City in ruins as Reds run riot
Strikers have a natural tendency to command the attention, but sometimes it is exacerbated. The stark contrast of a rich plot meant that, ignoring the other 20 players, an emphatic win of the old order over the new could be distilled into images of a delighted Andy Carroll and a disconsolate Carlos Tevez.
Mentions of money are inevitable where Manchester City are concerned, but there was a twist to this particular tale of financial figures. The eighth most expensive footballer of all time is not one of their recruits but Liverpool's totemic target man. If Carroll's £35 million fee still seems excessive, it is unlikely to escape attention around Anfield that he has now scored before his predecessor in the No. 9 shirt, Fernando Torres, opens his Chelsea account. A distinguished forward forerunner sat in the directors' box, but even Ian Rush would struggle to terrorise defenders in the air the way the Geordie does.
A cathartic evening for Carroll was a crushing one for City, who contrived to offer both Liverpool and Tottenham hope in their pursuit of fourth place and Manchester United encouragement for Saturday's semi-final showdown in the FA Cup. While it is hard to imagine Sir Alex Ferguson enjoying too many Liverpool wins, he may have savoured the sight of shambolic City losing their hamstrung captain.
The Wembley derby should take place without either Tevez or his former brother-in-arms Wayne Rooney. "It will be very difficult for the semi-final," Roberto Mancini said. "I don't think he will play." That much was evident from a distraught Tevez's face.
The strikers on the touchline presented other pictures, Mancini shaking his head in disbelief while Kenny Dalglish, always an enthusiastic celebrator of goals, was exuberant even by his own standards. This was vindication. Carroll has a giant frame but, on a slow start to his Liverpool career, his manager served as his minder: Dalglish's reputation afforded protection until, in his sixth game and after 304 minutes of first-team football, the desired goal finally arrived.
It came with a rasping strike on his favoured left foot. Carroll hits the ball with a primal whack, though the force can disguise the technique involved to keep a shot down. This one whistled in. It was symbolic of the fortunes of the two sides that he had dispossessed a hobbling Tevez in the build-up. Carroll is a curiosity, a man with a hammer of a left foot and an intimidating physique. The ball still bounces off him, sometimes at unfortunate angles, but his capacity to wreak havoc has benefits. His second was a trademark effort: Raul Meireles crossed and the Geordie took off into the Anfield stratosphere, the ball flying past Joe Hart as he powered into Aleksandar Kolarov. "The first one was a fantastic strike, the second a good header," his manager said. "The players thoroughly deserved the 3-0 win."
Carroll's strikes bookended a goal by the scourge of Manchester. Following his hat-trick against United, Dirk Kuyt added one against City, an angled sidefoot to reward him for his constant endeavour.
The final scoreline flattered City. Luis Suarez, an irrepressible presence, had struck a post after seven minutes, with Hart's fingertip save sparing the visitors a still heavier defeat. A fourth goal was threatened in the second half, too, when Kuyt twice came close and the visitors remained resolutely awful. This was the heaviest away defeat of their time as the world's richest club.
Mancini found a scapegoat: himself. "I am disappointed with myself because I think I made a mistake. It was my fault," he added. His unspecified error was, he said, "both tactical and preparation". The mea culpa may have been admirable but seemed strange when he insisted: "The players played 100%."
It was a defeat to reinforce the reliance on a select few. For all the money spent assembling this City squad, they are heavily dependent on the spine of Vincent Kompany, Nigel de Jong, David Silva and Tevez. Two of them didn't start and a third lasted less than a quarter of an hour. Resting the Dutchman and the Spaniard had a logic - and hindsight suggests Mancini should have omitted his captain, too - but it seemed to send out the wrong signal to the remaining rabble.
City have not won away from home in 2011 and, until Yaya Toure stung Jose Reina's palms with minutes remaining, they couldn't muster a meaningful shot on target. In every respect, it was an opportunity missed. Injuries compelled Dalglish to pick a debutant right-back, John Flanagan - 18 and looking younger - but he went untroubled. City missed a trick by failing to switch the more elusive Adam Johnson to their left wing.
He was City's sole threat. If Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli were embarking on a private battle to deputise for Tevez at Wembley, it offered the conclusion that neither deserves to play. The Italian's fondness for Knowsley Safari Park means he enjoys visiting parts of Merseyside, but not Anfield. The substitute was substituted to a predictable chorus of "what a waste of money". Such sentiments have been voiced about Carroll before, but not on the night he illuminated Anfield.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Andy Carroll. Overshadowed by Suarez until now, the costlier half of the £58 million strike force produced his best performance since his switch from Newcastle.
LIVERPOOL VERDICT: Liverpool are unlikely underdogs, but under Dalglish they tend to upset more favoured contenders. City joined Chelsea and United among his victims and this may have been the most emphatic win of all. The caretaker manager is a canny operator, a man who can sniff a weakness and exploit it, and it was notable that Liverpool tore into City from the off. Jay Spearing enjoyed another fine game in the midfield and the way the three men supporting Carroll - Suarez, Kuyt and Meireles - interchanged boded well.
MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: Having opted to rest Silva and De Jong, it was bizarre to bring them on when three goals down. Both were sorely missed. There is a void in the City midfield whenever the Dutchman does not play, while James Milner endured another ineffectual evening on the wing. As for Balotelli, his manager admitted: "Mario was not good." He and Dzeko cost a combined £52 million: in comparison, Suarez and Carroll look like bargains.