Manchester City retained their imperious 100 per cent home record as they denied Liverpool the chance to regain top spot in the Barclays Premier League in an entertaining encounter at the Etihad Stadium.
Scorers: Manchester City - Kompany (31), Negredo (45); Liverpool - Coutinho (24)
Referee: Lee Mason
Manuel Pellegrini’s side made it an impressive nine out of nine – with 37 goals scored – to move into second place behind Arsenal as the Reds slipped to fourth.
However, had Raheem Sterling’s effort not been wrongly ruled out for offside before either side had scored – and goalkeeper Simon Mignolet not made a hash of Alvaro Negredo’s winner – Brendan Rodgers’ side could well have got much more out of this game.
As it was, they contributed much to an enthralling match which was billed as a test of their title credentials. That may still be something of a distant dream, considering Rodgers was forced to name 19-year-old reserve team defender Brad Smith in his squad for the first time, but it did plenty to suggest their top-four challenge is alive and well.
City, of course, remain favourites for the title and their home form will be a major factor in achieving that, but for all their goals what was just as impressive about this performance was the way Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott kept the Premier League’s top scorer Luis Suarez on a tight leash.
Philippe Coutinho’s opener sparked the home side into life and after Kompany had equalised from a corner, Negredo’s 14th goal of the season ultimately clinched another three points.
No team have scored more at home in the Premier League than City this season, while Liverpool were the top flight’s top scorers on the road, so the portents were good and the first half did not disappoint as both sides attacked each other freely.
City had the better of the first and last 15 minutes with their visitors enjoying the middle phase. The home side set out trying to exploit the weakness on Liverpool’s left where Aly Cissokho, the unconvincing on-loan Valencia defender, was making his first appearance since 9 November because of makeshift left-back Jon Flanagan’s hamstring injury.
Jesus Navas almost made that pay when his looping header hit the outside of the post after he nipped in front of the Frenchman to meet a left-wing cross.
But the tide started to turn. Sterling’s diagonal run from the right had already been picked out once by Suarez without success but when the Uruguay international found the youngster again he did not make the same mistake, going around Joe Hart to score into an empty net.
He was denied by an offside flag, but television replays showed Sterling was at least two yards behind the last defender when he was played through. The same pair combined for the opening goal in the 24th minute when Suarez’s ball over the top was destined for Sterling only for Coutinho to come in from the left and score from a narrow angle.
City’s response was instantaneous as Yaya Toure went past three defenders with one turn only to be denied by the outstretched leg of Martin Skrtel.
The Slovakia defender has been singled out recently as the weak link at defensive set-pieces and while he was busy trying to grapple with Kompany the City captain had eyes only for David Silva’s corner and glanced a header past Mignolet.
City often catch opponents napping on the counter-attack and on the stroke of half-time Mignolet failed to deal with Negredo’s shot with the outside of his left foot as the visitors were cut wide open.
After the break, Sterling came the closest with 17 minutes remaining when he diverted Suarez’s inviting cross over from seven yards. Late on, Suarez appealed for a penalty with Lescott pulling at his shirt but referee Lee Mason was unmoved.