Liverpool began life without Luis Suarez with defeat to Manchester City, who put their Barclays Premier League title challenge back on track with a comfortable win at the Etihad Stadium.
Suarez began his eight-game ban against City following his club’s announcement that they wouldn’t be appealing against the FA sentence, an absence that was significant as The Reds toiled against the league leaders.
A draw with West Bromwich Albion and defeat to Sunderland had left neighbours Manchester United breathing down City’s neck going into the New Year but a thorough City showing, which sparked into life following Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure’s first-half goals, provided evidence that their title challenge is far from stalling.
Gareth Barry’s sending off threatened to allow Kenny Dalglish’s men back into the contest, but James Milner’s penalty, after Toure’s brave run, put paid to any comeback.
Continuing life without striker their Uruguayan striker, who missed the win over Newcastle United following a seperate one-game ban, Dalglish put his faith in Andy Carroll, whose goal drought in the Premier League had lasted eight games.
Meanwhile City, who were going through something of a difficult spell in front of goal of late as well, made six changes from the defeat at the Stadium of Light.
City began in the fashion of a side who had won just a point from their last two games and Stewart Downing had an early opportunity to make them pay for their slow start, but the winger was denied by his international counterpart Joe Hart.
While Hart was cool and collected at one end, it was a different story for Pepe Reina, who when faced with Aguero’s dipping effort, inexplicably dived over the strike to allow the Argentine to gift the hosts the lead.
The home side soaked up more pressure from the Merseysiders, with Charlie Adam’s free-kick being turned away by Hart before they produced the sucker punch, doubling their lead after the half-hour to seemingly put them out of sight.
After Reina produced a reflex save to deny Vincent Kompany from heading home in identical fashion to how he did at Anfield in November, Toure punished the visitors' slack defending, nodding in off the underside of the bar from the subsequent corner.
The second half took a similar pattern to the first, with Liverpool dominating possession, and City threatening, if not often wasteful, on the break.
The introduction of Steven Gerrard and former City man Craig Bellamy provided Dalglish’s side with more thrust up front, and their spirits were lifted with 17 minutes left when Barry was dismissed for a second bookable offence.
However, in similar fashion to how they’d stung Liverpool all evening, City stuck decisively straight from the re-start, as Toure’s surging run saw him felled by Skrtel, with Milner tucking away the resulting spot kick.
Even with ten men, Roberto Mancini’s men saw out the remainder of the contest without alarm, as their grip on top spot in the Premier League tightened, while Liverpool will worry about their lack of cutting edge, with Suarez likely to unavailable until February.