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Five Aside: Di Maria a skillful crosser

Five Aside 16 hours ago
Read
Aug 26, 2012

Reds pass up chance to win

Perpetual passing is the idea, the instruction, the ethos. It is Brendan Rodgers' philosophy, something that sets him apart from more pragmatic counterparts. Yet, for once, the vision that has propelled him from coaching Reading's youth teams to Liverpool's first XI was his undoing. Or, to be precise, one particular pass was.

As he was closed down on the left touchline, Martin Skrtel found himself in a situation in which many another stopper would have followed safety-first principles - clear your lines, if in doubt boot it out, and other tried-and-trusted methods from the centre-half's handbook. But possession is the priority at Anfield and the Slovakian took the only available option. He passed it back to Pepe Reina.

Or rather, he didn't. He passed it blind, allowing a predatory Carlos Tevez to nip in and pilfer a point for Manchester City. "It is one where I commend the courage. The easy thing is to smash it up the pitch," Rodgers said. In this instance, it would have also been the advisable approach.

But two defensive aberrations denied Liverpool a deserved victory - Pepe Reina had flapped at a Tevez cross, allowing Yaya Toure to score City's first equaliser - with the second illustrating the teething troubles that Rodgers the revolutionary faces. Eight days earlier at The Hawthorns, Skrtel had conceded a penalty after being caught on the ball in his own box. Dominant defenders can become strangely uncertain when asked to ape midfielders. While some are embracing the new era, others are finding the adaptation process awkward.

And yet what preceded it was an endorsement of Rodgers and an advertisement for him. It would be an exaggeration to say Liverpool out-passed and outclassed the champions but, after finishing 37 points behind Manchester City last season, they almost began Rodgers' reign at Anfield with a distinguished scalp.

There is a quiet radicalism to him. Change is happening quickly. Joe Allen, the personification of his brand of football, was the game's outstanding player despite - or perhaps because of - a fifth-minute switch to the holding role. He has an ability to receive and recycle possession. Simplicity can be difficult, but Allen makes the game look simple.

"The Liverpool supporters will enjoy watching this kid play football," Rodgers said. "He is 5ft 6in but in terms of his football, he is 7ft 6in. He is absolutely immense." Another who is emblematic of the new regime was Raheem Sterling. Parachuted into the starting line-up for a first league start - "an easy decision," according to his manager - the 17-year-old winger began with the automatic advantage of not being Stewart Downing but prospered in his own right. There was a frisson of excitement when he was on the ball, a short, sharp teenager displaying the dynamism the dropped Downing lacks.

When Lucas limped off, another ingénue was introduced. Jonjo Shelvey has leapfrogged three of Kenny Dalglish's signings in the queue for midfield places. Indeed only two starters came from the Scot's £120 million spending spree and one of those, Sebastian Coates, was deputising for the banned Daniel Agger. That he was preferred to Jamie Carragher told a tale in itself. This is a new-look Liverpool.

They produced a performance of ambition, undermined only by individual errors at the back and familiar failings in front of goal. The two they did score were impressive, a thumping header from Skrtel after Steven Gerrard's corner and an inch-perfect free kick from Luis Suarez, but the Uruguayan and Fabio Borini also squandered a series of openings.

"The best team didn't win," Rodgers lamented. "I thought we were outstanding." Roberto Mancini disagreed, speaking of "three or four incredible chances" in the first half-hour. There was an element of exaggeration, although Tevez did strike the post from the most acute of angles.

The rejuvenated refusenik then supplied the cross for Toure's equaliser and added another leveller himself, his 100th goal in English football. After spending a year searching for an exit from the Etihad, he has now pronounced himself so eager to stay that he would extend his contract. A foe has turned friend in his bid to remain in Manchester. Asked if he would welcome that, Mancini replied: "Play like this, I am sure."

Theirs has been a pragmatic renewal of vows with nothing of Rodgers' purism. But while Tevez may not be the idealists' choice, he has maintained his prolific start to the season. In unwanted fashion, so has Skrtel. One concession in each league match can be attributed to him. In their different ways, they are both goal-a-game men.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Joe Allen. A class act. "We paid £15 million but I said when he came in that price will double," Rodgers said. "Some people probably laughed." That may be hyperbolic but Liverpool sold Xabi Alonso for £30 million and Allen may be their finest passer of a ball to arrive at Anfield since then.

LIVERPOOL VERDICT: An encouraging display in many respects, not all of them immediately associated with Rodgers' brand of football. It has been a failing that they have not scored enough from set-pieces but they got two goals from dead-ball situations, even getting one from a corner. There was a pleasing cohesion to them as well as plenty of fine individual performances, including Allen, Sterling, Suarez and Gerrard. The day's great losers were the men omitted and the signs are already there that substitutes Carragher, Downing, Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson, plus Charlie Adam and Jay Spearing, who weren't even on the bench, will only be fringe players.

MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: Their first goal owed much to Mancini's favourite substitution, a seemingly defensive switch to push Yaya Toure further forward. The City manager also played 3-4-1-2, as he had done in the Community Shield and pre-season, and Rodgers admitted it took Liverpool a few minutes to adjust. It is a shape with merit but it is hard to accommodate both David Silva and Samir Nasri. On this occasion, the Spaniard started on the bench.

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