City draw at Liverpool
Dirk Kuyt saved Liverpool from defeat against Manchester City, but this 1-1 draw left Rafa Benitez's side trailing Premier League leaders Manchester United by seven points. Kuyt's 78th minute goal cancelled out Alvaro Arbeloa's second half own goal, yet one point is unlikely to be enough for second placed Liverpool in their increasingly troubled bid to overhaul reigning champions United.
The Reds have now drawn four of their last six league games and, although they still have to face United at Old Trafford next month, they will need a major collapse from the champions to find a first league title since 1990. Despite Liverpool's need to maintain the pressure on United, Wednesday's trip to Spain for the UEFA Champions League last sixteen match against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu loomed large over this game.
The injury-enforced absence of Steven Gerrard and suspended midfielder Xabi Alonso had already weakened Liverpool, but Benitez still chose to rest key personnel with Fabio Aurelio and Daniel Agger both shielded from the starting line-up. But shorn of so many first-team players, Liverpool looked anything but the second-best team in England, and Madrid, who hit six past Real Betis yesterday to make it nine straight wins, will not have been worried by what they saw from their forthcoming opponents.
In the first-half, Liverpool were simply awful. Gerrard's absence left a huge hole behind lone striker Fernando Torres and it was not filled well by the lightweight Israeli, Yossi Benayoun, who failed miserably to trouble City goalkeeper Shay Given and his back four. Liverpool just could not build up a head of steam and their one genuine goalscoring opportunity before the interval came when Albert Riera's close range shot was blocked on the line by City defender Micah Richards.
City, without a Premier League away win since August, were little better than their hosts and the huge investment in the team made by manager Mark Hughes has yet to result in a team worthy of the lofty ambitions of the club's Abu Dhabi owners. Robinho, the 32.5 million pounds Brazilian, was anonymous save for one pass to Stephen Ireland on the half hour which left the Irish midfielder with a one-on-one with goalkeeper Jose Reina inside the penalty area. Ireland should have hit the ball with force to beat the Spaniard, but he instead aimed a tame side-foot shot at the keeper, who would have been disappointed had he not saved.
City were in confident mood, though, and the miss did not put the visitors off their stride. And instead of Liverpool attempting to capitalise on home advantage, City emerged in the second-half as the likeliest team to score. It did not take long for them to be rewarded either. Six minutes after the interval, Robinho's pass to Vincent Kompany sprung the offside trap and the Belgian midfielder pulled the ball back for Craig Bellamy, whose shot beat Reina via a wicked deflection off Arbeloa. It was a deserved opener and City grew in stature, with Ireland having a goal ruled out for offside before Robinho sent a free-kick narrowly wide.
But out of nowhere, Kuyt hauled Liverpool level on 78 minutes with a close range strike to give them hope of a victory that they barely deserved. It almost came too, but two world-class saves by Given from Kuyt and Benayoun in the final ten minutes edged United closer to an 18th domestic league title.