League Cup - Gerrard strikes as Liverpool snuff out City
City endured a forgettable evening with Vincent Kompany suspended, David Silva missing due to an ankle injury and Mario Balotelli surviving only 40 minutes before he departed - apparently with his own ankle problem - as the home side struggled to find any real momentum.
Liverpool struck after a sustained period of pressure in the opening 12 minutes when visiting captain Gerrard slammed a penalty beyond Joe Hart low to the England goalkeeper's right after a nervy Stefan Savic had needlessly brought down Daniel Agger in the box.
The return leg of the semi-final will be contested at Anfield on January 25 with Liverpool chasing a first final appearance at Wembley since they lost to Manchester United at the old national stadium in 1996.
There is plenty of life left in this match as a revitalised Gerrard later pointed out, but Liverpool will feel they have gained a measure of revenge having lost 3-0 to City in the Premier League at the same venue last week. They lost Jay Spearing to a hamstring injury midway through the first period, but Charlie Adam proved to be an able and battle-hardened replacement in the midfield area.
The winner of this match will be heavy favourites to carry off the traditional League Cup trophy with a match against Championship opposition in the form of Crystal Palace or Cardiff City - Palace hold a 1-0 lead before visiting Cardiff City - looming in the final.
City manager Roberto Mancini was unhappy with the nature of Glen Johnson's two-footed tackle on Joleon Lescott coming only days after Kompany was sent off for a similar tackle on Nani in his side's 3-2 defeat to Manchester United in the FA Cup third round. Like Kompany, Johnson won the ball but his tackle went unpunished by the referee Lee Mason.
In hindsight, Mancini has more to trouble him having watched his side toil to break down a Liverpool outfit who decided to sit deep and soak up pressure in the second half, but never looked under any real threat of conceding a goal.
Kenny Dalglish's team dominated from the outset as Hart raced from his line to save from the visiting striker Andy Carroll on four minutes after Savic had been caught out of position.
Hart continued to remain defiant as he conjured up an eye-catching save to nudge a shot by Steven Gerrard past a post before somehow changing direction to repel a deflected effort by Stewart Downing that seemed destined for the rigging.
The home side never managed to construct a positive attacking move of any real note until the 43rd minute in one of their most ineffectual outings of the seasons. Jose Reina was forced to claw out an effort by Samir Nasri - who had replaced the injured Balotelli - that bounced in front of the goalkeeper before he nudged the ball wide.
A mistake by Martin Kelly in trying to pass the ball back to Reina on 57 minutes almost offered City an unlikely route back into the match, but then keeper did well to stand tall in front of Aguero, who could only clip the ball well over from an acute angle.
Reina was called into action to keep out a header from Richards on 60 minutes after Nasri had delivered a nifty corner.
Sergio Aguero was the man most likely to rescue a draw for City in the death throes of the match, but he was foiled when Reina dived low to his left to keep out a shot by the forward after he had led three Liverpool defenders a merry dance.
Nasri picked out Aguero in the final minute, but the little Argentina forward headed over in a move that summed a night of some frustration for City and their supporters.