MAN CITY 3, LIVERPOOL 0.
THE swagger returned as Manchester City defeated Liverpool to move three points clear at the top of the Barclays Premier League.
After an indifferent run of away form – one point from a possible nine – they were more like the classy City which went through 2011 unbeaten at the Etihad Stadium.
City continued where they left off in their first home game of the New Year in the first of three meetings against Liverpool in January as this league clash is followed by a two-legged semi final in the Carling Cup.
Surely City now go into those games holding a massive psychological advantage following this emphatic victory.
First-half goals from Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure set City on the road to victory which was sealed by a James Milner penalty as they produced an impressive display to the delight of Roberto Mancini who made six changes to the side which kicked off at Sunderland on New Year’s Day.
The City manager, who recalled Aguero and David Silva but who was still without the injured Mario Balotelli, said: “In the second half we had some problems, but overall it was a good performance.
“Yes football is a crazy game as sometimes you lose when you deserve to win as we did at Sunderland.
“But for teams like us, it is important if you can’t win that you don’t lose.”
Mancini added if City are still top of the table at the end of a challenging January, when the Toure brothers are missing on African Cup of Nations duty, he believes they have a great chance of becoming champions.
Yet Liverpool could have snatched the lead as Stewart Downing’s early effort was blocked by keeper Joe Hart.
City made the breakthrough in the 10th minute after a helping hand from Liverpool who conceded possession following their own throw in as Dirk Kuyt lost the ball to David Silva who set up Aguero whose 25-yard drive squirmed under the body of keeper Pepe Reina for the Argentine’s 16th goal of the season.
It was City’s first goal in 226 minutes after they had fired blanks against West Brom and Sunderland.
The goal settled City whose early nerves disappeared and they had chances to extend their lead.
City finally scored their second goal in the 34th minutes moments after Reina had pulled off a fine save to turn over a header from Vincent Kompany.
From Silva’s resulting corner, Yaya Toure headed home from inside the six-yard box in off the underside off the crossbar for his sixth goal of the season.
Liverpool were unlucky not to halve the deficit just before the break when Andy Carroll’s goalbound shot was well blocked by Kompany.
As Liverpool struggled to make headway early in the second half, manager Kenny Dalglish soon made a double change as Steven Gerrard and Craig Bellamy replaced Charlie Adam and Kuyt.
The second half lacked the sparkle of the opening period with City’s lead never looking in any doubt.
The only concern came with 17 minutes left when Gareth Barry was sent off after collecting a second yellow card of the night.
City need not have worried, however, as within two minutes they had extended lead and sealed victory.
Yaya Toure burst through on goal only to be brought down by Martin Skrtel which Milner confidently converted.
There was controversy, however, with Mancini leading the calls for Skrtel to follow Barry in having an early bath, though referee Mike Jones surprisingly didn’t brandish any card.
City were unlucky not to add a fourth goal when a shot from substitute Adam Johnson struck the upright with Reina beaten.