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Liverpool 1 - 1 Manchester City: Five Thoughts

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An absorbing game and one in which both sides I'm sure will feel they could have won but ultimately emerge happy from. Heading into the game there was a chance for City to extend their lead over United to seven points but it was a spirited opponent that they came across, and a fixture in which historically they have got little from. In setting the bar so high this season, the slightest dip can lead to recrimination but on the whole this was a solid performance and a point at Anfield is no slim pickings.

Team wise, Roberto Mancini sprang a surprise in attack opting to start neither Edin Dzeko or Mario Balotelli, instead having Sergio Aguero supported by a fluid five-man midfield. The midfield battle was an interesting one; the first half City's trio of Gareth Barry, Yaya Toure and David Silva were composed and largely in control but starting the second half on level terms was a boost to Liverpool and their midfield - particularly Lucas Leiva and Charlie Adam - began to assume more of a footing and the pace in which Liverpool broke forward was impressive. At times though it did feel as though City's forward play was congested, with Samir Nasri the odd man out and it was no great surprise to see him eventually replaced as City pressed for the victory.

Credit must go to Liverpool for their approach. It may well have been a different game had City not conceded so quickly after taking the lead, but they are the first side (in the Premier League at least) to fully take the game to City and also manage to restrict them in the process. They headed into the game leading the league in terms of chances allowed and City managed just seven shots in total - half of their season average of 14. They - along with City - have allowed the lowest number of goals in the league this season, but what may hurt them over the course of the season is their inability to convert.

The number of goals City have scored this season has of course grabbed the headlines but one area that has crept into consciousness of late is a fragility in defence. There were times today where both Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott were decidedly uncomfortable in handling Luis Suarez and during the onslaught in the final stages were indebted to Joe Hart, who made a pair of wonderful saves. Hart hasn't had much opportunity to distinguish himself this season but he had a large part in ensuring City emerged with a point. Still, it is now just one clean sheet in ten games and for all the offensive threat the side carries, the defence will have to play its part in sustaining the title challenge.

Debate will also surround Balotelli's performance today. Introduced as a substitute, he lasted a mere seventeen minutes in which he contributed little but picked up two bookings that saw him sent off. His performances of late have been excellent, and have been accompanied with a refreshing smile but today (and possibly in midweek in Italy) a little of the 'old Mario' was on display; more withdrawn, almost sullen in his approach. In fairness to him both bookings were arguable and there may well have been more than a touch of the referee being influenced by the player in question. Publicly, at least, his manager backed him in the post-match interview but it would be judicious for a quiet word in private to be administered.