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City 2-2 Liverpool

A pulsating afternoon of football ultimately ended in disappointment for the blue half of Manchester yesterday afternoon as Liverpool took a share of the spoils at the Etihad....

Alex Livesey
In what was billed as a 'must win' game for the champions there can be few complaints with the outcome as both sides traded blows in the Manchester drizzle. Those from across town - faced with the unusual prospect of cheering on Liverpool - must have been content to see the gap at the top stretched to 9 points. There is next to no margin for error now for Mancini’s men if the title is to be retained.

Indeed post game Mancini declared that City would need to win all their 13 remaining fixtures if they are to match last season’s achievement. No mean feat with Chelsea, Everton and United all still to play. And on this form points will undoubtedly be dropped along the way.

This was a patchy display from the home side. Starting brightly - with David Silva nearly catching out Reina after a few minutes - the visitors steadily grew into the game and with Sturridge and Suarez in tandem up front, posed a real threat to a City defence shorn of Kompany and with Nastasic and Lescott partnered for the first time. When City did take the lead, slightly against the run of play, it was an excellent goal by virtue of its simplicity. Silva released Milner in one of those channels he takes up so well on the left hand side. His centre was perfectly played into Edin Dzeko who finished first time.

The goal failed to have the desired settling effect for the home side and Liverpool were level not long after. Dzeko was undoubtedly caught by Daniel Agger as he challenged from behind and with the Bosnian down and the fans baying for the ball to be kicked into touch Liverpool advanced. Amidst the furore there was still no excuse for the inability of Garcia to clear from the edge of the box and Sturridge lashed home to give Hart no chance. There was no celebration from the unpopular former academy player.

Both sides will have concluded that the vulnerabilities in their opponents were largely defensive and best exploited if they pushed forward. The result was an open end to end second half - great for the neutral but no doubt concerning for Mancini who has established this side to control and monopolise possession above all else. Milner was busy, Aguero was prominent albeit in areas too deep to hurt Liverpool and the SAS strike force in red was a constant threat on the counter, ably prompted by Steven Gerrard and Stewart Downing, confidence now seemingly replenished.

Two extraordinary strikes were to illuminate proceedings. The first saw Gerrard rolling back the years to rifle home from 25 yards out on the half volley, an unstoppable strike that brought cheers from those of a red persuasion across Merseyside and Manchester. Now 2-1 down, things were looking desperate for City, in real need of inspiration - once again the source was Kun Aguero. As Pepe Reina rashly came to collect a slightly overhit forward ball from Barry, wide left of the penalty area, the little Argentine nipped in controlled the ball with his left leg and instinctively swept the ball towards goal with his right in one movement. The angle was acute but the ball dropped perfectly inside the far post. A brilliant goal that breathed hope into the stadium again.

Alas the grand stand finish did not materialise and in truth a goal at the other end was equally as likely as a City winner. News that Nigeria beat the Ivory Coast in South Africa provided a post game fillip for the Blues with the Toure boys set to return for the final third of the season. The squad will have to be at full strength and utilised well if there is to be another turnaround come the seasons climax.

Man of the Match: James Milner