Carling Cup: Craig Bellamy books Liverpool Wembley final
Liverpool 2-2 Man City (Liverpool 3-2 Man City on agg)
These two clubs face very different situations in the Barclays Premier League. Liverpool, reeling after a poor performance, had previously lost to a Bolton side that have had a terrible opening half to the season. Meanwhile, Manchester City put in a Champions performance against a potent Tottenham side to come away with a valuable 3 points.
The line-ups saw a very defensive approach from Roberto Mancini, starting with 3 centre backs and 2 wingbacks, a plan to protect Stefan Savić who still seems to be finding his feet in the English game. However, manager Kenny Dalglish opted for a 4-4-1-1 with Craig Bellamy playing in behind the hardworking Dirk Kuyt.
The game’s opening moments saw a booking for Steven Gerrard, who went in late on his English compatriot Gareth Barry. This was followed by a good chance for Liverpool, a low-driven shot saved by the feet of Joe Hart and Stewart Downing squandered the chance to volley home the rebound.
City failed to create any chances or find any sort of rhythm in the opening 10 minutes, whilst Liverpool continue to test City’s keeper, the latest attempt being a swerving shot from the right foot of Charlie Adam. By the 15th minute the game was starting to open up: a silky counter-attack for City saw David Silva caress a sumptuous pass into the path of Aleksandar Kolarov, whose whipped cross was well dealt with by Daniel Agger. Bellamy was becoming Liverpool’s bright spark and he had a few opportunities including a disallowed goal.
In the 31st minute came a moment of brilliance: Nigel De Jong advanced from the centre circle to meet Silva’s pass, curl an elegant shot past the despairing hand of Pepe Reina and cancel out Liverpool’s aggregate lead. Liverpool bounced back and began to create large amounts of pressure, then after some pinball in the box Micah Richards seemed to block a shot with his hands and Phil Dowd deemed it to be a penalty. Up stepped Gerrard to whack it confidently into the bottom left hand corner.
Liverpool started the second half brightly, with Kuyt’s dipping effort causing Hart to fumble, yet City escaped unscathed. Then a glorious chance for Liverpool – a free kick delivered from the left allowed Martin Škrtel to have a poke at the ball. It would have gone right into the top corner but Hart’s giant paw thwarted Liverpool.
Then moments later, a cross from Kuyt was met at the back post by a powerful shot only for Hart to deny the home side once more. City were not done however; in the 66th minute, Kolarov beat Gerrard down the left to find Edin Džeko free at the back post, and Džeko slotted home with ease. Liverpool fought back: in the 73rd minute after nice work from Kuyt, Bellamy popped up in the box to curl a shot past Hart.
It was a real pendulum of a match, in which both sides enjoyed brief spells of possession and dominance yet Bellamy’s winner was enough to see the Reds march on to Wembley to face a tricky Cardiff side in what will be a fiercely contested battle.