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City 0 - 0 Liverpool

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Less a battle for fourth spot then and more like ninety minutes of jostling as both sides failed to seize the initiative in a game that disappointed neither side but equally failed to satisfy them on a day when the biggest winners were Tottenham and Aston Villa, who both secured big wins elsewhere.

If both sides do have designs on Champions League qualification then they must improve on this showing. Perhaps the prize at stake - three crucial points - weighed too heavily on the minds of Roberto Mancini and Rafa Benitez, the fear of defeat meaning a point was a suitable return rather than risk losing ground in the chase for all three points.

Whilst the tactics were understandable, and both sides executed their instructions to the letter, what was hugely disappointing was the poor quality from both sides in the attacking third, a deficiency which stymid ambition and resulted in a turgid offering that failed to rouse a crowd that needed all the help it could get on a bitterly cold afternoon.

Liverpool were particularly poor. Content to play the role as a spoiler - which as the away side was expected - they accumulated six bookings, for a myriad of transgressions. Their talisman figure, Steven Gerrard, appeared happier attempting to manipulate the referee than he did to manipulate the ball. Until Yossi Benayoun was introduced, they had very little creativity or quality going forward. Ryan Babel and Dirk Kuyt offered little if anything in terms of productivity.

The suspension of Patrick Vieira meant a reshufflein personnel and formation. Stephen Ireland came into the side along with Shaun Wright-Phillips (for Roque Santa Cruz) in an expected line-up but not the 4-2-3-1 that was anticipated. Instead, a 4-5-1 with Ireland in the fantasista role, deployed almost as a second striker. This meant he should have been the fulcrum of the side (a la Francesco Totti for Roma) with the freedom and space he has craved of late. Instead, he was the biggest disappointment. With the side relying heavily on the trio of him, Wright-Phillips and Adam Johnson. Only Johnson impressed, and when the final whistle sounded, Ireland and Wright-Phillips were both back on the bench, a big opportunity let slip.

Although not hugely tested, the defence impressed. Pablo Zabaleta, surprisingly restored in place of Micah Richards, was strong and marauded forward well, as did Wayne Bridge on the opposite side. In the centre, an important decision was made with Kolo Toure relegated to the bench to accomodate the returning Vincent Kompany. They struck a solid looking partnership and look to be the pairing for the remainder of the season.

Craig Bellamy's introduction sparked life into the side, but whilst providing a couple of flashes, could not muster anything meaningful. His return was important though for important games ahead but the return of Carlos Tevez is less clear. Mancini remains hopeful he will be available for Stoke this Wednesday but it is not certain.

Without his presence, goals are increasingly hard to come by and whilst the team has proved itself in term of its solidity, there is a big hole in the attack that Mancini has yet to fill.

He will be hoping for an imminent return from the Argentinian.