Two teams, unbeaten so far, believed to be strong contenders for lifting the Premier League trophy in May next year, go head to head in the eighth game week of the league campaign. Liverpool host Manchester City on Sunday evening, in the last fixture of this game week. This match needs no hype, as given how the table is shaping up, this could be one of the games that decided the title at the end of the campaign.
With this game, Liverpool are reaching the end of a challenging set of fixtures and they should be happy that they are ending them better than many had anticipated. They are still at the joint top of the league, and in contention for a last-16 spot in Champions League. They would, of course, like to end that set with a win on Sunday, but their recent form has been worrisome. In their last three games, the Reds have lost two and drawn one scoring three goals and conceding four. If anything, they can take heart from two facts – their winless streaks do not last much longer than 2-3 games and Manchester City, as well as Pep Guardiola, have a poor record at Anfield and versus Jurgen Klopp respectively. For Liverpool to play better than they have done recently, they will need to play better in the middle of the park. Klopp’s midfield combinations have not worked very well and Jordan Henderson has come under scrutiny for his ineffective passing. Ineffective service has meant that the forwards are not as lethal as they were last season. The Reds can, however, take heart from how their defense is performing. For Liverpool to win on Sunday, all three sets of players will have to play much better than their performance in Napoli during the midweek.
For Manchester City, the history is ominous but other than that, they are motoring along very well. Unbeaten in the league till now, just like their hosts, they have multiple creators as well as goal scorers. Guardiola will obviously want to end the hoodoo against Jurgen Klopp and given the relative form of both the teams, Sunday presents an excellent opportunity. After the shock loss to Lyon in the first game week of Champions League, City have scored 12 goals and conceded only one, as they have beaten Cardiff, Oxford, Brighton, and Hoffenheim in the process. In the mid-week game, City came back from a goal down to beat Hoffenheim 1-2 in Germany. With Aguero and Sterling both in good scoring form (5 and 4 league goals each) and several others chipping infrequently (total 21 league goals), Guardiola will not get a better chance to end City’s 15-year old hoodoo at Anfield.
- Liverpool are unbeaten in 17 home matches against Manchester City in all competitions (W12, D5), their last defeat at the hands of City coming in May 2003. The Reds are also unbeaten in 24 Premier League home games, the best current streak in the competition.
- Manchester City could lose four times to the same team in a calendar year for the third time. Previously they have lost four in a calendar year to Grimsby Town (1936) and Tottenham (1993).
- Pep Guardiola does not savor playing against either Liverpool or against Jurgen Klopp. Guardiola has lost seven matches against Klopp, the most against any manager and he is also in the danger of losing three successive away games against a single opponent for the first time.
- Liverpool have turned Anfield into a fortress of sorts for all kinds of opponents. They have not lost to a Big Six team at Anfield since a 0-1 loss to Manchester United in January 2016. They could also equal the club top-flight record of nine consecutive home clean sheets, set from November 2006 to February 2007. Liverpool have not let in a goal at Anfield in 751 minutes since a 4-1 win over West Ham in February this year.
- Mohamed Salah is not in top form, but he was the primary reason for the Reds’ three victories over Guardiola’s men last season. He has scored three and set up two goals against City in the last three games.
- Sergio Aguero, with 148 goals to his name is just two away from 150 goals for City. He would be the ninth player to score 150 or more goals in the competition. Only Thierry Henry (175) has scored more Premier League goals for a single team.
Sadio Mane is currently Liverpool’s top-most scorer with 4 league goals. He has also scored four goals against City, having scored more (6) against only Crystal Palace. His xG90 and xA90 amount to 0.60, i.e. he is 60% likely to contribute a goal if he plays for 90 minutes. This is less than Salah’s 1.19 xG90 + xA90, but the Egyptian is in a bad form. Sadio Mane will have to pick up the mantle of Liverpool’s primary attacker, that in my view he conceded to Salah since the first Manchester City game last season. If he does, he can pose several problems for Pep’s team.
City’s attack would be highly dependent on Sergio Aguero, their highest goal-scorer in the league with 5 goals to his name. However, Aguero has failed to score a goal at Anfield in his previous nine appearances (7 for City, 2 for Athletico Madrid), attempting just 11 shots, three of which were on target. This could be the driving factor for him, along with how close he is to achieving 150 goals for Manchester City in the league. Even if he does not manage to score again, his presence will keep the Liverpool defence on their toes.
For Liverpool, Naby Keita has been cleared of any serious injury after he had to be substituted in the game in Naples. Liverpool’s midfield has struggled lately so it will not be surprising if Klopp rings in a few changes – possibly starting with Shaquiri and Fabinho in the midfield. One question that will trouble the German is if he should drop Salah and start with Sturridge or should he use the Englishman as an impact sub – after all he has scored 2 goals in the league in a mere 19 minutes after being subbed in.
For Manchester City, Kevin de Bruyne and Benjamin Mendy are back in training and might feature in the starting XI against Liverpool. Other than the injured trio of Mangala, Bravo, and Delph, Guardiola has a fit and well-rested squad to pick from.
Liverpool versus City games are always goal-fests and very entertaining. They managed 12 goals in just two league games between them in the previous campaign. On Sunday, we should see goals from both the teams, but both the teams could still remain unbeaten at the end of the game. In my view, a score draw is a likely result on Sunday.
Liverpool 2 – 2 Manchester City