MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 11: Stefan Savic of Manchester City fouls Daniel Agger of Liverpool to concede a penalty during the Carling Cup Semi Final First Leg match between Manchester City and Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium on January 11, 2012 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Down, but not out. A first half that ended with City lethargically trudging from the field fortunate to be only a goal down ended with at least some hope of being able to recover the tie at Anfield in a fortnights time. Liverpool are clearly in the driving seat however and will be buoyed the stat that shows only two of the past 27 semi-finals has seen the victor from the first leg not progress to the final.
The exertions from Sunday (playing for almost eighty minutes with ten men) would have an effect on the side but this factor has been strangely absent from much of the post-game analysis. City only really sparked into any sort of life with the introduction of Samir Nasri for the ineffectual Mario Balotelli. Even with a midfield trio of Nigel de Jong, Gareth Barry and James Milner, City laboured for the most part with the returning Steven Gerrard a huge influence for the visitors. Nasri's arrival provided the required impetus in the absence of David Silva as City sought to get back into the game after the break.
Despite City enjoying the territory and possession in the second half, this advantage could not be turned into anything tangible; chances were few and far between and only Micah Richard's header troubled Reina, who looked a more assured presence than a week ago. Liverpool's approach in many ways was similar to that seen last week in the Premier League game: possession football largely built upon a disciplined and diligent approach to defence. There has been much analysis on their struggles in front of goal - specifically the ability (or lack of) to convert the chances that have been created - but this time they managed to get the early goal, something that had been delayed only due to two very good saves from Joe Hart, and were content to hold the lead for the remainder of the game.
The second leg is now set up in intriguing fashion and protecting the one goal lead is something Liverpool won't be unduly concerned with. Whilst they have had issues in front of goal, at the other end of the pitch they have had no such worries this season and City will need to find the cutting edge and clinical nature that has been lacking at times over the past month. A one goal is in no way insurmountable however, and by no means do City have to go out and chase the game from the outset. They will need to ensure though that they do not reprise the opening from last nights game which could immediately cede a crucial advantage straight to Liverpool.
After going through the whole of 2011 unbeaten at The Etihad Stadium, City have now lost back to back cup games in the space of a matter of days. There are mitigating factors at the moment that do have to be considered of course, but there is suddenly an air of vulnerability and cracks appearing within the side. January was always going to be a testing month on all fronts, but events over the past week have only served to intensify the stakes and come the month end there could be a totally different complexion on their season.