Manchester City 0 Liverpool 1: Advantage Reds as spot on Gerrard inflicts successive defeat on City
Manchester City slumped to their second home defeat in four days as Steven Gerrard's early penalty moved Liverpool to within 90 minutes of their first Wembley appearance since 1996.
Lacking key men, including skipper Vincent Kompany who sat forlornly in the stands as he began a four-match ban, and drained by the energy exerted at having to play for 78 minutes with 10 men against Manchester United at the weekend, City were a shadow of their usual selves.
It represented the first time they had lost back-to-back games at the Etihad Stadium since February 2008, before Sheikh Mansour began his billion pound quest to conquer the English game.
Captain fantastic: Steven Gerrard settled the match with a penalty early in the first half
Man City: Hart, Richards, Lescott, Savic, Clichy, Milner, Barry, De Jong (Kolarov 72), Johnson (Dzeko 66), Aguero, Balotelli (Nasri 39). Subs not used: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Hargreaves, Onuoha.
Liverpool: Reina, Kelly, Skrtel, Agger, Johnson, Downing (Jose Enrique 59), Spearing (Adam 23), Henderson, Bellamy (Carragher 79), Gerrard, Carroll. Subs not used: Doni, Coates, Kuyt, Shelvey.
Scorer: Gerrard (pen) 13.
Referee: Lee Mason.
The only consolation came from
knowing they could still reach a Carling Cup final against either
Crystal Palace or Cardiff if they can reverse this result in the second
leg at Anfield in a fortnight.
Little wonder Roberto Mancini was so keen to fight Kompany's suspension.
With Kolo Toure on African Nations
Cup duty with the Ivory Coast, it forced the City boss to pitch Stefan
Savic into the biggest game of his fledgling Blues career.
The Montenegrin was only 21 last week
and has started just one Barclays Premier League game for City since
joining from Partizan Belgrade in the summer.
It soon became clear he was in for a difficult evening.
That Andy Carroll was able to spin
away from him and race onto Stewart Downing's through-ball said
everything given the wretched time the Liverpool striker has had in his
12 months on Merseyside.
Returning keeper Joe Hart was equal
to the shot, just as he was when Gerrard went for the far corner a
couple of minutes later and Downing had an effort deflected towards the
same area of his goal.
Tumbling down: Daniel Agger was crudely hacked down by Stefan Savic in the area
Savic had another trick up his sleeve
though as Daniel Agger forced his way into the box from the corner. The
youngster panicked, attempted to clear when he was nowhere near
favourite to reach the ball and Agger bit the dust.
Referee Lee Mason awarded the spot-kick and Gerrard drove it past England team-mate Hart to put the visitors ahead.
That all this occurred inside the
opening 11 minutes emphasised the difficulties City were having, and no
one epitomised them more than Mario Balotelli.
Cool head: Despite Joe hart's best efforts, his England team-mate tucked it just out of reach
An injury doubt beforehand, the
combustible Italian reacted in anger when Charlie Adam bundled him over,
then tapped him on the head as he ran away from the scene.
Balotelli belted the subsequent free-kick into the wall and then hobbled away for no discernable reason.
After a few more minutes of relative
inactivity, during which he let a straightforward pass roll out for a
throw-in and gave a free-kick as he tried to make amends, Mancini
decided he had seen enough.
Frustrations: Mario Balotelli was unable to impose himself at all, and was soon subbed off
Balotelli headed straight for the tunnel, bringing an end to another bizarre chapter in his career.
It was not until the last moments of
the half that City finally roused themselves, only for Samir Nasri to be
denied by Pepe Reina and James Milner to fire Micah Richards' cut-back
And you: Liverpool's Jay Spearing was also off for an early bath after picking up an injury
On Sunday, City responded
magnificently to a far worse half-time scoreline and almost secured a
result that would stand alongside any in this stellar season.
But they needed the kind of lift Aleksandar Kolarov gave them against United with that magnificent free-kick.
Keeping it interesting: Joe Hart pulled off a couple of really impressive saves at 0-1
This time around, they just encounter
frustration as Reina stayed on his feet long enough to prevent Aguero
getting a shot on target after the South American had spotted Martin
Kelly about to play a blind backpass.
Unusually poor in a heavy defeat on
the same ground eight days ago, Reina was also in the right place to
deny Richards' close-range header after the stand-in City skipper had
met Nasri's corner.
Preserved: At the other end, Pepe Reina was doing his bit to keep his team in the lead
The disappointment was that instead
of going for the jugular, against opponents so lacking in verve compared
to their thrill-a-minute efforts earlier in the season, Liverpool grew
increasingly more negative.
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High hopes, but no result: Andy Carroll was another who did little to attract attention