Roberto Mancini's ailing Blues must pass one of the toughest tests of their high-pressure season at Anfield in a fortnight's time if they are to reach the Carling Cup Final.
City's second cup defeat in four days at the Etihad Stadium is not a mortal blow, but the second leg of this semi-final represents a big demand on the manager's stretched resources.
And after Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard's first-half spot kick proved enough for a first-leg win over a side that had been scoring for fun, the odds mightily favour the Reds.
Mancini could have been forgiven for muttering "told you so" as his makeshift team struggled to make any genuine impact on Kenny Dalglish's efficient operators.
City's manager had taken some media flak before this semi-final first leg for daring to suggest that he was facing a tough task to field a team capable of winning the game.
While the skipper's influence at the back has been colossal this season, Toure's powerhouse surges and Silva's magic touches have been the fuel for City's most inspirational moments
Without that formidable trio, they were always going to be ripe for the sort of result that canny Kenny knew could give his side a foot in the Wembley final on 26 February.
Gerrard's 12th-minute penalty came as a cruel early blow to below-strength City's ambitions but it could hardly be argued that it came against the run of play.
He was forced to hurl himself at the feet of Andy Carroll, who held off Stefan Savic's robust challenge only to be denied by the England keeper, with mere minutes on the clock.
Then Gerrard unleashed a fine effort that Hart athletically turned around a post before conjuring an even better save from Stewart Downing's volley from the resulting corner.
And finally, the travelling Kop celebrated the most theatrical penalty of the season so far, as Daniel Agger turned a decent somersault when the hapless Savic clipped his knee.
Referee Lee Mason was certainly impressed. Gerrard stepped up coolly to fire low and true into Hart's bottom right-hand corner and set City a stiff task for the evening.
The unpredictable striker, carrying an ankle knock, had presented little threat and a poor reaction to a Charlie Adam tackle maybe also rang a warning bell for the boss.
Carroll wasn't far off extending Liverpool's lead with a diving header that underlined Savic's struggle to cope with the big striker as the visitors tried to capitalise on their luck.
But the Blues might have enjoyed parity at half time had James Milner not leaned back just as he connected with Micah Richards' pass after a swashbuckling run from the right back
They might also have equalised early in the second half courtesy of Martin Kelly, whose awful backpass gave Sergio Aguero a half chance to beat Reina that he hit over from a narrow angle.
City certainly made a better fist of the second half, and Richards was decidedly unlucky with a powerful close-range header that alert goalkeeper Reina did well to block and parry.
But Liverpool, to their credit, defended well and with some discipline. Nasri could not unpick the lock, neither could Aguero fashion a proper opening. Now Anfield awaits.