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Coutinho Leaves Man City Down and Nearly Out

Published: 02nd March 2015 08:54 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd March 2015 08:54 AM   |  A+A-

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There was no captain's huddle and rallying cry to mark the latest -Liver-pool victory against Manchester City, but for Manuel Pellegrini it must have felt like 'here we go again'.

A Philippe Coutinho winner - his second in consecutive seasons in this fixture - leaves the Premier League champions heading into the latter stages of the season in need of a slip from their title rivals.

The only regret for Brendan Rodgers is that it is Chelsea rather than Liverpool who will reap the -benefits of that particular -consequence, although in the context of the scrap for a top-four place this was a performance to hug the soul at Anfield.

Coutinho was the catalyst, spinning and weaving his way through -midfield like David Silva on roller skates before unleashing a ferocious -dipping shot that bruised the air as it soared past Joe Hart, the City goalkeeper, with 15 minutes remaining.

"We paid pounds 8.5 million for him two years ago," Rodgers said. "It's -frightening to think what he'd be worth now. Philippe's operating at a very high level - particularly since he signed his new contract.

"He is scoring goals and is a joy to watch and he is a sensational -footballer. He's already a star in the Premier League but he can make improvements."

Inspired by their Brazilian conjuror, Liverpool were in the kind of form that pushed City so close last season.

Coutinho was ably assisted by Jordan Henderson, whose own -wonder strike to put Liverpool ahead in the first half should not be -diminished, as well as the -tirelessness of Raheem Sterling, Adam Lallana and Joe Allen. The Welsh midfielder was as good as he has been since his early Liverpool performances, -ensuring Yaya Toure enjoyed one of those days where the limbs only bothered to move when the ball had the -courtesy to come to him.

City were meek in midfield, a study in uncertainty at the back and - for the second time in a week - not -especially well led from the -touchline.

Pellegrini will leave the Etihad -Stadium a league title winner -regardless of how the rest of his -managerial career in England evolves, but the jury is still deliberating whether City have won most of their games under him because they have the best players rather than an -inspirational or strategic manager.

The Chilean was out-thought by Rodgers as much as his players were outplayed and outrun in the second half. It's been an horrendous week for the club with this following their Champions League calamity against Barcelona - on these afternoons too many of their players resemble guns for hire chucked on a pitch rather than a collective unit, especially when it comes to sorting out obvious -tactical flaws. They had responded to falling behind well enough, showing the swagger of a side that knows it has Silva in its ranks.

The contest settled into whether Coutinho or Silva could provoke the most purring from admirers.

The first-half momentum swung depending on which of the maestros took the ball, but while Silva was -nullified as the game progressed, -Liverpool's No?10 was left to pick up possession by Toure's negligence, even when James Milner was sent on to tighten midfield midway through the second half.

Silva's most telling contribution was in the build-up to the 26th-minute equaliser, which was -beautifully crafted with the help of Toure and Sergio Aguero. Edin Dzeko took the applause, finishing -emphatically beyond Simon -Mignolet.

Aguero, who had earlier hit the post, should have headed City ahead within a minute of the second half, just missing the target, but from then on Liverpool were in control, even accounting for the fact a winner of exceptional quality was needed to take the points.

There is no doubting City's class in attack, but the pairing of Vincent Kompany and Eliaquim Mangala behind a midfield offering little -protection has such a serious -structural defect Pellegrini must have been tempted to erect scaffolding around them. Mangala has not -settled in English football, while the City skipper was consistently troubled by Liverpool's harrying, consistently -gifting possession.

The build-up to Liverpool's -opening goal summed up Kompany's dip as he was beaten in a 50-50 challenge with the Brazilian. Coutinho's -tenacity shone as much as his skill, but that's inexcusable from a captain and -centre-half. It gave the impression that Liverpool wanted this more, a point underlined given how little time Rodgers had to prepare for this game compared to his opponents.

Liverpool have moved from -out-siders to reclaim a Champions League place to one of the most -fancied to take a spot. They are only seven points behind City, who on this evidence should be looking over their shoulder as much as worrying about catching Jose Mourinho.

City left Merseyside with that -familiar feeling it will need a Chelsea favour to revive their Premier League hopes. They will console themselves with the knowledge they have -previous experience of successfully completing the journey from Anfield depression to title euphoria.



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