MANCHESTER, February 22 – Manchester City and Liverpool played out a 0-0 draw at Eastlands on Sunday which did little to help either side's bid to finish fourth in the Premier League.City boss Roberto Mancini and Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez would both appear to need a fourth-placed finish this season to improve their job security, making this a crucial meeting in the contest for that position.
Given City’s recent problems, and reports of mounting unrest in their dressing room, avoiding defeat was the least Mancini needed, while Liverpool now have the consolation of stretching their impressive recent run to just one defeat in nine games.
Considering the importance of the game, it was probably no surprise that both teams should start so cautiously, with the result that four forwards were often confronted by eight, or even more, defenders to negotiate.
In the light of such an approach, first half chances were limited, to say the least, neither goalkeeper being forced into making a save in anger.
Steven Gerrard’s lay-off allowed Maxi Rodriguez a 12th minute shot which was deflected behind.
The first real goal attempt did not come until the 25th minute when Gerrard picked up a throw-in on the right and cut across the top of the penalty area before lifting a shot over the bar.
City’s first shot came a couple of moments later when a mis-hit Emmanuel Adebayor effort passed hopelessly across the face of goal and then the Togo forward found himself in the way of a Pablo Zabaleta shot, deflecting the ball off target for a goal kick.
In keeping with the cautious tone of the game, Liverpool kept a close check of City’s young winger Adam Johnson, surrounded him with two, or even three, red shirts every time he dwelled on the ball.
Johnson finally found space after 38 minutes to curl a left-foot shot just beyond the far post, although the half would end with Liverpool in the ascendancy as Gerrard’s corner was glanced wide by defender Martin Skrtel.
City started the second half with greater urgency – although when Stephen Ireland found himself in a shooting position, he was offside, and Johnson continued to be a problem for the visitors, winning a series of corners with his work down the right wing.
Johnson was proving a pain for Liverpool, a literal one in the case of Ryan Babel who caught a full-blooded cross from the City man flush in his face and required lengthy treatment before he could continue.
Finally, on the hour, the game’s first save arrived when Pepe Reina was forced to dive full length to keep out an 18-yard drive from Adebayor, a shot which was permitted despite Liverpool appeals for a handball.
In response, 13 minutes later, Shay Given was finally called into some sort of action in the opposite goal when Gerrard appeared on the end of a tidy Liverpool passing move and produced a left-foot shot which the Irish keeper saved comfortably.
The introduction of Craig Bellamy and Fernando Torres as substitutes hinted at the possibility of more scoring opportunities over the closing stages and Martin Skrtel was required to make a superb covering tackle on Adebayor as the City forward appeared to have given him the slip.
But the resulting corner saw Adebayor meet a Vincent Kompany chip with a header which flew harmlessly over the goal.