Liverpool could consider itself unfortunate not to have taken something from a pulsating contest, as it went down to a narrow 2-1 defeat at Manchester City on Boxing Day.
The Reds went into a 25th-minute lead when Philippe Coutinho slotted into an empty net from close range after Raheem Sterling had rounded Joe Hart, but City drew level quickly through Vincent Kompany‘s header.
The home team then went in front in an end-to-end encounter on the stroke of halftime when Alvaro Negredo finished off a rapid counter attack with an outside-of-the-foot finish.
Brendan Rodgers‘ team was valiant in its efforts as it pressed for a second-half equalizer — with Sterling going closest to netting — but was unable to take a point back to Merseyside.
The pregame team news confirmed one change for Liverpool, with Aly Cissokho returning to the lineup in place of the injured Jon Flanagan. Meanwhile, there was a place on the bench for 19-year-old Academy star Brad Smith.
Having topped the standings at Christmas, the Reds got underway at the Etihad Stadium in third position in the Barclays Premier League following the day’s earlier results.
No one has scored more goals in the league this season than City and Liverpool and, therefore, an open start to the contest came as little surprise.
The hosts fired the first warning on five minutes when Jesus Navas‘ looping header grazed the angle of post and bar. Next, in a lively opening, Kompany rose highest to nod wide from Samir Nasri‘s corner, with Simon Mignolet untroubled.
Liverpool’s first effort on goal arrived with 14 minutes on the clock, when Luis Suarez glanced off target from Lucas Leiva‘s corner before the Uruguayan clipped a free-kick straight at Hart soon after.
The visitors thought they’d carved open a golden chance to opening the scoring before the 20-minute mark when Suarez’s through ball sent Sterling bounding down on goal. However, the winger’s attempts to break the deadlock were thwarted by the raised flag of the referee’s assistant for offside. TV replays suggested play should have been allowed to continue.
Nevertheless, Liverpool was growing in stature and duly took the lead after 25 minutes. An incisive move resulted in Sterling rounding Hart, enabling Coutinho to slot the ball into the empty net.
City was able to muster a near-instant riposte, however, and after a fine Martin Skrtel challenge had denied Yaya Toure, Kompany rose well to guide a header beyond the dive of Mignolet and level the score, despite the efforts of Joe Allen on the goal line.
With halftime looming, the Reds went close to going back ahead when a brilliant move involving Suarez, Sterling and Coutinho pulled the home defense apart, though Hart’s reflexes denied the Brazilian a second goal before the break with a low stop.
But it proved there was to be another strike before the interval, and it was City that claimed it when Negredo finished off a speedy raid forward with a finish from just inside the box that Mignolet was unable to palm over the crossbar.
Liverpool began the second period with attacking purpose. Henderson struck narrowly over, and Suarez twisted and turned beyond Pablo Zabaleta to force Hart into a save in an impressive opening.
The same two players were involved again shortly after, as the Reds threatened once more. Sterling’s clever pass almost picked out Henderson’s run toward goal. The loose ball broke for Suarez, but his attempt struck the legs of the No. 14, who was in an offside position in the six-yard box.
With 20 minutes remaining, Rodgers opted to introduce Victor Moses into the action in place of Coutinho, with his side continuing to look dangerous.
Glen Johnson was unable to adjust his feet quickly enough to net after Henderson’s cross had rebounded into his path, while the midfielder then went close himself but his improvised back-heeled flick lacked the power to bypass Hart.
Liverpool should have made it 2-2 in the 73rd minute when Suarez stormed down the left before delivering a brilliant center for Sterling, who unfortunately could only loft over the bar on the stretch from yards out.
Rodgers’ charges continued to toil until the final whistle in their attempts to level the game, but City was able to hold out for the win as Liverpool slipped to fourth in the table.