Manchester City's Vincent Kompany and Alvaro Negredo celebrate a goal against Liverpool, December 26. Reuters
The feeling before the start of the Manchester City vs Liverpool English Premier League game on Boxing Day at the Etihad was: keep Luis Suarez quiet and City will be alright.
After a ridiculous 90 minutes of searing, entertaining, searching and high-quality football, City did just that - keep Suarez from scoring - and with it took home all three points courtesy a battling 2-1 win.
Goals from Vincent Kompany and Alvaro Negredo cancelled out Philippe Coutinho's opener, taking City above Liverpool in the Premier League table, and just one behind Arsenal, who also pulled off a come-from-behind victory over West Ham earlier in the day. Liverpool, after starting the day top of the table are now fourth, three behind Arsenal.
It was frenetic stuff right from minute one as Manchester City went for the opener with the ruthlessness that has defined their home performances this season.
Pablo Zabaleta, a surprise inclusion considering he was thought to be ruled out with a hamstring injury, and Jesus Navas were having some early fun on the right, finding space at will and picking out cross, or shot, after cross or shot.
Navas nearly made it 1-0 within the first few minutes, but his astute header towards the far post struck the woodwork. Alvaro Negredo then could not steer a shot inside the box on target after a cross down the left from Aleksandar Kolarov as City hit top gear right from the off.
Liverpool, you felt, was just bubbling, waiting, slowly but surely, to pop that cork out and spring forward in a flash. That moment came about soon after those raft of chances from City, as Suarez, had to be him, found space in between the lines, before finding a perfect through ball for Raheem Sterling to latch onto.
The play was, however, cut short as the linesman raised his flag for offside, when Sterling was actually onside and a half, and had he been given a proper opportunity, he would have banged it into the net with just Joe Hart to beat, rather than doing so well after the whistle had gone.
That chance seemed to galvanise Liverpool, and it was the team in red now that was on the ascendancy, with Suarez, anonymous for the first 10-15 minutes, growing into the game as the Uruguayan kept popping up in between the City midfield and back-four.
Whenever Suarez makes his presence felt, it is never a good sign for any team, even City at home. Inevitably it would be Suarez who would play a major part in the opening goal of the game, playing through Sterling, who skipped around Hart, with Coutinho getting in ahead of his teammate to slot into an empty net from a tight angle in the 24th minute.
Joleon Lescott and Luis Suarez battle for possession in their English Premier League game, December 26. Reuters
City do not have a perfect home record in the Premier League for no reason, and seven minutes after the opener, the team in sky blue pulled level - Kompany fighting off the challenge of Martin Skrtel to head home off a David Silva corner.
The match just swung one way and then the other, with pretty much every chance looking like it could turn into a goal - Coutinho missing a you-have-to-score-there opportunity -- and that wonderful feeling of bulging the back of the net for a third time in the game would come for City right on the stroke of halftime through a lethal counter-attack.
Joleon Lescott cleared the ball from his own box to Silva, who played a short pass to Yaya Toure, who in turn found Samir Nasri. The former Arsenal midfielder, in top form this season, got his head up and played a long pass to Navas in space, with the winger then sending Negredo through. The Spanish international took a couple of touches before taking a strike with the outside of his left foot which Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet got a hand to but could not do enough to stop the ball from trickling in.
Suarez needed to bring some of that how-does-he-do-it magic out in the second half, and the Uruguayan nearly conjured one, twisting Zabaleta inside out, before forcing a rather nervous save from Hart at the near post.
Henderson then gave the City fans a heart attack as the midfielder almost got in on the end of a ball over the top, with Hart doing enough to keep the ball away from the Liverpool man before Suarez's goalbound-or-was-it effort rebounding off Henderson.
Glen Johnson then made a hash of a presentable chance, thanks to a poor first touch, before Sterling fired one high after Suarez played in a here-is-a-simple-tap-in cross from the right.
Try as they may, Liverpool, admirable and undoubtedly deserving of at least a point, could not, even after calling in the footballing Gods, find that second goal as City, faced with their toughest test by a mile yet at home, held on for a huge three points.
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