Monday 22 May 2017

Tevez on the money as City find higher gear

Manchester City's Carlos Tevez celebrates scoring his side's second goal during the Premier League clash with Liverpool last night - City won 3-0. Photo: PA
Manchester City's Carlos Tevez celebrates scoring his side's second goal during the Premier League clash with Liverpool last night - City won 3-0. Photo: PA

THEY were singing in the rain here last night, and the song was a stirring rendition of 'Blue Moon'.

Goals from Gareth Barry and Carlos Tevez (twice) gave Manchester City a deserved victory over a lacklustre Liverpool side, but the pair should share the headlines with the outstanding duo of Adam Johnson and James Milner, who stretched and skewered Liverpool.

It was a performance fit for a king and Sheikh Mansour will have enjoyed his visit. In building for the future, City's owner has sensibly invested in young players, by and large, and Johnson and the debut-making Milner were exceptional.

Starting on the flanks, they worked the length of the pitch, assisting their full-backs and racing forward. Milner was so imperious that a frustrated Steven Gerrard began chipping away at him in the second half.

This was a damaging defeat for Gerrard's team, who badly missed the defensive-midfield expertise of Javier Mascherano, seemingly destined for Barcelona after not "being in the right mind'' to play here, according to Roy Hodgson. The Liverpool manager's 4-1-3-2 system didn't work and nor did the Fernando Torres-David Ngog axis. Joe Cole's suspension helped explain Liverpool's lack of creativity.

If Barry and Tevez, Johnson and Milner deserve huge praise, Roberto Mancini also merits positive mention in despatches. His approach was right, the team's mood was right and he was rewarded.

This was a great night for City, for young Englishmen like Johnson and Milner, for Tevez and for Mancini. The Italian's tactics had initially raised a few eyebrows, with Yaya Toure, not the most lithe individual at work in the modern era, seeming an unlikely choice in the hole behind Tevez, but City soon took the lead.

After 13 minutes, Toure showed surprising deftness to manoeuvre the ball wide to Johnson, who had already given notice of his calibre by troubling Daniel Agger.

The finish was made in England, Johnson cleverly teasing the ball between Agger and Milan Jovanovic for Milner. Newly arrived from Aston Villa, Milner had been darting all over the final third, starting his debut brightly from his left-sided station.

Milner raced on to Johnson's pass and Liverpool were caught completely flat-footed as the youngster pulled the ball back for Gareth Barry to sidefoot home.

City then demonstrated their steely side, Mancini's players putting in a series of tackles as Liverpool sought vainfully to build a head of steam.

Nigel de Jong dispossessed David Ngog. Vincent Kompany stole the ball off Jovanovic. Barry, once coveted by Liverpool, slid in on Ngog and Lucas in quick succession, earning deserved cheers with the timing of the tackle and intensity of his commitment.

Such an ethos was seen from back to front, from Micah Richards clearing Johnson's cross and then flattening Jovanovic in a man-and-ball tackle to Johnson throwing himself in the way of a Martin Skrtel clearance.

To a man from the land of catenaccio, such pressing and defensive expertise will have delighted Mancini. His team still exuded creativity on the counter. Toure bent the ball with the outside of his right boot to Joleon Lescott on the left, turned and ambled toward the far post. When Lescott's cross came in, Toure began his ascent but Agger leapt up to intercept.

Still City pressured. Still Johnson had Agger moving like a feather in a wind tunnel.

On receiving the ball, Johnson constantly sought to take on Agger, at one point gliding past him and unleashing a low left-footer that had Pepe Reina scrambling to his left. The shot went wide, but Reina knew he had to be on his toes.

For 10 minutes before the break, Johnson and Milner switched flanks, highlighting their versatility.

Milner's energy was exceptional, one moment pushing towards Liverpool's box and the next tracking back to nick the ball off Glen Johnson. Such work rate disrupted Liverpool's hopes of building a rhythm. Gerrard was not at the races, not really sure whether to hold alongside Lucas or push up towards Torres and Ngog.

As the half closed, Gerrard tried to drag Liverpool back into contention but his shooting was poor.

City extended their lead shortly in the second period. More good work from Johnson brought City a corner. Milner curled it in and Liverpool's man-marking system was caught out. Richards outmuscled Agger and headed powerfully down, Tevez getting the faintest of touches as the ball journeyed past Reina.

Badly shaken, Liverpool finally stirred. Gerrard let fly from 25 yards, the ball clipping the post before bouncing back. Still the danger had not ebbed. Ngog tried his luck, ramming the shot goalwards but Hart saved superbly.

The applause doubled when the England No 1 threw himself forward to block Torres' follow-up effort. Liverpool became frustrated and fractious.

Gerrard tangled with Milner and then had a full and frank exchange of opinions with City's No 7, who showed little inclination to stand down. Liverpool's mood darkened further when Johnson dribbled into the box, eluding Agger and then being caught by Skrtel.

Already cautioned, the Liverpool centre-half should have been booked again, a point Johnson made, much to Jamie Carragher's anger. City still drew due punishment from the spot, Tevez driving the ball past Reina.

It was all over bar the singing. Lifted on English wings, the Blue Moon's rising. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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