Despite the second-half sending off of Gareth Barry, the Citizens dominated Kenny Dalglish's side to gain a three-point cushion at the top of the Premier LeagueManchester City have opened a three-point lead at the top of the Premier League thanks to a comfortable 3-0 victory over Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium.
The hosts went ahead thanks to a Sergio Aguero strike, which squeezed beyond Pepe Reina after just 10 minutes and doubled their lead before half-time from a Vincent Kompany header.
A Gareth Barry red card, for a second bookable offence, gave the visitors hope of a comeback in the second half but this was immediately quelled by James Milner’s penalty, after Yaya Toure had been tripped in the box by Martin Skrtel.
Roberto Mancini made six changes to the side which lost in such dramatic fashion to Sunderland in City’s last outing. Aguero and David Silva, who featured as substitutes in that loss, returned in attack at the expense of Samir Nasri and Nigel de Jong. They were joined in the forward line by Milner, who took the place of Adam Johnson in a wide midfield role.
The Italian also made a number of defensive changes as Joleon Lescott, Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksandar Kolarov dropped out with Kolo Toure, Micah Richards and Gael Clichy returning.
For the visitors, Craig Bellamy, a two-goal hero in their previous game against Newcastle, was replaced by Dirk Kuyt in the only change made by manager Kenny Dalglish. Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez also missed out again as he began his eight-match ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra, after his club decided against an appeal.
With City’s title aspirations taking a real blow with a last-gasp defeat last time out and Liverpool looking to seize an opportunity to go level on points with fourth-placed Chelsea, the opening of the match was understandably cagey. Both sides battled for possession admirably in a congested midfield before the visitors carved the first chance of the match, seven minutes in.
A wonderful exchange between Jose Enrique, Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson saw Stewart Downing break the City line and find himself one-on-one with Joe Hart. However, the winger has yet to score in his Anfield career and betrayed his lack of confidence in front of goal by toeing weakly at the City keeper.
Liverpool had looked comfortable in the face of City’s expensively-assembled attacking line-up in the early exchanges and therefore it was unsurprising when a touch of fortune was necessary for the hosts to take the lead after 10 minutes. Kuyt needlessly lost the ball in his own half, only to see it pounced upon by Milner before Silva released Aguero. His subsequent shot had little venom, and should have been a comfortable take for Reina, but the Spaniard misjudged and saw the ball go under his midrift and into the net.
The visitors showed great determination to repel the ensuing barrage of attacks from Mancini’s side and continued to attempt to carve chances of their own at the other end. A patient exchange gave Kuyt space on the right before his cross was met by Carroll, who nodded over the bar from a difficult angle.
However, City had yet to drop a single point in their previous nine fixtures at home in the league this season and nearly showed why as another touch of luck almost proved decisive. Edin Dzeko broke forward into the vacated space in front of the Liverpool backline and released a shot which took a deflection that barely missed the post with Reina stranded.
The Reds didn’t allow that let-off to dampen their desire to get back in the game as a Carroll knock down left Kolo Toure with little option but to bring down Charlie Adam at the edge of his own area. The subsequent free-kick was a poor one however and was easily hoofed clear after hitting the hosts’ wall.
Moments later, City felt aggrieved not to have been awarded a penalty as Silva’s pass allowed Aguero into the box and he appealed as Skrtel seemed to have handled in dispossessing the Argentine.
If the hosts felt some injustice at that decision, they went about setting it right in typical fashion. A Reina save from Kompany’s header from a corner had gone some way to atoning for his error but the Spaniard could do little to prevent the next set-piece. Silva swung in again and this time Yaya Toure was the man to meet the ball after escaping Glen Johnson’s attentions and the Ivorian made no mistake in nodding home off the underside of the bar to give his side a two-goal lead.
Liverpool had undoubtedly contributed to the contest up until that point but the second goal, so softly conceded, seemed to have taken the wind from their sails. Their hosts were thus more than willing to take the edge out of the contest and preserve their lead, as it slowed down to a snail’s pace.
Yaya hurrah | Toure heads past Reina to make it 2-0 to Manchester City in the first half
The Reds still managed one more chance before the half ended, however, as another well-won Carroll knockdown saw Kuyt brilliantly denied in the box by Kompany.
Despite his side’s desperate need for a goal to get back in the game, Dalglish opted not to make any changes at half-time. His decision seemed to be bearing fruit as Liverpool dominated the ball in the opening stages of the second half but once again failed to provide the killer touch on several occasions.
That the half appeared to be continuing in the same vein as the first led Dalglish to eventually make a change after just 10 minutes. Steven Gerrard continued his comeback from injury, replacing Adam, as the ineffective Kuyt gave way to Bellamy in a double substitution.
However, the changes failed to have the desired effect in any immediate sense as the game continued to play out mostly in the midfield and between two stubborn defences.
Their frustration was summed up nicely by a passage of play in which captain Gerrard looked to cross from the edge of the area but had just one man, Carroll, to aim for.
Given the ease with which the Citizens were keeping their visitors at bay it was something of a surprise when Mancini looked to make an attacking change with 20 minutes remaining. Aguero, who had not had his best evening beyond his goal, was withdrawn for winger Johnson.
The Italian may well have regretted this move just seconds later as Gareth Barry needlessly took down Daniel Agger in midfield to see his second yellow card of the evening and the subsequent red which ended his night early.
The card would have buoyed Dalglish but his joy was to prove only temporary as Yaya Toure broke up the field seconds later before being seemingly tripped by Skrtel in the box to win a penalty. Milner duly dispatched the spot kick but replays appeared to show that the Slovakian defender had avoided any contact with the Citizens midfielder.
Though the hosts had a deficit in numbers to deal with in the final 15 minutes, the scoreline gave them adequate comfort coupled with the addition of Lescott at Silva’s expense. That meant Dalglish’s removal of defensive anchorman Spearing for Maxi Rodriguez had little effect on the intent, and most importantly belief, of a soundly beaten Liverpool.
The hosts thus strolled through the closing stages with ease and sealed their place atop the Premier League.