy another shot at the Champions League next season. They've been great to watch, one way and another, during this campaign. City, not so much. I'm just wittering now. "Is Rory a City fan?" asks Gary Naylor. "If so, someone should be watching him. Mind you, if he tried to shoot himself, he'd probably miss right now." Now, now. Young Mr McIlroy will win a major someday, and soon enough too, I'll be bound. Just a few tweaks to that putting technique, and he'll be away. Faith, Naylor.
59 min: A change for City. An unhappy Milner flounces off shaking his head, as he's subbed in favour of David Silva. "I'm not a gin man myself," writes James Brown, "but I'm following your debate in a shed on a beach and wanted to point out that Gordon's Gin are the only gin to have had their advertising music covered by the Human League (Travelogue)."
62 min: Liverpool have upped the tempo, and are snapping at City's heels. The visitors can't cope at all. No chances created for a while, though. "Gin-wise, you can't go wrong with a Gin Rickey," writes Ryan Dunne. "That's what F Scott Fitzgerald favoured, and he was an alcoholic!" Yes, they're always worth taking lifestyle advice from, aren't they. (How do you make one, again?)
65 min: Suarez rakes a lovely high crossfield pass along the face of the City box, left to right. Meireles aims for the top-left corner, and nearly makes it too, Hart clawing brilliantly away. "A Vodka martini is actually called a Kangaroo," writes Rajesh S. "People get confused because they call cocktail glasses 'Martini' glasses - so they think everything in one is a Martini. You can tell the difference though. Vodka Martinis taste crap." We're going well off piste here. Can we stick to gin, please? One type of tasty boose at a time.
67 min: Suarez goes on a skittering run towards the City box. He's got his head down, Milan Baros style, and doesn't feed Carroll into the area down the inside-left, shooting instead. The ball's blocked. Kuyt, coming in from the right, picks it up, and has another dig. The ball nearly falls to Carroll. I can't remember Liverpool having so many options up front for a very long time. "As I don't drink gin," begins Tracy Mohr, "I would just observe that while the Pool is playing well tonight, their owners' pride and joy, the Red Sox, have only won two of their first nine games."
69 min: Suarez makes a nuisance of himself down the right only to slice a terrible shot into the Kop. Down the other end, Silva has a pop from distance, and finds the top-left corner of the Anfield Road end.
71 min: Flanagan earns himself a warm round of applause with a lovely interception and turn on the ball down the right, snuffing out the possibility of a City break along the wing. "Bombay Sapphire and Red Bull does some serious damage," writes Richard Linnane. Please, can we try to pay at least some lip service to decorum?
75 min: City enjoy a couple of minor sorties upfield. First Toure has a lash after cutting in from the right, dragging his shot well wide left. Then Balotelli miscues an effort from distance, the ball looping into Reina's hands from 40 yards out, to whistles and coos. "I think the Human League track in question for gin was Being Boiled," writes Clare A. Davies. "I remember it from the cinema. Pearl and Dean advertising. And when there were B movies on the card."
78 min: Beautiful play by Silva down the inside-right channel, as he twists and turns and nearly sends Balotelli clear down the middle. The ball's eventually swung out right to Johnson, who whips in a decent cross. But there's nobody in the centre, and Reina ambles out to claim. "G&T is only as good as the tonic," advises Roger Heaton. "Fever Tree is the best. Tanqueray 10, Fever Tree Tonic, ice and lime in a tall glass - perfect."
79 min: Kuyt battles for a high ball he should never win against Lescott, but does. Then he diddles down the inside left, before whacking a low shot across the face of goal and wide right. "Has to be saffron gin for me," votes Chris R. "The saffron seems to give me a slightly better quality of hangover and leaves me crying over the more expensive kind of regret."
82 min: What a shot by Toure! It came from absolutely nowhere. He drops a shoulder and cuts inside from the left, before hammering a rising shot goalwards. He really hit that. Reina parries over the bar. The corner's wasted.
83 min: To a chorus of "what a waste of money", the substitute Balotelli is replaced by De Jong. "Tell Chriss I agree with her, but it's all James Bond's fault," says Joe Pearson. "The whole shaken not stirred thing too."
86 min: Flanagan is now flying up the right wing, quite the young Martin Kelly. The younger Martin Kelly. "A vodka martini with an onion instead of an olive is called a Gibson," reports John Lee. "Very tasty. Supposedly business people like them because Vodka does not make our breath smell of booze." Ah yes, more beneficial teachings for the wannabe functioning alcoholic. That's your caring, sharing Guardian, always providing a service!
88 min: Carroll comes close to his hat-trick. Suarez skidaddles down the right and, upon reaching the byline, executes a Phil Mickelson flop shot to the back post. Carroll tries to guide a header back over Hart into the top-right corner, but gets too much on the ball and sends it sailing over the bar. Fantastic play from the Uruguayan striker, though.
90 min: Andy Carroll is replaced by David Ngog. He departs to a huge ovation, and a chorus of "there's only one Andy Carroll", and sits down on the bench with a huge smile on his face. Anyway, here's what happens when you enjoy gin. "Heres to Rory Mac," slurs Billy Murphy. "God speed your Upcoming Victorys. The stones it takes to even get on a teebocx at Augusta never mind the courage, bravery and fortitude to to lead for 3 1/2 days... Hope he learns what its like to be up there in that position and figures out a way to win. PS : Also, as a national symbol, my favorite Gin is G(u)in ness. Haha, thats just being silly and saying that Im Irish so my favorite Gin is Guinness...which it is. anyway. Its the Gin talking." Keep it sensible, gin kids.
AND THAT'S IT. Liverpool 3-0 Manchester City. The whistle goes on a comprehensive victory for the home side. Liverpool's slim chances of a European place are still alive. "Finally, a MBM on my favourite subject of cocktails and I miss it due to Liverpool playing well for a change," moans Nick Pettigrew. "Even when Liverpool please, they can still manage to disappoint." And the final word to Hubert O'Hearn: "Well, it has been a barnburner. Unfortunately for City, their barn, Liverpool's torch." Thanks for your emails, everyone. I'm off for a glass of something cold. Anybody got any suggestions?