Manchester City finish this match looking thoroughly ominous. Liverpool were the better side for 40 minutes, without really creating anything, but then came a lesson in cold-blooded efficiency from City, who proceeded to run away with it after Stevan Jovetic’s opener. That’s why they’re champions. Thanks for reading and emailing. Night.
Full-time: Manchester City 3-1 Liverpool
That’s your lot!
90 min+5: City have spent the last two minutes trying to score the perfect goal. Eventually Aguero fires into the side netting.
90 min+2: Emre Can is pretty lucky not to receive a second yellow card for a preposterous dive after being challenged by Zabaleta. This match is ending in high farce!
90 min+1: Moreno is going to try to carry on. Skrtel is also back. But Liverpool are basically down to eight men.
90 min: This looks nasty. Moreno, under little pressure, has got his ankle stuck in the turf and appears to have twisted it. This has not been a good debut for him. There will be five added minutes.
88 min: Johnson has gone off and now Skrtel is down clutching his calf! This is not going to plan.
85 min: Glen Johnson has gone down feeling a muscle injury.
83 min: Another chance for Lambert! He was found in space on the left but his shot lacked conviction. He got it round Hart but it looked like it was going wide. Kompany cleared anyway.
GOAL! Manchester City 3-1 Liverpool (Lambert, 83 min)
Rickie Lambert scores his first Liverpool goal, with goal-line technology claiming the assist. Sturridge curled a cross to the far post from the right and although Lambert’s point-blank header was somehow saved by Hart, the rebound was bundled over the line by Lambert. Is the greatest comeback of all time on?
81 min: If Liverpool fans want any cheering up, the last time they lost 3-0 to Manchester City on a Monday night, Roy Hodgson was in charge and their side contained Dirk Kuyt, David Ngog and Milan Jovanovic, with Christian Poulsen on the bench.
80 min: Stevan Jovetic’s evening is over. He’s replaced by Fernandinho.
79 min: Rickie Lambert replaces Raheem Sterling. Did you know that Liverpool are his boyhood club?
76 min: Can’s first contribution is to pick up a booking for a check on the rampaging Jovetic.
75 min: Liverpool make their second change, Emre Can replacing Joe Allen.
73 min: Sergio Aguero has scored 29 goals in his past 32 appearances for City. Imagine what he’d do if he his hamstrings weren’t made of spaghetti.
71 min: Mario Balotelli looks fed up. In front of him, so does Kenny Dalglish.
GOAL! Manchester City 3-0 Liverpool (Aguero, 69 min)
Sergio Aguero scores with his first touch! He’s only been on the pitch for 23 seconds! What a ridiculous player. And what a fine goal. The other substitute, Jesus Navas, made it with a lovely pass from the right flank, curved perfectly into Aguero’s path. He scampered clear, took a touch and confidently beat Mignolet at his near post. Liverpool are done.
69 min: Edin Dzeko’s evening is over. On comes ... Sergio Aguero. Fair enough. And...
67 min: Dzeko is down after a collision with Skrtel. He seems to have hurt his left thigh.
66 min: City replace Silva with Jesus Navas. And when we resume, Moreno’s cross is headed wide by Sturridge, who got his timing all wrong. City fans are enjoying his frustrating evening. “Call me crazy, but Liverpool could really use Balotelli right about now,” says Ira Seligman.
65 min: Joe Hart denies Sturridge with a fine save. Sterling prodded a pass through to him and Sturridge showed wonderfully quick feet to beat Kompany but the angle was against him, he was on his right foot and Hart stayed big to turn his fierce right-footer away.
62 min: Moreno charges into the area again and this time he finds Sturridge, who’s challenged just as he seemed poised to score! What a response from Liverpool.
61 min: City’s fans are having at Gerrard’s expense again. Although they quieten down for a moment as Markovic involves himself immediately, sending Moreno haring into the area on the left. For some reason he decides to cut it back to Henderson instead of shooting and the chance goes to waste.
60 min: Liverpool make their first change, Lazar Markovic replacing Philippe Coutinho.
