City back to winning tradition on Boxing Day

Posted by David Mooney

In the past couple of seasons, Manchester City have broken with their Boxing Day tradition and not bothered even scoring a goal, let alone winning a game. Between 2006 and 2010, the Blues didn't lose in the fixture directly following Christmas Day, winning four of five and scoring at least two in all but one. But in 2011 and 2012, they drew a blank twice.

This year, however, the Blues got themselves back on track and upheld the tradition of taking three points on Dec. 26.

- Report: Manchester City 2-1 Liverpool
- Brewin: City's depth, quality edge Reds
- Walsh: Liverpool shine in loss

Given the league positions of the two clubs that met at the Etihad, this year's fixture is easily the hardest that City had faced since returning to the Premier League under Kevin Keegan in 2002. Though, arguably, given the Blues' record on Wearside, last year's trip to Sunderland (and the subsequent 1-0 defeat -- talk about traditions) could be considered the trickiest for more psychological reasons.

In Thursday's 2-1 win over Liverpool, however, City demonstrated a quality that has not been seen in the tough games at the Etihad for 18 months or so: resilience. One of the biggest reasons the Blues didn't win the league last season was that their home form dropped markedly from the campaign before. In fact, Manchester United's final record for 2012-13 wouldn't have been enough to beat the Blues of 2011-12.

So far this season, City have been behind at home in the Premier League for roughly six minutes. That's it. Six minutes. 360 seconds. That breaks down as five minutes against Liverpool and one against Everton -- and both Merseyside teams have given the Blues the best games they've faced at the Etihad under Manuel Pellegrini.

When Brendan Rodgers left Manchester with a 2-2 draw in February, City barely got out of first gear and needed a Sergio Aguero wonder strike to steal a point. This Boxing Day, Liverpool might have just edged it in terms of quality of chances, but the Blues eased through the gears to grind out a result. It's easy to say with 20/20 hindsight, but Liverpool's high-pressing game has twice caused problems in 2013. But this season, City are moving into title-winning form.

From the opening 18 games, the Premier League goal-scoring record stands at 53 -- set by Roberto Mancini's City in their title-winning 2011-12 campaign. Now, under Pellegrini and in the Chilean's 18th Premier League game, City have netted 53 times. I'm not one for omens and will read little into that, but I am one for stats; if City can continue this pace of goal-getting, they'll definitely be difficult to beat.

This isn't to say, however, that City's performance against Liverpool was perfect. As with any team pushing to win the title, the Blues needed to ride their luck. Raheem Sterling was a good two yards onside when his goal was ruled out -- though Joe Hart had stopped some considerable time before the ball was netted.

Alvaro Negredo has scored in his last nine appearances at the Etihad, though on Thursday his effort probably shouldn't have gone in. Simon Mignolet will be in no rush to watch it again, as he waved at it and flopped to the ground instead of simply plucking it out of the air like he could have done.

At the other end, Hart pulled off a couple of really important saves. At 1-1, he denied Philippe Coutinho with a huge block from seven yards, standing up as long as he could to react to the effort. In the second half, he responded to Joleon Lescott's indecision to deny Jordan Henderson as he ran through (and even saved the rebound, despite the offside being given; the England keeper wasn't to know the flag was up, after all).

Sterling should have buried a Luis Suarez cross midway into the second half too as he faced a virtual open goal at the back post after he had escaped the attention of Aleksandar Kolarov to trouble the home fans in the second tier.

There were claims for a penalty in stoppage time, but had City conceded it as a spot kick, then Friday's headlines would surely have been questions posed by Pellegrini about why Martin Skrtel was allowed to try to swap shirts with Vincent Kompany several times long before the final whistle. The Liverpool centre-back seemed more interested in wrestling the City skipper than defending him, and it cost the visitors a goal on 31 minutes.

At the other end, City struggled to create their usual level of chances, but they were by no means toothless. Set pieces and breakaways were their best source, while Jesus Navas should have done better on a first-half break and Negredo was a couple of inches away from perfecting a chip.

In the end, the result leaves the Blues a point off the top of the table just before the midway point in the season. The day they came to the Etihad, league leaders Arsenal had the chance to put nine points between themselves and City; now it would take just one slip-up from the Gunners to hand the Citizens the chance to go top.

City are beginning to move through the gears -- unbeaten in the last three away games (winning two) with a perfect 27 points from matches at the Etihad. Pre-match, Rodgers said this was "Manchester City's title to lose."

He's surely not wrong now.

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