Draws were little use to either Manchester City or Liverpool in midweek. City huffed and puffed against a punchless Queen's Park Rangers still awaiting the grand arrival of Peter Odemwingie. Liverpool conceded a winning position and could have lost to Arsenal had Olivier Giroud untangled his feet. A decent performance was still not good enough to see off a quality team.
It is a statistic that Liverpool fans do not wish to be reminded of, but they are yet to beat a team in the top ten of the Premier League. The hair-splitters may suggest that West Ham were actually tenth when beaten 3-2, but that does little to hide a poor set of results against the leading lights.
If the midweek games were an eventual disappointment, then the August game between these two teams was perhaps an even greater opportunity for Brendan Rodgers to truly make his mark. Martin Skrtel signposted an error-strewn season by making the poor backpass to Carlos Tevez that allowed the Argentine to make it 2-2. The chance to beat the champions was surrendered, and the tale of the season was set on its way. Rodgers' Liverpool had fallen short and have repeated the pattern since.
On Wednesday, Arsenal were there for the taking, but Liverpool were nearly taken too. Rodgers' teams have never disgraced themselves against those clubs they used to share membership of the 'big four' with, and not against Spurs or City too. Yet if Rodgers is to graduate from fledgling manager learning the game to one competing for honours, then he must pull off a big result by the end of the season. That might even lessen the pressure on next season too.
At Loftus Road, City fell short mostly because of the brilliance of Rangers keeper Julio Cesar. One save from Gareth Barry in the first half was good, but his stop from David Silva in the second was world-class. Roberto Mancini brought the Brazilian to Europe with Inter Milan only to find himself bemoaning his former charge's brilliance eight years on. Cesar halted City's fine form of 2013 and Manchester United were able to move seven points clear once again.
City have never quite caught fire this season or played with the assurance that championship winning teams often display. There have been distractions, such as Champions League failure, the African Cup of Nations, and, of course, Mario Balotelli. Thursday saw the post-Balotelli era officially begin, though it was made clear on Tuesday that the maverick's time was up. Something lamented by Mancini and clearly evident post-match at Loftus Road.
Mancini has often cut a melancholy and distracted figure this season though Friday's press conference saw him show off his sense of humour by mocking the constant questions about Balotelli that he no longer has to face. If there is anything his team lack, it is devilment, and Rangers eventually got the hang of City's somewhat predictable tactics. A switch of Edin Dzeko on for Samir Nasri did not pay off as Mancini attempted to go direct.
At Arsenal, Rodgers' problems lay in his team's eventual concession of midfield. Steven Gerrard's excellence and energy could not last. In defence, Jamie Carragher, now preferred to the hapless Skrtel, fought a losing battle. Wednesday exposed the shortcomings of both Arsenal and Liverpool, but his team's performance was treated with gushing praise by Rodgers, by contrast to the blast against his young players that followed the FA Cup defeat at Oldham.
A draw at Arsenal was a creditable result, perhaps doubly so after the Oldham debacle, but Liverpool's race for fourth place, for which recent hopes had been raised, can be all but abandoned if top ten teams cannot be beaten. And for City, a failure to win at home against an outfit with such a poor record against teams of their quality could be ruinous to their title defence.
Manchester City player to watch – Javi Garcia Necessity has proved the mother of reinvention when it comes to Garcia. On signing for City, he looked a ponderous midfield replacement for Nigel De Jong. However, injury to Vincent Kompany and Matija Nastasic led Mancini to repurpose Garcia into a central defender against QPR. Rangers' lack of attacking impetus allowed him time to show off his skills as an unlikely libero, and even attempt a 40-yard rocket on goal. If Nastasic does not recover from his knee injury, then he will face a tougher examination in his new role.
Liverpool player to watch – Jamie Carragher Earlier in the season, Carragher was publicly talking of his expected lack of first-team action. He now finds himself as first-choice, having leapfrogged Skrtel and Sebastian Coates, who both suffered badly at Boundary Park while Carragher was rested for Arsenal and henceforth the trip to Eastlands. Liverpool badly need a defensive organiser and Carragher has always been adept in that role. Perhaps this season won't be a swansong after all.
Key battle: David Silva v Jordan Henderson City play their best football when Silva is playing well. That is no secret. Their creativity flows through him and any switch in City attacking formations usually centre around Roberto Mancini wanting to grant Silva more licence to roam. He switched position twice at Loftus Road to no avail. Rodgers rarely sets up his team to react to the opposition but will have to recognise Silva's threat. In the last few months, Henderson has looked a different player to the £20 million flop of last season. His boundless energy was rewarded with an unlikely goal at Arsenal and he will be expected to run his socks off in pursuit of Silva at Eastlands.
Trivia: The teams' previous league meeting was the setting for the infamous documentary "Being: Liverpool". That match was also notable for being Raheem Sterling's debut Premier League start.
Stats: Manchester City have kept six successive clean sheets for the first time since August 1999. (Opta)
Odds: City are a shade under odds-on at 1.83 at bet365, while Liverpool are 4.50 to win. A draw is on offer at 3.90.
Prediction: Manchester City to maintain Liverpool's poor record against the leading lights.