Steven Gerrard's penalty and a second-half backs-to-the-wall defensive display earned Liverpool a slender advantage
Preamble: First, let me say this: I am old enough to remember telephones with whirry dials on the front, and watching a tiny black-and-white television in my nan's kitchen, and Liverpool winning this competition four times on the spin. I was 13 before I was first able to listen to my own music outside my house, when I was given a bright blue Walkman, on which I would listen to mixtapes lovingly created over the course of entire weekend afternoons. On the bus to work today my mobile telephonic device, having earlier told me how long I would have to wait for said bus, was playing me some of my favourite music and telling me the latest sports news and I thought to myself: how utterly marvellous. How genuinely amazingly great. It has done this before, or course, but I don't always take the time to think how whompingly remarkable its achievements are. Also – while I'm on the subject of things that would have astonished my youthful self – I sometimes see bright green parakeets in my garden.
Now some of you would probably say that I'm more likely to see soft pink domesticated mammals flying around my garden than Liverpool winning at the Etihad Stadium tonight, but I'm expecting a finely-balanced match. Sure, Kenny Dalglish's side lost 3-0 there last week, but only because they missed loads of chances and their goalkeeper was guilty of a rare howler. And City play tonight without both Vincent Kompany and Kolo Touré, their first-choice centre-backs of late. And there are rumours that David Silva might be unfit. All this works in the visitors' favour.
Liverpool also have one motivational tool, albeit one which has been known to destroy teams as often as it inspires them: desperation. City should probably win the Premier League, and have the Europa League to think about. Liverpool really need to get to the final of this competition, particularly given the quality of opposition that will await there, and with Manchester United blocking their path in the FA Cup, and with nothing but dust and the occasional fly entering their trophy cabinet for very nearly six years.
One concern, though, is the whole two-leg thing, and the possibility that Liverpool will try to shut up shop and go for the win at Anfield. Asked about this tie Craig Bellamy said: "It's a two-legged match and we have to make sure we are still in the tie … if we can get it back to Anfield still very much in the tie we will have a great chance of getting to Wembley." I don't really expect them to go for all-out defence (against the country's best attack whose defence happens to be understaffed), and if they do I'm not sure it'll work, but it's a possibility.
While we're here, and although it doesn't really become relevant until the second leg, I might as well bring you item 13.5 of the Carling Cup's rules and regulations:
13.5 In the Semi-Final ties, if the aggregate score is level at the end of the second game an extra half-hour shall be played. If the aggregate scores are still level at the end of extra time the tie shall be decided by goals scored away from home counting twice. If the teams remain equal after this procedure the tie shall be determined by the taking of kicks from the penalty mark in accordance with the Laws of Association Football.
So now you know. I'll be back at 7.30pm to bring you the best of the pre-match build-up. See you then.
Not official yet, but it looks like these are the teams. Silva is out, and Johnson starts at left-back for Liverpool, with Enriqué on the bench:
Manchester City: Hart, Richards, Savic, Lescott, Clichy, Barry, de Jong, A. Johnson, Milner, Balotelli, Agüero. Subs: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Kolarov, Onuoha, Hargreaves, Nasri, Dzeko
Liverpool: Reina; Kelly, Agger, Skrtel, G Johnson; Gerrard, Spearing, Henderson, Downing; Carroll, Bellamy. Subs: Enriqué, Coates, Kuyt, Carragher, Shelvey, Adam, Doni.
The Press Association has sent us the official team sheet. It looks quite a lot like the one below, so sorry for the repetition:
Man City: Hart, Richards, Lescott, Savic, Clichy, Milner, Barry, De Jong, Johnson, Aguero, Balotelli. Subs: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Dzeko, Kolarov, Nasri, Hargreaves, Onuoha.
Liverpool: Reina, Kelly, Skrtel, Agger, Johnson, Downing, Spearing, Henderson, Bellamy, Gerrard, Carroll. Subs: Doni, Jose Enriqué, Coates, Kuyt, Carragher, Adam, Shelvey.
Referee: Lee Mason (Lancashire).
