Offshore drilling, England: at Liverpool 2, Manchester City 2

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Man of the Match: Perhaps Steven Gerrard is at the point of his career where he can’t be expected to bring his A-game every match, but when he’s on, he can still be a game’s most important player. Today, Gerrard’s passing set the tone for Liverpool, whether it be his direct balls into attack to bridge the gap between midfield and Luis Suarez or his creative switching of play to bring Glen Johnson, Raheem Sterling, and Fabio Borini into play. The prime example: In the 34th minute, his sharp ball into the box forced the corner which, tanks to his bullet for Martin Skrtel, put Liverpool up 1-0.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Manchester City made five changes from the team that beat Southampton, starting in a 5-3-2 formation. Mancini’s preseason toy was being put into play.
  • Did it matter? Hard to tell. Liverpool had most of their early success going straight to Luis Suarez, getting the best of the three-on-three midfield battle. If Manchester City used last week’s formation. Liverpool would have had a three-on-two advantage and would have still been able to utilize their wingers behind Samir Nasri and David Silva (who came off the bench today).
  • A bigger factor was the play of City’s individual defenders. Vincent Kompany had a rare off day, while Aleksandr Kolarov looked like the man who’s lost his first choice spot to Gael Clichy.
  • You’d think City would have still had enough numbers at the back to handle Liverpool, and for the most part, they did. The Reds only had three shots on goal, but thanks to Suarez – who City never really got a handle on – Liverpool had no problem transitioning into attack and keeping the ball (City had a 51-49 Opta possession advantage at match’s end).
  • But for all his work in open play, Suarez’s place on the scoresheet came from a dead ball, curling a 25-yard free kick inside the right post in the 66th minute, taking advantage of Joe Hart’s ill-placed wall.
  • The kick came after a Jack Rodwell hand ball, the new recruit committing the foul as he slid to block a shot. It was the second week in a row a Rodwell mistake led directly to a goal.
  • Hart has also had a couple of bad games. At least, they were bad be his standards. After slow reactions on the two goals against Southampton, Hart let Liverpool take a 2-1 lead on a direct kick that should have posed little problem.
  • Good news for Hart: Martin Skrtel saved him with a back pass that led to City’s 80th minute equalizer. Has a defender ever been justified to blindly kick it back to his keeper? Even if the ball gets there, was it really worth the risk? On Sunday, it wasn’t, as Carlos Tevez intercepted the ball, went right around Pepe Reina (who misplayed a cross on the first goal), and made it 2-2.
  • It was a tough ending for a Liverpool team that probably should have had three points. The numbers (possession, shots) look similar, but Liverpool was the more dangerous side throughout. To drop two points on a mistake like Skrtel’s overshadows the accomplishment of getting a result from the defending champions.
  • But Reds’ supporters should take solace in the actual performance. Tottenham’s yet to look that good. Neither have Newcastle or Arsenal (and arguably, Manchester United), other teams with whom Liverpool are expected to compete for European spots. It was a great way to rebound from last week’s disappointment.
  • The only bad news for Liverpool: Lucas Leiva left after three minutes with an apparent right thigh problem.
  • For City, they’ve needed late goals to get results against two teams there were expected to beat. Four points amid mixed form is a nice problem to have. Still, in the context of a highly competitive Premier League, it’s a problem.