By RYAN TOLMICH
BRONX, N.Y. —Much like last season’s title race, Premier League sides Liverpool and Manchester City stayed neck-and-neck for the duration of Wednesday night’s International Champions Cup contest.
However, it was the runners-up, Liverpool, who bested their Premier League rivals, topping Man City 3-1 on penalties after the two sides played to a 2-2 draw through 90 minutes at Yankee Stadium.
After a busy opening 15 minutes, Liverpool created the best chance of the half via the head of new signing Rickie Lambert.
Lambert’s header, which was assisted by Jordan Henderson, came off with power but lacked direction, as the ball smashed straight into the chest of Man City goalkeeper Willy Caballero, who did well to get across his backline and into the position to make a save.
Man City forward Edin Dzeko looked to have scored just nine minutes later, only for the referee to rule the Bosnian forward offside. After being taken down just outside the Liverpool box, the 28-year-old forward was slow to get up, but wasted little time in trying to get back into a goalscoring position when fellow forward Stevan Jovetic found his way onto the ball.
Jovetic played a through ball into the direction of Dzeko, who smashed home, but the referee ruled that Dzeko failed to make it back past the Liverpool back line.
Man City’s opener came just eight minutes after the halftime restart when Jesus Navas’ cross took a fortuitous bounce off of Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard. Navas’ ball from the right side took a deflection off of a sliding Gerrard and straight into the path of Jovetic, who tapped home easily from close range to make the score 1-0.
“I thought we were unfortunate,” said Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers after the game. “Jovetic is very bright. He’s alive in the box. Unfortunately, the first goal got deflected off Stevie.”
Liverpool’s equalizer came just six minutes later, as Henderson sent the largely pro-Liverpool crowd at Yankee Stadium into a frenzy with a right footed curler to tie the score at one in the game’s 59th minute.
The 24-year-old midfielder took advantage of a loose ball in the box after a Raheem Sterling through ball. Sterling’s original pass found it’s way to Sturridge, who was quickly trampled by the Man City defense, leaving plenty of space for Henderson to swoop in and curl past Joe Hart.
“That finish that he made on that equalizer, he does that day in and day out in training,” said Rodgers to describe Henderson. “He’s a player that’s so fit and so strong and he’s such a team player that does a lot of unselfish work for the team.
“This year, we’re asking him to get more into the box… That’s his strength. He can really penetrate the defensive line and he’s an athlete. He can run all day. I would expect him to be getting upwards of 10 goals this season. He has the quality and the technical abilities in the area to do that.
The goalscoring explosion continued into the 67th minute, as Jovetic tapped in his second of the match from inside six yards.
Man City forward Bruno Zuculini, who just moments earlier had drilled the crossbar, played a ball through the Liverpool box to a streaking Jovetic on the back post and the Montenegran tapped home easily to make it 2-1.
“I am sure if he continues this way, he will demonstrate why he’s here,” said Man City manager Manuel Pellegrini to describe his goalscorer. “He’s a top player. He’s a very good player.
“He’s scored in every game we’ve played in the preseason, so it totally depends on what he can do during the year. Especially if he’s fit for the year, he’ll be a very important player for us.”
Once again, Liverpool found their equalizer, this time through Henderson’s World Cup teammate, Sterling, who tied things at two in the 85th minute.
Sterling, who had been highly effective since his halftime introduction, took his first touch at the top of the box to split a pair of Man City defenders. The 19-year-old speedster than blasted his shot past Hart and into side netting, paving the way for penalties.
After the game, Rodgers pointed to a change in formation to a 4-2-3-1 as the difference maker in the game, as the Reds proved to be the more lively side in the game’s closing minutes.
“We had a connection with Phillipe Coutinho,” said Rodgers. “He’s played on the sides, he played on the top of the diamond. That last 15-20 minutes he played and started connecting the midfield with the frontline.”
The Reds proved to be the better side in the shootout, with Emre Can, Henderson and Lucas Leiva scoring for the Reds while only 17-year-old Kelechi Iheanacho converted for City.
The Reds will continue their preseason Saturday in Charlotte, where they take on AC Milan in a rematch of the 2005 and 2007 Champions League finals. Man City will travel to Minneapolis next to face Olympiacos on Saturday in the final match of the ICC.