"Why is Downing in the Liverpool team tonight?" ponders Lou Ropert. "Aside from footballing reasons, doesn't Dalglish care that he has just been bailed after being charged with assaulting his ex-girlfriend?" Apparently he cares neither about the girlfriend nor about the general footballing ho-humness of the lad. Me, I'd probably have Kuyt. And I wouldn't have bought Downing in the first place.
"Had a dream last night that the reds win 5 to 0," writes Billy Garnett. But don't call up the bookies yet – in Billy's dream the goalscorers included "two from Carroll and one from Jason McAteer! Strange places dreams." Strange indeed. Imagine Andy Carroll scoring two goals!
Gary Lineker just made me laugh! As the cameras zoomed in on the lonely figure of Gianfranco Zola, sitting all by himself in a near-empty stand, Lineker said: "Just like Manchester City ... no Kompany this evening!" Well I thought it was good.
Shane O'Leary's thoughts for the day: "• Sir Alex is having one season too many • Bacon is very nice • Man City will beat Liverpool • Why have the British Film Industry been making deliberaterly making rubbish films? • The League Cup is way more fun than the FA Cup these days • A bacon risotto goes very well with cider." Excellent, Shane. I think proper cider goes very well indeed with a lot of food, particularly the more robust stuff that you might pair with white wine – roast chicken, pork, risottos – but that some commercial ciders aren't good with anything except for death and pain and torture.
"Sorry to disagree on the phones," writes Jon Millard, "but no single other device has been associated with such a wholesale deterioration of a national culture, lack of ability to survive without stimulation or titulation, destruction of the strength to sustain solitude and demonstrate self-sufficency and loss of resourcefulness to meet even the most minor challenge. We have become a nation of infantile, sensation hungry, distraction-crazed muppets with the attention spans of gnats on mephedrone and a sense of entitlement dwarfed only by our petulant complaints if we don't get what we desire immediately, whether we deserve it or not. Mind you, quite handy when you break down in the car, aren't they?" I don't really think we're in disagreement, Jon. They're terrible things. But amazing, too.
1 min: Peeeeeeep! We have football!
2 mins: Manchester City lose the ball just outside their own penalty area. Though Bellamy's run is checked the ball is worked wide to Downing, whose cross is just too high for Carroll to control.
3 mins: "Re Mr Millard's points at 7.43pm, I was going to launch into a considered response about advances in technology and their impacts on social life, but I've decided to say simply that the internet is FANTASTIC and everything else is not," surmises Gary Naylor.
5 mins: Terrible miss! Carroll suddenly finds himself clean through, bang central, but he delays his shot long enough for Hart to close him down and then shoots low, like an idiot, into the goalkeeper's legs.
"I was nodding along as I was reading Jon Millard's phone comment," writes Bryan May. "I then put my phone in my pocket and resumed the conversation with my co-worker I had tuned out."
7 mins: The game isn't exactly frantic, but it is lively enough for the BBC yet to have found a moment to replay Carroll's chance several minutes ago. "Second minute – Downing overhits a cross, Carroll fails to control," notes Ben Stanley. "Why not just leave the commentary like that and hit the pub?" I'm an optimist, Ben.
8 mins: When City have possession Liverpool's midfield are dropping into a position about 10 yards ahead of their defence, giving City a lot of space to pass the ball about but causing them problems when they come to doing something useful with it.
10 mins: Nice effort! Gerrard controls the ball 25 yards from goal, again bang central, and curls a right-footed shop which was dipping just inside the post but for Hart's full-length stop.
11 mins: Gerrard takes the corner long to Downing, on the edge of the area, whose volley is deflected six yards from goal and again well saved by Hart. And now there's a penalty!
12 mins: From the second corner Agger half-controls the ball on his chest but his attempt to chase down the ball is ended when Savic cluelessly raises a boot high into his knee. Penalty!
GOAL! Manchester City 0 Liverpool 1 (Gerrard 13) The captain's kick is low, firm and straight into the bottom left corner. Hart goes the right way but his hand is a foot away from the ball as it whistles past.
