Carroll king of the Kop as Reds run riot
Man City 0
Liverpool were as good as Manchester City were appalling last night.
The hosts were inspired by Andy Carroll, who scored twice, either side of a Dirk Kuyt strike on an evening which provided another stirring reminder of how Liverpool have been revived by Kenny Dalglish.
As well as further evidence of the potency of the Carroll-Luis Suarez axis, Anfield revelled in the fine displays from two of their youngsters, Jay Spearing and particularly the debut-making John Flanagan.
The contrast with City was marked. From back to front, the poverty of City's display was bemusing, their lack of midfield bite alarming, and questions will inevitably be raised over why Roberto Mancini rested Nigel de Jong.
City have the FA Cup date with United on Saturday but qualification for the Champions League remains their No 1 priority. City could have gone into third, leapfrogging Chelsea, last night; instead City have allowed Tottenham to stay within range, only three points behind with a game in hand.
Mancini can argue that he didn't want to risk injury before Wembley. But the noisy neighbours look to have lost their big noise in Carlos Tevez, who appeared to tear his right hamstring.
Even before Carroll's terrific finish, a strike that carried echoes of his goal for England against Ghana, the attacking intent of both teams had quickly been evident. City were first out of the blocks, Adam Johnson running at Fabio Aurelio, dribbling past the Brazilian left-back but nudging the ball just out in front of a relieved Kop.
It proved a high point for the visitors. Blue Moon, false dawn? Liverpool were more swiftly and effectively into their stride, flowing forward time and again, looking to find Carroll and Luis Suarez, creating chaos in City's box even before Carroll's majestic first.
Suarez set up Kuyt early on but the Dutchman fired over. Still Liverpool pressed. Carroll swept a fine pass through to Suarez, who darted past Joleon Lescott and then fired in a shot that was low and hard, seemingly destined for the bottom corner until Joe Hart stretched out a finger and pushed the ball onto the post.
No matter. Liverpool were in the mood. Anfield's digital clock showed only 13 minutes when Vincent Kompany's clearance of a Raul Meireles shot fell to Carroll. The England striker's response was immense, the ball drilled past Hart from 25 yards.
City were culpable, Tevez having ceded the ball to Liverpool. Poor Tevez. Such a prolific force for City this season, such a tireless worker for the team, the Argentine soon limped off, indicating a torn hamstring. If confirmed, it will preclude Tevez's involvement against Manchester United, whose first-team coach Rene Meulensteen was an interested observer last night.
As Tevez trooped off towards the tunnel, cutting a totally disconsolate figure, Mario Balotelli ran on. City almost lost another player just afterwards when Johnson was caught by a nasty late challenge from Aurelio.
The Brazilian was fortunate that referee Mark Halsey deemed the offence only a yellow. Johnson was lucky he didn't depart on a stretcher.
Liverpool were soon hurting City by more legitimate means shortly after the half-hour. As the rain prepared to descend, Liverpool struck like lightning -- twice. First Kuyt capitalised on the chaos reigning in City's box, seizing on a loose ball to sweep a low shot from right to left past Hart.
City were stunned, lacking inspiration without Tevez, lacking midfield steel without De Jong and lacking touch without David Silva.
Mancini's defence, usually so strong this season, was a collection of strangers rather than a well-drilled unit. Kompany has been one of the best centre-halves of the season yet even he struggled here. City simply could not cope with the speed and angles of Liverpool's attacks.
When Aurelio then passed to Meireles down the left, Carroll began moving towards the penalty spot. Meireles lifted in the ball and it was left to Kolarov to deal with the marauding Carroll.
Liverpool's No 9 leapt to meet the ball; it hit Kolarov but Carroll appeared to get the last touch before it sped past Hart.
The visitors attempted to rally before the break, and Lescott headed Kolarov's free-kick wide, but the game seemed over as a contest.
In a half full of joy for Liverpool, the Kop enjoyed a hugely promising showing by the 18-year-old Flanagan on his debut.
The local lad clearly loves a tackle, sorting out Gareth Barry at one point, but he also demonstrated a decent touch, delivering a couple of good passes.
Flanagan continued to look lively in the second half, making a strong run towards an admiring Kop and dinking a pass accurately to Carroll.
Liverpool's fluidity contrasted with City's stumbling. Mancini sent on Silva but to little effect.
City needed their major players to stand up for them, to try and wrest the initiative from Liverpool. They needed Dzeko to look like a £27m striker. He didn't. They needed Balotelli to become involved. He didn't. The City fans were badly let down by some of their stars.
Liverpool had the game in a head-lock, and could have made it 4-0 just after the hour-mark. When Meireles drove in a corner, the unmarked Kuyt wasted a great opportunity with a header wide. City's defending was wretched and Liverpool could easily have scored in the 68th minute. Kompany and Lescott were all over the place as Suarez threatened.
The combination of Carroll and Suarez has been an instant success. Liverpool fans loved it, chanting 'Dalglish' and applauding the confident touches of Spearing and Flanagan.
City had a moment of hope, Yaya Toure letting fly and bringing some rare action for Pepe Reina, who fisted the ball over. Balotelli then departed, suffering the ignominy of being a substitute substituted.
The only ones in City blue who acquitted themselves well were their fans, as admirably defiant as their idols were wretched. (© Daily Telegraph, London)