Premier League - Liverpool woe continues with City loss
What transpired to be the first of eight games without Luis Suarez proved troublesome for Liverpool as they were beaten 3-0 in the Premier League by 10-man Manchester City at Etihad Stadium.
Just over an hour prior to kick-off, Liverpool announced they would not appeal against Suarez's ban for racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra, meaning he was unavailable for selection, even if they defiantly maintained the striker's innocence in the face of mounting criticism.
With the unsavoury and divisive issue hanging over the club, Kenny Dalglish witnessed his side concede more than one goal for only the second time in 24 games in all competitions as they missed the chance to take fifth place from Arsenal.
Sergio Aguero exploited a goalkeeping error from Jose Reina to open the scoring after 10 minutes and Yaya Toure added a second with a header from a corner after 33 minutes as City took a rather flattering two-goal lead.
City, who went three points clear of Manchester United at the top of the table with the victory, were reduced to 10 men on 74 minutes when Gareth Barry was shown a second yellow card, but extended their lead less than a minute later when James Milner converted a penalty after a rather soft award.
It could have been worse for Liverpool - Adam Johnson struck the post late on for the home side - and they were left to rue another toothless performance as their star forward begins his FA-imposed punishment.
Liverpool approached the match at Etihad Stadium with a reputation for defensive solidity. It was in attack, with Suarez absent, where their shortcomings lay, though Dirk Kuyt was brought in to assist lone striker Andy Carroll.
Tellingly, though, City were able to restore David Silva and Aguero to the starting line-up after they were rested for the shock 1-0 defeat at Sunderland and both returning stars made a decisive impact in a first half that saw Liverpool's backline breached on two occasions.
It was the visitors from Merseyside who threatened first in the early stages when Jordan Henderson opened up the City defence with a sumptuous through-ball for Stewart Downing, who was then denied by an excellent piece of goalkeeping from Joe Hart, who made himself big to block.
City's best moves flowed through Silva, with Edin Dzeko forcing Reina into a save at his near post following one pass from the Spaniard, and he was influential in the opening goal after just 10 minutes as Milner robbed Kuyt of possession 20 yards from goal and found Silva.
He in turn slipped a quick pass to Aguero, who took aim and saw his shot dip under the arms of Reina and into the net. Though the ball moved unpredictably in the air, it was still a highly unconvincing piece of goalkeeping from Liverpool's number one.
Reina was almost beaten on a second occasion when Dzeko saw a low effort deflect off the heel of Glen Johnson and squirm just wide of the post, and excelled himself on 32 minutes when pulling off a tremendous save to tip a header from Vincent Kompany over the bar.
However, from the subsequent corner the Liverpool defence left Yaya Toure unmarked and unmolested to flick a header past Reina and off the underside of the bar. Having been far from their fluent best, City suddenly found themselves 2-0 in front.
On a day that witnessed claims of injustice from the very heart of Anfield over the Suarez affair, the Reds could rightly feel aggrieved at the margin of City's lead, and Liverpool were denied again just before the break when Kuyt met a knock-down from Carroll only to be denied by a quite brilliant block from Kompany as the City captain threw his body in the way of the Dutchman's shot.
A rather disappointing second half - characterised largely by Liverpool delivering a succession of aerial balls for the isolated Carroll in attack - suddenly sprang to life on 73 minutes when Barry was shown a second yellow card for bodychecking Daniel Agger.
Just when Liverpool thought they had spotted a possible route back into the match, inside a minute they found themselves 3-0 down. Yaya Toure embarked on one of those trademark storming runs through midfield and drew a half-hearted challenge from Martin Srktel. Little contact was made but Toure made enough of it to win a penalty, with Milner converting with a fine shot from 12 yards.
Adam Johnson found a pocket of space 25 yards from goal before curling a fine effort off the base of the post as City threatened to extend their lead, and while Liverpool finished strongly - Maxi Rodriguez, Craig Bellamy and Steven Gerrard all threatening - they found goals hard to come by yet again.