Liverpool and Manchester city meet at Anfield on the evening of Wednesday 25th January 2012, for something more than a Burns Night supper – the two sides are in action in their FA Carling Cup 2011/12 Semi-Final second leg.
Liverpool hold a big advantage after coming away from the Etihad Stadium with a 1-0 victory in the First Leg of this two-legged tie, but, following a weekend of opposing fortunes in the league, tonight’s match is still anybody’s game.
Liverpool lost 3-1 to Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium on the weekend in the Premier League, following a performance which their manager Kenny Dalglish said after the match was one of their worst of the season. By contrast, Manchester City continued their spell at the top of the Barclays Premier League with a battling, last-gasp 3-2 victory at home to Tottenham Hotspur, on Sunday.
As with the first leg, a fortnight ago, however, Liverpool have had an extra day’s rest. Despite what many people say about the number of games that can be played in a week, 24 hours of rest after a competitive football match is important, and Liverpool have had 25% more recovery time as a result. A fortnight ago, in the first leg, we saw a somewhat jaded looking Manchester City get rolled over to a 1-0 defeat – and without Joe Hart it could have been worse – so City will hope that they don’t suffer the same lethargy in this match.
A Semi-Final is a Semi-Final, though, and, with a scent of Wembley in their nostrils, don’t expect a repeat of that lacklustre performance of a couple of weeks ago from City.
But if City are to pick up the minimum of two goals they will need to go through – without recourse to the Extra time or Penalties that decided the other Semi-final this season – it is likely they will need to do so without Mario Balotelli, the striker who scored their winning goal on Sunday, after the FA decided to ban him for four matches on Monday following video evidence of what appeared to be a stamp on Tottenham’s Scott Parker. They will also still be without captain Vincent Kompany who is serving the last of a four match ban following his dismissal against Manchester United in the FA cup.
Liverpool will once more be without Luis Suarez, who is still banned, while Jay Spearing is an injury doubt after he limped off with a hamstring strain two games ago.
With a slender advantage, of one away goal, it will be interesting to see the approach each of these coaches takes to this match. Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City have been free scoring in the league this season, but, aside from this Carling Cup run, they have not tended to be as devastating in attack during their cup matches. On the weekend, however, we saw that David Silva is a major key for them in linking midfield with attack. Much will depend on him tonight, and whether or not Liverpool can shut him down.
Both sides have been stingy in the league this season, though City have not looked anything like rock solid since Kompany was replaced by Savic in the heart of their defence, following the captain’s enforced absence. Liverpool will likely look to expose this young defender, who has looked nervy at times. Andy Carroll will most likely be the man for the task, as the powerful forward can be difficult to deal with at the best of times. That said, Liverpool have not been exactly free scoring this term, and a couple of City goals could well be enough to see the Sky Blues through to a Wembley Final tonight.
As in the first leg, this game is very difficult to call in advance. Both goalkeepers will no doubt be instrumental, and just who wins through, in the end, will come down to who takes their chances when they get them. On the balance of the season as a whole, and the weekend just passed, it looks, on paper, as though that side could well be City. But then, it is just these sort of conditions that bring out the best in Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool.
Another barnstorming 90 minutes – or more – awaits fans at Anfield Road tonight.
Liverpool v Manchester City kicks off at 19:45 GMT in Anfield Stadium, Liverpool, on the evening of Wednesday 25th January 2012.