United's rivals City earn draw to dent Liverpool's title hopes
Liverpool's hopes of winning the Premier League title were dealt a huge blow after stumbling to a 1-1 draw against Manchester City at Anfield.
City took the lead after the break when Craig Bellamy's shot took an influential deflection off Alvaro Arbeloa.
After controlling possession in the first half, under-par Liverpool equalised through Dirk Kuyt to set up a grandstand finish.
Shay Given was forced to make a superb reaction save to a Yossi Benayoun effort late on but City left Anfield with a well-deserved point, leaving Rafa Benitez's men seven points adrift of Manchester United.
The telling statistic of six draws at home will prove vital in piecing together where Liverpool's title challenge went wrong, but without the injured skipper Steven Gerrard, the home side didn't look as convincing and threatening.
In fact, despite the dominance of Liverpool in the first half, City's tactics nearly proved to be a winning formula. Hughes played Nigel De Jong, Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta in midfield, providing the tenacity and grit that has been lacking previously. This allowed Stephen Ireland, Robinho and the lively Bellamy to venture forward and City were unlucky not to take all three points back to Eastlands.
The best chance of the first half fell to Ireland. His pass to Robinho allowed the Brazilian to venture forward, providing a perfectly timed ball to Ireland whose sidefooted his shot tamely at Jose Reina.
The home side had half-chances that were scuppered by Albert Riera and Benayoun but were left stunned when City took the lead early in the second half. Robinho, whose form has been indifferent of late, passed to Kompany who in turn set up Bellamy. His shot was deflected past Reina off Arbeloa to give City an unexpected lead.
Anfield was stunned into silence as the home fans watched their title dreams slip out of their grasp. But Liverpool rallied and pushed for a leveller and, once Kuyt had netted, City fans faced a nervy finish. But, despite all City's defensive frailties this season, Hughes' side played out the 90 minutes for a draw.
Despite City's abysmal away form, they showed character and purpose against a Liverpool side that lacked leadership and creativity. The absence of Gerrard was significant, illustrating just how important a player he is for Benitez's side. Robinho looked happier, suggesting that he relishes playing in a 'big occasion' game, but was substituted late on. The midfield presence of both De Jong and Kompany proved crucial in City earning a point, and they will now look to the UEFA Cup, with the second leg against FC Copenhagen at Eastlands on Thursday night. Benitez will be left wondering if Liverpool's title challenge can be salvaged- and when Gerrard will be fit again.