Manchester City's plans for world domination will have to be put on hold a little longer after a third defeat in four League matches, suffered in archetypal fashion.
Newly enriched they may be – and the chief executive wrote in the programme that "I am truly hopeful this may be the beginning of our time" – but the capacity for self-mutilation by shooting in the foot remains intact.
Shooting was excellent in the first half. They were 2-0 ahead at half-time with well-struck goals by Stephen Ireland and Javier Garrido, but from then on they were utterly outplayed. Fernando Torres scored twice on either side of Pablo Zabaleta's deserved sending off and at the start of added time, with Liverpool also down to 10 men – Martin Skrtel had gone off injured – Dirk Kuyt slid in the winning goal.
So City slip into the bottom half of the table, while Liverpool continue their best start to a season for 12 years to keep pace with Chelsea at the top. Having dropped Robbie Keane for Javier Mascherano as an extra midfield man, the visitors were ragged before half-time, with Steven Gerrard's passing often wayward and Torres experiencing little joy with insufficient support in attack. He came alive thereafter as the home side crumpled, managing barely a shot on goal in the whole of the second half.
Rafa Benitez's delight was diluted only by what he fears is a bad injury to Skrtel, who twisted a knee halting a rare City attack near the end. "It seems serious," Benitez said. "The positive thing is the reaction and character we saw in the second half, which was fantastic. In the first half we were making mistakes against a team that has pace and ability."
The pace was provided by Shaun Wright-Phillips, who was lively again down the right, and the trickery by City's three Brazilians, but Robinho was hardly seen once the pattern of the game changed and he was substituted 10 minutes from the end. Rather like Tottenham Hotspur when they first signed Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricky Villa, City are learning that even 30 years on there is more to football in England than South American flair.
Mark Hughes, the sanest of figures amid the insanity of Eastlands, was as down-to-earth as ever. "The disappointing thing was that we spoke about Liverpool's likely response and needed to be ready for it," he said. "We let them back into it so early and after the sending-off we were just trying to get through the game. We're a young team in terms of development and experience. What we need is that resoluteness to see games through."
In the opening 10 minutes of a fascinating game, City had hardly had a touch, with Robinho, stuck out on the far left, more of an onlooker than anyone. He then fired a first warning shot at Pepe Reina from 20 yards and decided the central area was more to his liking. For a while Jamie Carragher, unable to shake him with even the most thunderous of tackles, and Skrtel, had their hands full. In the 19th minute Wright-Phillips made for the byline and, receiving a lucky bounce off Xabi Alonso in an offside position, was able to screw the ball into the six-yard area. For a second time the bounce favoured City, sitting up off Alvaro Arbeloa for Ireland to volley in with venom.
In the previous seven meetings between the clubs, there had never been more than a single goal – invariably scored by Liverpool – but these are strange days here and before half-time City had another. Albert Riera fouled Wright-Phillips and from 25 yards Garrido curled the free-kick into the very top corner of the net beyond Reina's groping left hand.
The ultimate game of two halves then turned about-face. The second period began as the first had done, except that this time Liverpool received tangible reward for their dominance. Richard Dunne's careless stumble into the back of Kuyt might have conceded a penalty straightaway but in the 55th minute Gerrard played the ball through Garrido's legs for Arbeloa on the overlap to cross, Torres sliding it in.
Zabaleta, who had been enjoying a good duel with his former Espanyol team-mate Riera, did City no favours with his wild lunging tackle on Alonso, rightly punished with a red card. Five minutes later the team suffered when Gerrard swung a corner to the near post that Torres headed in without a challenge.
From that moment Liverpool had to be fancied to go on and win. The chance seemed to have disappeared when Torres, slightly off balance at the far post, skewed Andrea Dossena's cross over the bar, but just as six minutes of added time were being indicated the Spaniard's shot fell for Kuyt to knock in his first League goal for almost a year.
Goals: Ireland (19) 1-0; Garrido (41) 2-0; Torres (55) 2-1; Torres (73) 2-2; Kuyt (90) 2-3.
Manchester City (4-1-3-2): Hart; Zabaleta, Richards, Dunne, Garrido; Kompany; Wright-Phillips, Ireland, Elano (Petrov, 85); Jo (Gelson Fernandes, 70), Robinho (Evans, 80). Substitutes not used: Schmeichel (gk), Ben Haim, Hamann, Sturridge.
Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Reina; Arbeloa, Skrtel, Carragher, Aurelio (Dossena, 69); Mascherano (Keane, 70), Alonso; Kuyt, Gerrard, Riera (Benayoun, 80); Torres. Substitutes not used: Cavalieri (gk), Agger, Babel, Lucas.
Referee: P Walton (Northamtonshire).
Booked: Manchester City Dunne; Liverpool Arbeloa.
Sent off: Manchester City Zabaleta (67).
Man of the match: Torres.
Goals: Miller (31) 0-1;, Miller (40) 0-2; Bougherra (73) 0-3.
Hibernian (4-3-1-2): Ma-Kalambay; Van Zanten, Hogg, Jones, Stevenson; Bamba, Keenan (Pinau, 59), Murray; Shiels (Yantoro, 74); Riordan (Rankin,87), Fletcher. Substitutes not used: McNeil (gk), Thicot, Hanlon, Chisholm.
Rangers (4-4-2): Alexander; Broadfoot, Bougherra, Weir, Papac; Davis, Mendes, Thomson, Adam (Lafferty, 87); Darcheville (Novo, 71), Miller. Substitutes not used: McGregor, Dailly, Boyd, Niguez, McMillan.
Referee: C Murray (Scotland).
Booked: Hibernian Jones; Rangers Broadfoot, Darcheville.
Man of the match: Miller.
Torres 55, 73, Kuyt 90
Ireland 19, Garrido 41