14 mins: Crikey. Liverpool storm forward again but the ball is shuffled into ball-magnet Gerrard and his long-range shot is deflected high into Hart's hands.
16 mins: City attack at last. Milner's cross from the left is only just too high for Balotelli, and when Reina's punch lands at Aguero's feet 20 yards out his volley is emphatically off-target.
18 mins: Balotelli goes down, expecting a free-kick. When it doesn't come he flings his fist twice in the referee's direction, and then spits at him. If Lee Mason was two yards away he'd have got a 40-match ban, but the official was about 35 yards away so nobody minds.
19 mins: Then Carroll goes on a run down the left wing, trips over his own legs and loses the ball. This morning's stories linking him with a move back to Newcastle might be inaccurate, but it looks increasingly certain that if there is a good footballer in there it'll take a move away from Liverpool to rediscover it. Cue second-half hat-trick.
23 mins: Spearing has just gone down, having played a pass to Bellamy. Looks like he's pulled a hamstring, and it's bad enough to end his evening – Charlie Adam is getting ready.
23 mins: Guy Mowbray: "What did you pull most, when you were playing?" Mark Lawrenson: "I couldn't possibly tell you that on air." A nation of football fans: "Bleeeeee!"
25 mins: The small injury break seems to have taken some momentum from the match and some energy from the crowd, who are being rather quiet as they watch Liverpool pass the ball from left to right and back again. "I'm not entirely sure that the blame for us becoming 'a nation of infantile, sensation hungry, distraction-crazed muppets' lies entirely with phones," grumbles David Flynn. "I mean everyone has a smartphone now so everyone has the internet at their fingertips all the time. Yet with the availability of nearly every piece of information ever discovered on this planet right there on a phone people still choose to spend hours getting three stars on Angry Birds. Bottom line, we were always infantile, now we just have the means to be infantile on public transport."
27 mins: Henderson's excellent tackle on Richards unaccountably wins City a free-kick. "Love the idea of the walkman/ipod," writes Paul McCormick, "but I never really took to it after standing at a Liverpool bus stop in the early days of the Sony Stowaway, and hearing two old ladies, on seeing me apparently bedecked in a headset and huge listening device, stage-whispering to each other, 'Ahhh, it's a shame, isn't it?'"
29 mins: Balotelli is nudged off the ball by Adam, who taps the Italian's head as he gets up. This absolutely enrages Balotelli, for some reason. He's having an angry night. And he's hit the resulting free-kick into the wall.
32 mins: I remember, back when I used to play football very badly, knowing after my first couple of touches whether my 10th and 11th would be any good. I was either having a good day, and things would be good, or I wasn't, and things would be terrible. The latter kind of day was much more common. And that's the kind of day that Andy Carroll's having. There have been a couple of comedy ball-givings in recent minutes.
35 mins: Kelly crosses from the right, not a brilliant ball, a bit behind Carroll, but the striker does excellently well to power a header towards, but just wide of, the far post. That's better.
39 mins: Balotelli, who looked grumpy for most of the first 20 minutes and bored for much of the second 20, is going off. Samir Nasri replaces him. Presumably a minor injury.
43 mins: Manchester City chance! Reina saves! But I don't really have any idea what happened because I was busy putting capital letters into this email, because David Flynn (its author) couldn't be bothered. [later edit: Nasri shot from just outside the penalty area. The save was pretty straightforward really] That'll learn me. "Sometimes bad players just have days when the planets come together in a particular order and the ball richocets off them with a favourable outcome. Andy Carroll hasn't had one of those days in quite a while but Lennon is having one for Spurs, having just scored a goal consisting of him running just fast enough that he never had the ball fully under control yet not fast enough that he stumbled and fell over before dribbling the ball into the net. It's a shame Carroll doesn't have lightning speed to hide the fact that hes not actually up to much." Do it yourself next time, chum.
45 mins: CHANCE! Micah Richards goes on a good, strong run to the byline and cuts the ball back to James Milner, 15 yards from goal. It's a very good chance, and the midfielder's failure to get a shot on target is pretty dismal. The ball flies 10 yards wide.
