So much of the pre-match attention had been spent on two players who may or may not be fit enough to play, Vincent Kompany and Sergio Agüero. In the end, both would make an appearance, with Kompany starting. That latter piece of team news no doubt was a supreme boost of confidence for Manchester City fans, after all, Kompany has been wonderful at the back in a season which City have struggled without his presence, Lescott and Demichelis proving less than adequate deputies.
However, it was apparent for everyone who watched Liverpool and Manchester City’s wonderful title showdown that Vincent Kompany was not at full fitness and probably shouldn’t have been on the pitch. Brendan Rodgers had set his side out to attack, and in the first half, Manchester City looked unable to cope with Liverpool’s movement and passing, even with Suarez not quite at the races. Sterling in particular was everywhere in the opening exchanges, and it was he who opened the scoring, quick feet wrong footing both Kompany and Joe Hart in goal.
It was impossible not to think that a fully fit Kompany might not have been outwitted so easily, and as City searched for a response their injury woes only got worse. Yaya Toure was forced to limp off early on; the Ivorian’s missing presence making life even more difficult for a midfield struggling to cope with Henderson, Gerard and Coutinho. It was the Brazilian schemer that nearly provided Liverpool with their second goal, a whipped corner headed well by Gerard, but met by Joe Hart. From the resulting corner however, it was Gerard’s turn to deliver the ball in, and his cross was slammed home by Skrtel to continue the defender’s remarkable goal scoring form this term.
Rodgers’ only regret heading into half time will have been that his Liverpool side weren’t up by more. Sure enough, Manchester City roared back in the second half, the scheming of Spaniards David Silva and Jesus Navas in particular causing problems for Liverpool. It was Silva who grabbed City’s first goal, and forced a second off of Glen Johnson to make Liverpool rue those missed chances.
It was as if Manchester City’s comeback woke Liverpool up, with Rodgers’ side pressing further up the pitch after the equalising goal. This pressure soon paid off, with Coutinho guiding in a deflected goal to put Liverpool in the lead. The emotional scenes were made even more poignant by the day’s remembrance for Hillsborough as Liverpool fans and players finally allowed themselves to dream of that long awaited title. For Manchester City it was a hammer blow. It was Kompany once again at fault for the third goal, and the Citizens now face the prospect of chasing down Liverpool without Yaya Toure and neither Kompany nor Agüero at full fitness.
Whilst City undoubtedly have the easier run in, Liverpool can go into their final matches all guns blazing and in fine form. The Anfield side also have fewer games to play, and that extra time to prepare could be vital. Win their remaining games and the title is theirs. However, come unstuck against Chelsea, and Liverpool may end up praying for their neighbours in blue to do them a favour, with Everton being City’s toughest competitor left. There is little risk of the Toffies taking the match easy out of spite either, with Martinez’ themselves having so much left to play for.
Currently sat in fourth, Everton can take much hope from Arsenal’s semi-final win versus Championship side Wigan. Despite tough matches to come against both Manchester sides, the Toffies can at least know that they have form on their side. Gunners’ fans on the other hand have every right to be worried. Whilst a glance at statistics would imply that Arsenal dominated the match up, anyone who saw the game will know that Wenger’s side were far from comfortable. Arsenal appeared susceptible anytime Wigan attacked, particularly when the ball was at the feet of Callum McManaman. The winger, who is surely Premier League bound, won the penalty that put Wigan ahead and was perhaps unlucky not to be given the entire match to help Wigan find a winner. In the end, quality did tell and Arsenal were able to take the match to extra time and snatch the win on penalties.
However, the performance must be of great concern to Arsene Wenger. A final run in for the FA Cup versus Wigan and then either Hull City or Sheffield United should have been a comfortable route for a first trophy in close to nine years. On current form, that is not the case. Hull City will go into the final at Wembley now knowing that all the pressure is on the opposition and that Arsenal can be got at. The Gunners now also are in a position where the fight for fourth is out of their hands. Champions League football is a must for Arsenal, and whilst they can hope that Everton will drop points against either Manchester City or United, the Gunners can afford no slip ups in their final run in.
What then should be Wenger’s priority, ending a trophy drought, or ensuring fourth? If the Frenchman can pull off both, many have suggested that perhaps Wenger should step down on that high. There is little doubt that Arsenal are in desperate need of new blood, whether that involves only new playing staff, or also new management staff will be decided come the end of the season.
With so much going on in the Premier League’s final weeks, A Week In Football will be a double header this week, with another article to be published tomorrow looking at the ever changing fight for survival.