59 min: Jovetic thinks he’s going to score his hat-trick but the whistle goes for a foul on Skrtel by Dzeko. It was another absurd move from City though, flicks and tricks from Silva and Nasri tearing Liverpool apart. After that slow first 40 minutes, City are rampant now.
57 min: “Not necessarily a team sent out early, Jacob, but one for the melting pot,” says Phil Sawyer. “The Liverpool v Spurs League Cuo final in 1982. Both teams were knackered by the start of extra time. Phil Neal recalled “Paisley would not let us sit down before extra time started. He was bellowing: ‘Get up off your feet, don’t them let them see you are tired.’ Liverpool won 3-1 in extra time. Sadly that doesn’t seem to have happened today.”
GOAL! Manchester City 2-0 Liverpool (Jovetic, 55 min)
Stevan Jovetic scored twice for Fiorentina against Liverpool a few years ago and he’s done it for City tonight. He’s a good player, you know. We didn’t see it from him last season, but he is. Jovetic began the move for this goal with a stunning flick through to Nasri on the right - perhaps a little fortunately, but what the hell. Nasri cut the ball back into the area and although it didn’t look like it was intended for Jovetic, it reached him nonetheless and he clipped the ball high into the net with his left foot.
53 min: It looked like it was too far out for Gerrard to shoot. And so it was. Henderson ran away from and around the wall and Gerrard chipped the ball over the City defence and through to him. But Henderson was too tentative. He took a touch and his cutback was blocked behind for a corner. Hart claims it.
52 min: Sterling glides effortlessly past Fernando, who hangs out a leg to bring the Liverpool winger down around 30 yards out. Fernando escapes a booking.
50 min: A Nasri corner from the right, a header over the bar from Jovetic.
49 min: Liverpool have the ball in the net but the flag is correctly up for offside against Sturridge after Johnson’s cross reached him. Moments later Silva plays Dzeko through on goal but his touch is heavy and Moreno is across to boot it behind for a corner.
47 min: Coutinho rolls a pass to Sturridge, who turns brilliantly away from Demichelis. But he enjoyed himself so much that he decides to do another turn, which leads him to the rather more imposing Kompany.
46 min: We go again.
Liverpool have been sent out early. Brendan, you maverick. This week’s Joy of Six will thus be on teams that were sent out early.
Half-time: Manchester City 1-0 Liverpool
Liverpool have been the better side. Manchester City have been the more decisive side.
44 min: Liverpool will be kicking themselves. Meanwhile Balotelli is leading a few Liverpool players inside for half-time. He knows his way around this stadium.
GOAL! Manchester City 1-0 Liverpool (Jovetic, 41 min)
All that Liverpool pressure but Manchester City lead! But what a dismal goal to concede from Liverpool’s perspective and it’s the fault of the debutant, Alberto Moreno, who was caught on his heels by Stevan Jovetic. A ball was knocked into the area from the right and found Silva. He couldn’t do anything with it but Lovren’s clearing header wasn’t great. Still, Moreno didn’t realise that Jovetic was lurking behind him and he thought he had more time than he actually did. He dallied, Jovetic burst past him, chested the ball down and then hammered it through Mignolet. “That’s why we’re champions,” sing the City fans.
40 min: But suddenly City increase the pace and show some urgency for the first time in a while, Zabaleta exchanging passes with Jovetic and bursting into the area, forcing Gerrard to intervene at the expense of a corner. Liverpool get it clear.
39 min: I’ve just remembered that Samir Nasri is playing. It must be the first time Martin Tyler has mentioned his name.
38 min: Sterling’s slide-rule pass through to Coutinho is just overcooked. Hart is there. Liverpool’s movement is excellent.
37 min: If there’s one thing that Liverpool have been missing, it’s ... well, there’s no point stating the bleedin’ obvious, is there?
35 min: I wouldn’t go as far as saying that Liverpool are giving City a football lesson giving that they’re not winning but the visitors are completely on top at the moment. City are defending well, though.
