City’s hopes of moving back into third place were shattered by an ineffectual performance that saw them blown away by a pumped-up Liverpool side.
Memories of that demolition of Sunderland quickly faded as two goals from Andy Carroll and one from Dirk Kuyt, all in the first half, condemned City to defeat and left them still searching for their first league win on the road in 2011.
A horrible night for the Blues was made worse when talismanic skipper Carlos Tevez limped off after just quarter of an hour in the aftermath of Carroll’s opener.
Playing on the Monday night meant that City knew exactly what they had to do to maintain their place in the top four, knowing a win would nudge them back into third ahead of Chelsea.
With one eye on next Saturday’s mouth-watering derby semi-final, Roberto Mancini elected to make a few alterations to the starting line up from the one that had so comprehensively despatched Sunderland. Out went de Jong, Silva and Balotelli, in came Barry, Milner and Dzeko.
Injuries denied the hosts the services of Gerrard, Johnson, Agger and Kelly but the combination of Suarez and Carroll up front was one to test the in-form City defensive pairing of Lescott and Kompany. Kenny Dalglish handed a debut to 18-year-old right-back John Flanagan as Liverpool’s resources were stretched to the limit. With Mancini able to pick and choose from a strong squad, the Blues had a great chance to consign their recent poor record on the red side of Stanley Park to history.
But City were not as quick out of the blocks as they had been against Sunderland, and an uncharacteristic mistake from Kompany allowed Suarez a great chance after just five minutes. Thankfully Joe Hart was equal to this one, fingertipping the low drive onto his left-hand post, but he could not quite get there when Liverpool took the lead after just 13 minutes.
Tevez lost the ball in midfield and within a split second it was at the feet of Andy Carroll, who drilled it home from outside the box despite a touch from Hart’s right hand. The Blues had paid the ultimate price for their sluggish start, and to make matters worse their skipper limped off with what looked to be a hamstring injury.
City gradually got to grips with the game, but then two goals for the hosts in the space of a couple of minutes gave them a mountain to climb. Firstly Dirk Kuyt placed the ball across Hart after a ricochet off Kompany had gone all the way across the box to the Dutchman, then Andy Carroll muscled in ahead of Kolarov to nod the ball past a despairing Hart.
It was a real first-half horror-show that baffled those City fans that had made the journey along the M62. The pressure from the pumped-up home side showed no signs of abating after the break, with the lively Kuyt able to get a header in at a corner despite a fistful of sky-blue shirts around him.
David Silva was thrown on to try to summon up some much-needed magic just before the hour but even he struggled to break the shackles. Liverpool continued to press, and Suarez should have made it four in the 69th minute but instead he skewed his volley from an angle wide. Kuyt could have had his second with 10 minutes left but he rolled his shot across the face of goal and wide.
City’s fortunes could be summed up when a bullocking run from Yaya Toure ended with a weak shot that rolled across the box and ended up threatening the corner flag rather than Reina’s goal. He nearly made amends when he stung Reina’s fingers with a volley late on, but against Sunderland the ball would probably have flown in. It was that kind of night, and with the cup semi-final looming everyone connected to City would be keen to put this poor performance firmly behind them as soon as possible.