45+3 mins: Last minute of stoppage time, and Gerrard gives away a free-kick in a testing position, 20 yards out, by barging into Adam Johnson, after Martin Skrtel's hilariously poor clearance put his team back in trouble.
45+3 mins: Peeeeeeep! Johnson curls the free-kick over the bar, and it's half-time. Liverpool deserve their lead, City have been very poor.
Half-time seat-related update: I've noticed patches of empty seats, but Alan Shearer, who has the benefit of being there, numbers them at "five or six thousand".
Still half-time (just): The teams are out. No sign of substitutions. "In 1987 I drove into the city at 4am to watch a delayed telecast of my beloved Leeds' heartbreaking 3-2 FA Cup semi-final loss at the only 24 hour pub in Queensland, Australia that had 'Sky Channel' on," remembers Philip Davis. "A decrepit, lonely place full of filthy English backpackers. In 2011 I'm sitting on the train with a carriage-load of smartly dressed business folk following live updates on my smartphone of a match between two teams that I loathe in a competition that I don't care about. That's progress ... I think." Um...
46 mins: Peeeeeep! They're off! Again! "That's the kind of analysis the BBC pays Shearer millions for," writes Hugh Collins of my half-time seat-related update. "Next he'll be able to tell us how many players are on the pitch, or how many clubs other than Newcastle have been interested in having him as manager."
47 mins: City have already had their first corner of the half – it took 46 minutes for them to say that in the first half. "Interesting to note that of the 22 players on show, 14 are British," points out Kevin Mackenzie. Yes, it is. "Including Spearing's substitution there have been 15 British players on the pitch tonight, plus one British manager. Whoever said the Premier League had too many foreign players?"
49 mins: This time City have had all the possession, but haven't put the ball into Liverpool's box. There's not much point in speculative crosses to test Sergio Aguero's ability to beat Martin Skrtel in the air, but what else have they got?
51 mins: City prodding and poking around 35 yards from Liverpool's goal, wondering how to get any closer. Still no answers. It ends with Charlie Adam dispossessing Nasri and banging the ball off his rival's legs to win a goal-kick.
54 mins: Johnson plays in Aguero, but Skrtel is across very quickly to dispossess. City are struggling to break Liverpool down, but 45 minutes of this kind of pressure might be hard to cope with.
55 mins: Suddenly Henderson breaks down the left. Bellamy and Carroll are central. The former peels off to await a pull-back, the latter thunders forwards, the cross hits a defender.
56 mins: Incredible let-off for Liverpool! Kelly attempts a 40-yard back-pass which is easily intercepted by Aguero, who jinks past Reina but, with the keeper still snuffling around his ankles, a fairly unpromising angle to cope with and a defender back on the line, shanks his shot over the bar.
58 mins: City win another corner. Enriqué is about to replace Downing for Liverpool, we're told. "Judging by the quality of this game the problem is surely that there are too many British players in the Premier League," moans Oliver Lewis.
59 mins: Great save! From the corner Richards wins the header and powers the ball down towards goal, but it's just too close to the keeper, practically hitting him on the arm.
63 mins: Tottenham are about to join Manchester United on 45 points in the Premier League (though they'll be behind them on goal difference): they're 2-0 up against Everton at home.
65 mins: Everyone expects Aguero to pass to Adam Johnson, instead he suddenly changes direction before shooting rather tamely from 20 yards. He should have passed to Adam Johnson. The BBC clearly think that in-match statistics are a bit beneath them, but this half's would be extremely one-sided in City's favour, I'm sure.
66 mins: That failure to taste the action will be Adam Johnson's last taste of the action, as he's just been replaced by Edin Dzeko.
68 mins: Henderson gives the ball away and City break. Finally there is space in Liverpool's defence. Aguero cuts in from the left flank, across the penalty area. And he keeps going. And a bit further. And then Johnson dispossesses him with an excellent, stretching, just-a-tiny-bit-wrong-and-it's-a-penalty challenge.
71 mins: City seem better since the arrival of Dzeko, something of a fulcrum for Nasri and Aguero to buzz around. Nasri ends their latest move by bludgeoning over the bar from 20 yards.