33 min: Daniel Sturridge forces Hart to make his first save of note. It all started with Gerrard mopping up a City attack on the left and then seeing his clearance fall to Sterling. He dashes inside and then lofts a pass to Sturridge on the left of the area. Sturridge stands Kompany up and then beats him on the outside, before shooting straight at Hart from an angle. The City goalkeeper pushes it away.
31 min: Gerrard whips it in; again Hart punches it clear. But back come Liverpool with Sterling on the left. He carves City open with a glorious eye-of-the-needle pass through to Henderson, who’s onside and in the clear. But he maybe doesn’t realise what a good position he’s in and his first touch takes him away from goal, before he turns and chips a cross into the six-yard box that’s headed away.
30 min: Now Clichy bumps into Sterling on the right. Liverpool need to make this dominance count. They have a free-kick. Can they do anything with it? Gerrard looks stern.
29 min: Toure is booked for bringing down Coutinho as the Brazilian skipped down the left.
28 min: The danger for Liverpool is that City are more than capable of soaking up the pressure and then striking. You always have to be on your guard against them, as proven by an audacious attempt from Toure to pierce the Liverpool defence with a curved pass through to Dzeko from the right. Skrtel has to stretch every sinew to get a toe to it and divert the ball to Mignolet.
27 min: This has been very impressive from Liverpool in the past 10 minutes. Now to create a proper chance.
25 min: Moreno skids a horribly awkward cross into the City area from the left, forcing Demichelis to slash behind for a corner. Liverpool have got themselves into some great positions but they are lacking some presence in the box. Sturridge is struggling to get involved.
22 min: A free-kick to Liverpool on the left, Zabaleta too eager in his attempt to win the ball off Moreno. Gerrard curls it into the area and Hart bundles through the mass of bodies to punch the ball away confidently. But Liverpool push again. Johnson finds Henderson on the right and his cross seemingly deflects off Demichelis for a Liverpool corner - only for the linesman to rule that it came off Henderson last. He’s not happy and takes his time giving the ball back to Hart as he rushes up the line letting the linesman know precisely what he thinks of him and his kind.
21 min: A lull. There’s a lot of respect out there, which is good to see.
18 min: There’s not much in it but Liverpool are marginally shading this, I’d say. Their midfield has been sharper and quicker to loose balls. City’s fans have been a bit frustrated. The problem for Liverpool has been finding that final pass, though. And that City look like they could go up a couple of gears when they fancy it.
16 min: Gerrard chests a loose ball down, 35 yards out, and sees his bouncing volley deflected wide for a corner on the left. Gerrard takes it and Hart looks in trouble for a moment but he just about manages to claw it behind for another corner. This one’s dealt with.
15 min: It’s City’s turn to attack. Silva finds Clichy on the left. His cross is headed away and drops to Toure, whose curler from 25 yards is held well by Mignolet, plunging down low to his left.
14 min: Sterling is in the mood. He burns past Clichy on the right and his low centre has to be shuffled behind for a corner. Gerrard takes it but Michael Oliver blows for a foul to City, ruling that Skrtel had a handful of Kompany’s shirt. Can’t help himself, can he?
13 min: But City are also capable of playing excellent football of their own. They attack down the left and Jovetic flicks a pass to Clichy, whose cross to the far post finds both Dzeko and Zabaleta waiting. Zabaleta shouts for Dzeko to leave and watches it fall but his volley flies over. Left-back to right-back.
12 min: Liverpool are playing some excellent football. They’re not overawed.
10 min: Sterling is such a threat. He’s so quick. It looks like he has no business reaching a long pass on the right but he sprints there before Demichelis, who can only bring him down with more than a hint of desperation. He doesn’t like it but it was a clear foul. Gerrard’s free-kick is a waste of time, though.
9 min: From a deep position, Steven Gerrard carves open the City defence, pinging a great pass over the top and through the middle, where Sterling’s run inside from the right has gone unchecked. With his back to goal, he brings the ball down but he’s under pressure and falling as he tries to shoot, and his effort trickles wide.
