Manchester City stroll past lame Liverpool
If it was a siege mentality that Kenny Dalglish hoped to engender in his team by his club's steadfast refusal to accept any blame over the Luis Suarez affair then unfortunately for Liverpool this was one of the shortest sieges in living memory.
They were breached within 10 minutes by a goal from Sergio Aguero and after that they succumbed meekly even if there were times last night when the result felt like a secondary consideration. The shadow of Suarez and his eight-game ban looms over this Liverpool team and we are not just talking about his presence on the pitch.
The statement that accompanied Liverpool's decision yesterday evening not to appeal Suarez's ban did not give an inch in terms of its attack on the Football Association and Patrice Evra's integrity. It made no effort to apologise for Evra's offence taken at the word "negro" – regardless of whether Suarez feels it is an insult or not – and it simply repeated the belief that there was a conspiracy about Liverpool's treatment.
In the aftermath of the game, Dalglish came under the most exacting cross-examination of his club's motives yet. He said he certainly did not regret the Suarez T-shirts at the away game at Wigan. He said that there was more that was left out the report. He questioned whether the assembled reporters had listened to the right linguistic experts on the issue of the word "negro" in rioplatense Spanish.
In short, Dalglish made it quite clear that Liverpool or Suarez will not be showing any contrition now or indeed ever over what took place in Anfield on 15 October. He is convinced he is in the right but he is not prepared to divulge what it is he knows. For those of us who admire the Liverpool manager it was hard to see yesterday why accepting at least some responsibility is so difficult for his club.
When such an important principle is at stake, as it is in this dispute between the FA and Liverpool over Suarez's guilt, it can seem inconsequential to turn minds back to the football, but eventually that is where it leads back to in the end. It will be 6 February at the earliest that Dalglish can expect Suarez back in the side – against Tottenham – and until then he has problems.
It should be said that those problems are not solely concentrated on Andy Carroll, although the pressure is undoubtedly on him to deliver. Vincent Kompany and Kolo Touré were effortlessly in control of Carroll at times and the Liverpool striker's life did not seem to get any easier when Steven Gerrard came on for the last 33 minutes or when City went down to 10 men when Gareth Barry was sent off.
There were more considerable problems in the centre of defence where Liverpool conceded a second goal direct from a corner that Yaya Touré headed in off the bar. Martin Skrtel gave away a penalty for the third goal with a trip on the same Touré brother. If all that were not bad enough then the first was a terrible misjudgement from Pepe Reina who allowed the ball to squirm under his body.
Dalglish refused, in his words, to "isolate individuals" after the game but even he had to acknowledge that his team had "suffered" for their failures in front of goal. Stewart Downing had a good chance on seven minutes when played in but the winger's chronic lack of confidence when it comes to goalscoring seemed to overwhelm him and he struck his shot straight at Joe Hart
There was a shot from Carroll in the first half and a knockdown to Dirk Kuyt before half-time which Kompany blocked. Otherwise it was not a performance that suggested the £35m man was about to pick up the baton that has been laid down by Suarez.
The win for City restores their lead over Manchester United at the top of the Premier League to three points and demands that the defending champions go to St James' Park tonight and win if they are to keep pace. The only blemish was Roberto Mancini's impulsive card gesture to referee Mike Jones when Skrtel fouled Touré for the penalty which, to the City manager's credit, he immediately apologised for.
The City fans sang to the away support "You keep your history, the future is ours" and for the time being at least that looks like the way it is going. There are now 14 points between Liverpool in sixth place and the Premier League leaders and the return to east Manchester a week today for the Carling Cup semi-final first leg looks even more crucial for Liverpool. That competition offers them a chance to win something this season and with or without Suarez that is too good an opportunity to allow them to pass by.
In the build-up to the first goal, Kuyt listlessly allowed James Milner to win the ball outside the Liverpool area and from there possession went to Aguero via David Silva. The Argentine hit his shot early and it disappeared underneath Reina and into the Liverpool goal.
They came back into the game briefly after City's first goal although they failed to make much of it in terms of chances. City scored again on 33 minutes. It was painfully simple: Silva's corner from the right was headed past Reina by Yaya Touré.
Barry had been booked in the first half for a foul on Jay Spearing by referee Jones, a replacement for Andre Marriner whom the Premier League said was injured. Marriner was also the referee for the Suarez-Evra game in October. Jones very nearly gave Barry his second booking for a careless tackle on Gerrard. Barry's subsequent foul on Daniel Agger looked innocuous but it convinced Jones that he had to go.
That might have been the moment that Liverpool re-doubled their efforts. Instead, minutes later, Yaya Touré was running through on goal, Skrtel stretched out a cautious leg and the Ivorian went over it. Milner swept in the third from the penalty spot. It could be a long wait for Suarez to return.
Man of the match Kompany.
Match rating 5/10.
Referee M Jones (Cheshire).