Mancini must deliver promises
The last manager to sit in what used to be Anfield's famous old bootroom and make a promise he failed to keep paid for it with his job. Manchester City's Roberto Mancini must hope fate can resist the temptation to inflict similar punishment.
Rafael Benitez's inability to deliver his "guarantee" of Champions League football became a suicide note for his Liverpool career - and yet Mancini was in the mood for similarly bold claims despite the catalogue of grim evidence before his eyes on Monday.
Liverpool's fully deserved 3-0 win exposed the problems Mancini faces balancing the egos, talents and fragile temperaments in his squad, which, lest we forget, has been assembled at vast cost.
Throw in an injury to Carlos Tevez that surely rules him out of the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United at Wembley this weekend, the sight of £25m substitute Mario Balotelli suffering the indignity of being replaced himself and another blank night for £27m Edin Dzeko and this was hardly the foundation stone for assertions that City would qualify for the Champions League and reach the FA Cup final. Mancini made them anyway.
Carroll scored twice to put Liverpool on course for victory. Photo: Getty Images
In his defence, he can hardly be expected to say anything else. He also chose to rest David Silva and Nigel de Jong with Wembley in mind, two players of contrasting qualities that may just have made life a little more uncomfortable for a dominant Liverpool.
It is also worth remembering that City still lie fourth in the Premier League, within touching distance of the Champions League with six matches remaining. Not exactly a parlous position.
Still, it was hardly the time or place to make such bold pledges after arguably the worst 90 minutes of his season.
The reality for the former Inter Milan boss is that he must make good on at least one of his promises if his work and spending this season is not to be subjected to the closest of scrutiny by City's Abu Dhabi rulers.
Failure to achieve one objective might just be excusable. Failure to deliver both may prove terminal to his time at Eastlands.
As for Liverpool, the evening gave their fans renewed hope that they are on the road to recovery after the failures of the Roy Hodgson regime.
Liverpool must be given credit for a thrilling performance, especially an opening 35 minutes that brought Andy Carroll's first goals for the club since his £35m move from Newcastle United and a Dirk Kuyt strike slipped in between.
At times, the home side, seriously weakened by injuries, were irresistible. The pace and power of their start carried such force that City never recovered, so much so that it was 82 minutes before Pepe Reina made a save, a routine stop from Yaya Toure.
And Kenny Dalglish, whose appointment as permanent manager surely moved a significant step closer as City joined Chelsea and Manchester United on his impressive list of victims, was able to revel in the assured displays of local products Jay Spearing and teenage debutant defender John Flanagan as well as his expensive purchases.
For City, there was only bad news. As Wembley preparations go, it could not have been worse as they lost Tevez to a hamstring problem in a confidence-bashing loss.
Mancini, in an act of generosity that spared his players, took responsibility for the result when he said: "I'm disappointed with myself because I made mistakes. This game was my fault. I made mistakes over the last two days but I know why."
And he added: "We did not prepare for this game very well. The fact we arrived late was probably part of the reason. We probably thought that if we played this game less than 100% we could still get a win. But football is not like that. I have learned something about myself. I have a lot of experience, so it was my mistake not the players."
Yaya Toure hangs his head in dismay. Photo: Getty Images
Mancini added to the intrigue by declining to elaborate on his errors. But a major worry is that Balotelli is shaping up to be one of them - and a mighty expensive one at that.
Balotelli's unpredictability means he may yet produce a decisive moment against United at Wembley on Saturday but too often this sullen young man looks like he wants to be anywhere but on a football pitch.
Treading along the margins of the action except to unleash a couple of wild long-range shots, Balotelli suffered what should be one of the worst fates to befall a professional, namely being the substitute who performed so badly he was substituted. He could have no complaints but neither can Mancini because he knew only too well the price on the ticket of this complex young man.
Mancini made no attempt to shield Balotelli either. A shake of the head accompanied by a masterpiece of understatement: "He didn't play well."
In contrast to the danger, industry and commitment of Liverpool's £58m strike force of Carroll and Luis Suarez, City's own £52m pairing of Balotelli and Dzeko cut the palest of comparisons.
Mancini will hope Wembley's stage can provide the spark for both men, especially Dzeko, the giant who arrived with a huge reputation from Wolfsburg.
He looked lost and lightweight at Anfield and, rather ominously, was on the end of some rough treatment from City's fans - the club's outstanding performers by some distance - when he made little more than a token effort to challenge for a cross in the second half.
Mancini's message that City can still make the Champions League and FA Cup final may have been deliberately designed to lift the spirits of his players but such proclamations are remembered, especially if they do not come to pass.
Now he must hope Manchester City's players can turn his words into action.