Liverpool snatch first leg advantage

Steven Gerrard’s first-half penalty was enough to give Liverpool a 1-0 win over a lackluster Manchester City on Wednesday in the first leg of their League Cup semifinal.

Gerrard slotted his spot kick into the bottom right corner and out of reach of goalkeeper Joe Hart in the 13th minute after Stefan Savic had fouled Daniel Agger in the area.

City looked lethargic throughout the first half and then failed to convert a number of chances in the second as it slumped to back-to-back home losses for the first time since February 2008, having lost to Manchester United in the FA Cup this past weekend.

City, which leads the Premier League by three points ahead of United and Tottenham — which beat Everton 2-0 in Wednesday’s only other game in English football — struggled to make up for the absence of several key players against Liverpool.

Captain Vincent Kompany is serving a four-match ban after being sent off against United, while Kolo Toure is on African Nations Cup duty with the Ivory Coast and Mario Balotelli was substituted in the first half with an ankle problem.

“It is clear that without three or four players it’s more difficult but in the end we didn’t deserve to lose the game,” City manager Roberto Mancini said. “We played poorly in the first half but the result is not right. The right result was a draw.”

Liverpool started strongly, and Hart had already been forced to make three good saves to keep the game scoreless before Gerrard’s penalty.

Andy Carroll was able to spin away from Savic to break into the area, but the onrushing Hart parried his shot.

Hart was called into action again the 10th when he had to dive to his left to push away Gerrard’s low curling shot from 25 yards. From the resulting corner, Stewart Downing fired a low shot that was flicked on by Carrol, but Hart got down quickly to make a one-handed save on the goalline.

But he couldn’t keep out Gerrard’s penalty despite guessing correctly and diving to his right, and that was all Liverpool needed to secure an advantage going into the return leg in two weeks.

“There is no way this game is over, the job is half done,” Gerrard cautioned.

City’s performance improved after Balotelli was taken off and replaced by Samir Nasri, but the former Arsenal midfielder was denied by Pepe Reina with a shot from just outside the area.

Sergio Aguero had City’s best chance to equalize in the second half, as he pounced on a poor back pass in the area and rounded Reina, but he couldn’t get his effort on target from a tight angle as the goalkeeper kept up the pressure by diving at his feet.

Aguero had another chance in the 66th when he ran into the area, but curled a weak shot at Reina that caused no problems for the keeper.

Reina was also in the right place to deny Micah Richards’ close-range header after the stand-in City skipper had met Nasri’s corner.

In the other semifinal, Crystal Palace beat Cardiff 1-0 at home on Tuesday.


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