MANCHESTER // There were breathtaking goals, moments of drama interspersed with occasional touches of farce, and a game to savour.
Barely 48 hours earlier, Roberto Mancini, the City manager, had said the gap at the top of the table would be smaller at the end of February. Instead, it is larger, extended to nine points by City’s second successive draw.
It is far from impossible that they will retain their title – “absolutely not,” said Mancini, denying the race is over – but it grows more unlikely by the game.
And United have one of their great rivals to thank for that. Liverpool still cannot defeat a team above them in the table but a performance of ambition, adventure and excellence merited more than the point it brought them.
They had further evidence that Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge can form a potent pairing and saw Steven Gerrard submit his candidature for their goal-of-the-season award.
Had Sergio Aguero not scored an equaliser that, if anything, was even more extraordinary in its execution, the victory would have been theirs.
As it was, City’s task grows harder by the game.
“Probably now we need to win all the games,” Mancini said. “If not all, 11 or 12 [out of 13].” They were fortunate not to lose this.
“I don’t think anyone would deny we deserved to win this game,” Brendan Rodgers, the Liverpool manager, said. “It was an outstanding performance.”
Liverpool’s threat was advertised from the start, along with City’s carelessness. Joe Hart misjudged Glen Johnson’s looping ball forward, Sturridge took one touch to defeat the goalkeeper, leaving him with a glimpse of an open goal before Pablo Zabaleta made a vital, goal-saving interception.
It was the first of two mix-ups involving Hart, with Zabaleta, who rolled a back pass past his goalkeeper. Thankfully for both, the ball ended up in the side-netting.
Before then, City led with a goal that was the product of quick, intricate passing.
Aguero and David Silva combined, the Spaniard finding the advancing James Milner, whose cross was perfectly calibrated to allow Edin Dzeko a tap in.
It should have provided them with a platform, but it did not. “I am disappointed because we didn’t play well,” Mancini said.
And their lead only lasted five minutes.
While a former target of Mancini’s, Daniel Agger, was culpable for the opener, a City old boy, Sturridge, struck against them.
After Javi Garcia conceded possession, City conceded a goal for the first time in 2013. Gerrard teed up Sturridge to drill a shot past Hart.
City were aggrieved that the referee Anthony Taylor played on while Dzeko lay prostrate on the ground after a challenge from Agger, though the speed with which the Bosnian got up to complain, and collect a booking, suggested he was hardly hurt.
“Agger did a foul,” said Mancini, faulting Taylor.
Rodgers disagreed. “The referee had told a couple of the players to play on,” he said. “It was quite clear.”
Thereafter, with Gerrard dominant in the midfield, the visitors assumed the ascendancy. It was a second half of Liverpool pressure where Mancini’s response was to remove the centre-back Matija Nastasic and switch system, to 3-5-2. Not that the change initially helped City. Gerrard delivered a wonderful goal, chesting down Gael Clichy’s headed clearance and powering a volley beyond Hart. “Incredible,” Rodgers said.
City were threatened with just a second home league defeat since 2010 but Aguero added to his track record as an escapologist by salvaging a draw and conjuring a brilliant equaliser. He scored from an improbable angle after accelerating on to Gareth Barry’s through pass and rounding Pepe Reina.
“Aguero’s finish is unbelievable,” Rodgers said. It defied credibility how City won the league last season and, if they are to be champions again, they have to produce the unbelievable once more.
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