72 mins: Kolarov replaces De Jong for City, while Liverpool shuffle again, bringing Kelly into the three-man centre of defence and Johnson across to right-back.
74 mins: Reina has a goal-kick, which he punts long to Carroll. Carroll wins the header. Nobody is anywhere near the fllick-on. City have the ball again. It's not that the home side are coming terribly close to scoring, just that with this dominance of possession surely it's only a matter of time until they do.
77 mins: This second half has been unspeakable. Total filth. A team with no ambition against a team with no ideas.
78 mins: Kolarov attempts a bizarrely ambitious shot from downtown, as they used to say when I played NBA Jam on my friend's PlayStation back in the day.
78 mins: The BBC have discovered their statistics department and revealed that City have had 65% of second-half possession, which is a surprisingly small number.
80 mins: Liverpool, having decided that 5-4-1 is a little too attacking, have brought on Carragher for Bellamy. So that'll be a 6-3-1 then?
84 mins: City continue to push for a while before taking a hopeful shot from distance, Milner sending the latest sliding wide from 25 yards. "'No ambition' is harsh," complains Nathan Jones. "Liverpool's ambition is to reach the final. If they can hold onto a 1-0 lead they'll be favourites to do so. When Liverpool have sat back and let City have the ball, City haven't looked like scoring, so why not do that?" To clarify, I meant that they no longer have any attacking ambition in this match. They're not interested in attacking. Clearly they're a very ambitious club who desperately want to reach the final and see this as the best way of getting there.
85 mins: Kolarov sends a decent crossing chance way off into touch. He seems to have an unusually bouncy running style, though. Off he goes, bouncing back up the pitch.
86 mins: Nasri and Carragher receive the day's first bookings, for an outbreak of minor aggression.
87 mins: Liverpool have a throw-in, midway inside their own half. It's thrown to Carroll, the most advanced player, who chests the ball down, turns and wellies a left-foot volley 80 yards across and down the pitch. City have the ball again.
90 mins: Oooooh! Just as we go into three minutes of stoppage time, Nasri crosses the ball and Aguero flicks a free header just over the bar.
90+1 mins: Glen Johnson wins the ball with a perfectly timed ... two-footed tackle. City's fans briefly demand a red card, but there isn't even a yellow. They're right to detect inconsistency there.
90+3 mins: Peeeeeeeep! It's all over. And thank lordy for that!
Near-final thoughts: So that's why they brought in three points for a win. Once Liverpool scored, they weren't minded to try to score a second, and for the entire second half they collapsed back into their own half, occasionally bringing on extra defenders. It was a decent enough defensive performance, against a severely disappointing City, but it destroyed the game as a spectacle. I'm sure they'll be delighted, but given that City were playing without their best defender, their best midfielder and their best forward, might a little bit more ambition have been rewarded? Could they have been heading back to Anfield with a bigger lead to defend?
"That's what we wanted to do," says Gerrard. "We wanted to come here, to get a clean sheet, and if possible to score a goal." Well tick, tick, tick in that case. "Sometimes you've got to do the ugly stuff," he adds.
The boys in the BBC studio are muttering about a crisis at Manchester City. I'm not sure about that, and a visit to Wigan on Monday will probably help to get the attacking juices flowing, but this was certainly an uninspired performance, albeit against a disciplined nine-man defence.
Final thoughts: The downside for Liverpool of making the majority of the game quite that dull is that us journalists will have to be a bit creative in search of a story. And the one we're going to settle on, it seems, is that late (in the game) two-footed tackle from Glen Johnson on Joleon Lescott. Clearly, if Kompany's was a red card Johnson's must also be. The offences are very similar, but Johnson's two feet were travelling at greater pace and therefore were more likely to inflict injury. Both tackles won the ball cleanly, but I can understand if it has been decided that two-footed, studs-up tackles are by nature dangerous and must be eliminated. If that's the case, though, someone should make sure that all the referees know about it, rather than just a couple of them.
Anyway, it's been a delight, albeit a delight sadly lacking in goalmouth action. Thanks for keeping me company. Bye!