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Nick Smith’s Analysis: Liverpool FC show ruthless streak at last

ABOUT time too. Liverpool have been guilty of lacking that ruthless streak when faced with top six opposition on too many occasions this season.

ABOUT time too. Liverpool have been guilty of lacking that ruthless streak when faced with top six opposition on too many occasions this season.

It’s why they’ve yet to beat any of them. Too tentatively out of the blocks at Tottenham, too much respect shown to United at Old Trafford, not enough steel to see out victory from 2-0 up at Everton or at the Emirates on Wednesday.

And yesterday, back in Manchester, the easy option would have been, once again, to be too nice. Too accommodating for their own good.

The nature of Daniel Sturridge’s leveller proved they had no intention of continuing the trend.

Sadly, a lapse in concentration similar to the one that gifted City a 2-2 draw at Anfield in August, showed why Liverpool aren’t yet ready to return to the Champions League elite.

But it is still a good point to match what was a good performance. And it was built on a hard-faced refusal to be ruffled by Edin Dzeko’s early goal.

The urge to cave in to the demands of the Etihad jeers when Dzeko lay motionless on the turf after half an hour, might have overwhelmed some sides.

But Liverpool didn’t kick the ball out. They kicked the ball in.

Sturridge’s celebration wasn’t exactly over-enthusiastic, in fact it was barely existent.

Whether it was a twinge of guilt or a show of respect to a former club – his early touches had been moderately booed but this hostility soon evaporated – didn’t matter.

What did matter was that Sturridge and Liverpool were presented with a way back into the game and had no qualms about taking it.

They were right too. Although Dzeko had a case in claiming he was fouled – Daniel Agger went through the man to get the ball – the suggestion play should be stopped to give him urgent treatment was futile.

While Liverpool were building the attack that led to the equaliser, Dzeko was seemingly stricken.

As soon as the ball hit the net, he was suddenly fit enough to make his way over to the assistant and talk himself into the referee’s book.

A bit embarrassing all round.

But the Reds had no shame in capitalising when others might have buckled and that’s a trait that bodes well for what is not the most intimidating of run-ins.

Although they have come away from the homes of all the six sides above them without a win, look on the bright side. All those games have gone now.

The six toughest fixtures on paper all navigated. Not perhaps with the results Brendan Rodgers would have desired – four points out of 18 is a meek return – but there was more than enough on show in the last two of these games, yesterday and at Arsenal on Wednesday, that the gap is narrowing.

Of course, closing out games remains an issue. You would have thought Pepe Reina should know by now that you only come that far out of your goal if you’re guaranteed to get to the ball first. Let an opponent beat you to it and you’re asking for trouble.

The goalkeeper might feel hard done by that he was exposed by a moment of genius from Sergio Aguero but he still abandoned his goal when it needed him most.

The only positive for Liverpool is if Aguero can do that, do they really need to bother Liverpool with a mega-millions bid for Luis Suarez in the summer?

But shorter term, at least Liverpool’s lack of a killer instinct against the top teams isn’t mirrored by their meetings with the sides towards the bottom of the league (the Premier League anyway, if not League One).

The gap to the top six – if that is to be the next realistic short-term target – is five points and the chance to eat into it kindly appears in the form of back-to-back home games with West Brom and Swansea.

And home clashes with Spurs and, much further down the line, Everton present opportunities for Rodgers’ side to end finally their winless hoodoo against the teams above them.

But they are chances Liverpool must take. Just like Sturridge took his yesterday when it would have been much more convenient to spurn it.

Sadly, for the second time in five days, superiority over their hosts couldn’t be converted into three points.

But they didn’t let anyone have it all their own way this week – and that’s possibly the most positive platform to build on yet of the Rodgers reign.

 

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