The Project Five Thirty Eight website must currently be swamped with visitors curious to know the odds of the US Presidential Election. However, they also provide predictions of a race of another kind – the Premier League title race. This game week, we see the two primary title contenders – Manchester City and Liverpool, go head-to-head first time this season. On Sunday, Liverpool will head to Etihad to play Pep’s team in this marquee clash. Although City currently sit 10th in the table, 5 points behind Liverpool, having played a game less, the oracles at 538 believe them to be the favorites (52% probability) for the title. Liverpool, who are leading the table are second-favorites (27% probability). The outcome of Sunday’s game will go a long way in deciding if the odds change substantially or not.
By Pep Guardiola’s standards and by Manchester City’s own standards, their start to the season has been sluggish. They have managed to beat Wolves, Arsenal and Sheffield United, but have lost heavily (2-5) to Leicester and have drawn against Leeds and West Ham. Since the start of October, they have not scored more than once in a Premier League game. This is very unlike Pep’s City and Guardiola will want them to turn this form around quickly, as its continuation could hand a decisive advantage to other title rivals, primarily Liverpool. City do come into this game having beaten Olympiacos 3-0 in Champions League on Tuesday. City will also take encouragement from the last time Liverpool visited Etihad, as the newly anointed Champions had returned having lost 0-4.
Liverpool’s start to the season has anything but sluggish or uneventful. Of their seven games, they have won five. Till they visited Villa Park in the last game before the previous international break, they were winning comfortably, having dispatched Leeds, Chelsea and Arsenal in the first three games. However, the 7-2 loss at Aston Villa did not just shake their goal difference but also their swagger. This loss was followed by a 2-2 draw in the Merseyside derby at Everton, which has since then been followed by a couple of come-from-behind wins against Sheffield United and West Ham. More than the results, Klopp’s side is more shaken by the injuries to some of the key players, primarily Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho and Thiago. They definitely put these concerns away in the Champions League on Tuesday when they beat Atalanta 0-5 in Bergamo. However, Man City in Etihad are a completely different opponent and it would be fair for the Reds to have a few jitters. Klopp knows that a win on Sunday can go a long way in improving his side’s title odds for this season and will be keen to inflict a ninth loss on Pep.
- City have won their last three home league games against Liverpool by an aggregate score of 11-1. They have not won four consecutively against the Reds at home since March 1937. Liverpool’s record away at Man City is also not something they would be proud of. The Reds have not kept a clean sheet in any of their last 10 away league games against City, conceding 26 goals in that run (W1 D2 L7).
- Man City like to play the reigning champions of Premier League. They have won nine out of their last 10 games against the reigning champions, losing only to Leicester in 2016. However, when Liverpool are the champions that City are playing, then it is a different matter. The hosts have won none of their last 11 when facing Liverpool as the previous season’s title winner (D2 L9).
- The talk of Liverpool’s leaky defence is on everyone’s lips. The Reds have conceded 15 goals in their seven Premier League games this season, as many as they shipped in their last 26 league games last season (which included a 4-0 drubbing at Etihad). It is the highest number of goals conceded by Liverpool in their first seven league games since 1964-65 (also 15).
- But Liverpool are still at the top of the league table at this early stage due to their ability to put the goals conceded behind them and win matches from losing positions. Since the start of the last season, Liverpool have won a league-high 28 points from losing positions in the Premier League. They have come from behind in their last two games. They have never done that thrice.
- City this season are not the rampant side that scored 102 and 95 goals in the last two campaigns. In six games thus far, City have scored only 9 goals, with an xG of mere 7.9 goals. It is their lowest goals per game rate since 2007-08.
Gabriel Jesus contributed significantly to Man City’s century of goals last season. He scored 14 and assisted 7 having played 2022 minutes in 34 appearances. His contribution so far has been limited having just made appearance against Wolves so far. He did score in that 1-3 win at the Molineux in September. But then he got injured. Thus he did not make another appearance till he came off the bench in Man City’s midweek game against Olympiacos. Although he was on the pitch for a mere 21 minutes, he did score against the Greeks as well. In absence of Sergio Aguero, it is likely that Pep will turn to his more trusted option, instead of Ferran Torres who started the game against Olympiacos. Jesus’ healthy stats from last season – 0.94 xG90, 0.16 xA90 and 0.32 of xGBuildup will also make Pep pin his hopes on the Brazilian.
Jurgen Klopp signed Diogo Jota from Wolves, presumably to provide some healthy competition to Roberto Firmino and Minamino. However, the form that Jota is in might endanger both those players’ position in Klopp’s first team plans. Three goals in 5 appearance in the Premier League along with 4 goals in the Champions League, including a hattrick in the mid-week game against Atalanta will definitely prompt Klopp to play him. A very healthy xG90 of 0.59 and xA90 of 0.10, supplemented by a xGBuildup of 0.37 will mean that Liverpool will trust the Portuguese to lead the line and hope that he stays on form or even improves.
For City, Gabriel Jesus is back from injury and got some minutes against Olympiacos. Sergio Aguero might not be available on Sunday though. Ferran Torres might still be retained in the team albeit alongside Jesus. That means it could be Riyad Mahrez who makes way for Jesus to come in. Ruben Diaz and Aymeric Laporte were rested against Olympiacos and will feature against Liverpool. Nathan Ake will compete with Joao Cancelo to start at left-back, while Gundogan will compete with Foden to start along side De Bruyne and Rodri in the midfield. The likely lineup for Manchester CIty is likely to be Ederson; Cancelo, Laporte, Diaz, Walker; Gundogan, Rodrigo, De Bruyne; Sterling, Jesus, Torres.
For Liverpool, Klopp might alter shape to play 4-2-3-1 allowing him to play both Jota and Firmino. It could also help him overcome the possible absence of Thiago. Fabinho Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and van Dijk are definite absentees. Joel Matip is however likely to make a comeback and partner Joe Gomez in defence. Nate Phillips and Henderson could also provide options in central defence. The likely lineup for Liverpool is – Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Matip, Robertson; Henderson, Wijnaldum; Mane, Firmino, Salah; Jota.
Under Klopp, Liverpool have generally made it hard for City to beat them even at Etihad, last season’s title-hung-over loss notwithstanding. With the current attacking form of City and the tenacity shown by Nate Phillips and Joe Gomez last weekend, one can expect the game to be drawn on Sunday.
Manchester City 1 –1 Liverpool