7 min: A half-chance for Edin Dzeko. Dejan Lovren misjudged a pass from the left on the slippery surface and allowed it to run to Dzeko on the edge of the area. He took a touch and then scuffed a left-footed shot wide, with Mignolet not overly concerned.
6 min: After a fairly tentative start, it’s opening up a bit now. First Liverpool skedaddle forward again, some lovely passing leaving Coutinho in space on the edge of the area, but he can’t set up Sturridge for a shot. City charge up the other end and Silva’s pass almost slithers through to Jovetic, only for Skrtel to step in.
5 min: Liverpool counter at high speed for the first time, Sturridge sprung clear down the right. He tries to slide a pass through to Sterling but it’s too close to Hart, who’s out quickly to stop the attack. Moments later, more encouragement for Liverpool, Allen nicking the ball on the left and finding Sturridge in the middle. He’s halted by Demichelis.
4 min: Martin Tyler has just let us know that Yaya and Kolo shared A BIT OF BANTER before kick-off. Meanwhile City are dominating possession in Liverpool’s half, although they’re yet to threaten.
3 min: I’m hearing a bit too much about Gerrard’s backside, to be honest.
2 min: A cracking atmosphere inside the City of Manchester Stadium and both teams are just feeling each other out at the moment.
And we’re off! Manchester City,all in blue and kicking from left to right, get the ball rolling. They take 10 seconds to give it to Liverpool, which is hospitable of them. More hospitable than the City fans, who are pointing out, via the medium of song, that Gerrard once fell over. Speaking of which, it’s absolutely tipping it down in Manchester. Which isn’t necessarily news. I should know, I lived there for three years. But let’s hope Gerrard has the right studs on.
Mario Balotelli was in the tunnel earlier and was greeting his old Manchester City team-mates. A couple of them pointed at their heads but that might have been because he was wearing a beanie. All that out of the way, it’s time for the teams to walk out. “Come on, come on!” shouts Vincent Kompany. “Dossena?” says Roger. “Legend! What about that lovely lob over Van der Sar in Liverpool’s 4-1 demolition of ManU?”
“It’s nearing the lunch hour here on the U.S. west coast and I’m afraid the anticipation of this game will ruin my appetite,” says Peter Oh. “The missus fixed me an Italian lunch, so maybe that’s a sign that things will go well for Balotelli’s new pals. I can only hope that the Reds will be boosted and the Sky Blues unsettled by Super Mario’s mere presence in the Etihad. Or by his cheeky aiming of a laser pointer at Joe Hart’s face just as Sterling winds up for a shot. I can only hope that this Italian signing works out better for Liverpool than the other ones from the boot-shaped country in recent memory (e.g., Borini, Aquilani, Dossena)!”
“It’s his first day at the club,” says James Lane. “I get Rogers’ point, but how about innocent until proven guilty? Give him a chance. He might knuckle down and score a bucketload for Liverpool – or make them explode from the inside. It’ll be fabulous viewing either way.”
It’s tough love. Liverpool treated Sturridge similarly.
Mourinho’s thoughts on Balotelli are always worth watching.
Brendan Rodgers has just been asked on Sky what extra Mario Balotelli brings to his squad. “Trouble!” he quips in bantorious fashion. He did stress that Balotelli is in the last-chance saloon but added that he is a “very bright boy”.
Manchester City: Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy; Nasri, Fernando, Yaya Toure, Silva; Jovetic, Dzeko. Subs: Caballero, Sagna, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Milner, Navas, Aguero.
Liverpool: Mignolet; Johnson, Skrtel, Lovren, Moreno; Gerrard, Henderson, Allen, Coutinho, Sturridge, Sterling. Subs: Jones, Manquillo, Sakho, Toure, Can, Markovic, Lambert.
Referee: Michael Oliver.
It was emotional the last time these two met. Emotional, crazy, brilliant and one of the best and most dramatic matches we have seen for a long time. Back on that April afternoon, it seemed that nothing could stop Liverpool winning the league, not after Philippe Coutinho’s cracking winner against Manchester City on one of those Anfield afternoons that no one will be forgetting in a hurry. Liverpool stormed into a 2-0 lead by the break, City fought back, City equalised, City missed chances to win it, Vincent Kompany duffed a clearance, Coutinho scored, Jordan Henderson was sent off, everyone in the stands saw a good five or so years shaved off their life expectancy, blood pressure went through the roof and when the final whistle blew and the tumult was over, the Kop was in raptures and Steven Gerrard was delivering that speech in that huddle.
But then it went wrong. Then Gerrard slipped against Chelsea, the team collapsed against Crystal Palace and there were tears in the away end at Selhurst Park. In stepped City, taking full advantage of Liverpool’s pain, and one of the most unlikely title challenges – yes, really, Liverpool had finished seventh in the previous season and no one was tipping them at the start of last season - came to a disappointing end. But here we are, going again. That’s right. We’re going again, you, me, City, Liverpool, Gerrard, even Mario Balotelli.
Yes indeed, Mario Balotelli. After categorically stating that Balotelli would not be signing for Liverpool this summer, Brendan Rodgers has changed his mind and a £16m deal has been wrapped up this afternoon and Balotelli is expected to be present to watch his new side take on his old side tonight, which should be ... interesting. Here’s hoping he has something big planned for his grand entrance at a stadium where he sometimes delighted supporters but mostly infuriated his team-mates and his manager, Roberto Mancini. Presumably he’s packed a whoopee cushion.
For me, Liverpool are taking a huge gamble, for me. Balotelli is undoubtedly extremely talented and it could be argued that they would be stupid not to buy him for £16m. Yet there is a reason he is available at that price. Now 24, he should be going for much more, but the harsh reality is that he is damaged goods, sometimes brilliant, but often a liability and prone to disappearing when his team needs him most. It goes to show that there are not too many top, top, top, top players available - say what you want about Luis Suarez, and there is a lot to say about him, plenty of it less than complimentary, but he could always be relied upon to perform at a high level. When he wasn’t biting people, that is, or making friends with Patrice Evra.
Suarez and Balotelli are not the same. Suarez is an objectionable character but a wonderful player. Balotelli is essentially an overgrown child with attitude problems; he is capable of brilliance but he lets himself down with his own immaturity. Liverpool believe they can change him. Maybe they can. Brendan Rodgers got the best out of Suarez and Daniel Sturridge has matured since joining Liverpool. Maybe it will be the same with Balotelli. Rodgers is a fine coach, clearly one who can extract the best from players who have been written off elsewhere, and if it is, then Liverpool will be laughing if it turns out that Balotelli and Sturridge are a match made in heaven. But you sense that Dr Steve Peters is going to have to earn his money.
Whatever happens, Liverpool have their Suarez replacement - they have made important signings in other areas of the squad, especially in defence, but they really needed that new striker - and they are probably feeling more confident about their title chances now. They weren’t particularly convincing against Southampton last week, grinding out a late win after being outplayed for much of the second half, and perhaps there was a hangover from both the sale of Suarez and the disappointment of not ending their 24-year wait for the title. But they won. THEY WENT AGAIN.
And tonight they go again again against my title favourites. It’s been a stress-free summer for City - just the way Manuel Pellegrini likes it - and they have strengthened in important areas. We haven’t seen Eliaquim Mangala in their defence yet but Fernando certainly looked like an impressive addition in the win over Newcastle. City were a little rusty at times against Newcastle but they still had enough quality to win 2-0 thanks to goals from David Silva and Sergio Aguero. That’s why they’re champions, I suppose. They have so many ways of hurting you.
But expect Liverpool to push them tonight. They may be without Suarez - and Balotelli - but Sturridge, Coutinho and Raheem Sterling have the smarts, the speed and the skill to hurt this City defence. Liverpool were very unlucky to lose this fixture last December and afterwards, City’s players knew that were the real deal. We’ll know a lot more about Liverpool by the end of tonight.
Kick-off: 8pm. I’d say 8pm British Summer Time but that would be false advertising. Happy bank holiday, everyone!