A title clash in November is unlikely, but it is exactly what the game between Liverpool and Manchester City on Sunday evening will feel like. The two top sides will go head to head in a bid to establish dominance for the rest of the season. Both the sides are faltering a bit from their high standards, but it is the Champions of last season that are paying the higher price, having already lost 2 matches in the first 11. Liverpool too are not at the level of last season but are still notching up difficult win after win.
The Reds go into this game having beaten KRC Genk at Anfield on Tuesday night. They were expected to be dominant against the Belgian minnows but possibly because of the slight squad rotation that Klopp imposed or possibly because of the form they are in, Liverpool made it a tough game for themselves, needing a second half goal from Oxlade-Chamberlain to get all three points and to move closer to qualification for the knockouts. While Liverpool have clearly regressed in defence – they have conceded at least a goal in each of the last five games at home, they have also been less prolific in attack, having made 2-1 victories their staple in this initial part of the season. Even if they were to win by the same score line, Jurgen Klopp will welcome such a victory, given that it will put clear daylight between them and the chasing pack.
Manchester City also had a rocky midweek encounter. They played Atalanta in San Siro in Milan drawing 1-1, after a chaotic second half performance, that saw substituted keeper Claudio Bravo being sent off and Kyle Walker donning the keeper’s gloves instead. Last weekend as well, Pep’s men had to laboriously come back from being 1-0 down against Southampton at half-time. They eventually won 2-1 but must have been dismayed by an even more dramatic comeback win from Liverpool against Aston Villa. It is clear that Pep Guardiola is aiming for all competitions, given that he played several of his first choice XI in the midweek. But if they lose on Sunday, Pep might be forced to reassess his priorities for the season.
- Liverpool have been traditionally dominant over Manchester City at home, having lost only once in City’s 28 top-flight outings at Anfield (1-2 in May 2003). Liverpool’s other streaks continue as well – 45 home games without defeat and unbeaten for 28 games in the Premier League, ever since Manchester City won 2-1 at Etihad in January.
- But Manchester City are no pushovers themselves. They have won 11 of their last 12 Premier League away games, scoring 30 goals in those games. They are also this season’s current top scorers in the league, with 34 goals in 11 games. In fact, they have failed to score only once in their last 33 league fixtures.
- Liverpool make it a point to play well against the top six, especially the reigning champions. The Reds have won more Premier League games against reigning champions than any other side in the competition’s history (21). They have not lost at home in such a match since December 2007 (0-1 vs Man Utd), winning six and drawing five since.
- Even if they go behind on Sunday, the Reds can bounce back. They have won a league-high 10 points from losing positions this season. In fact, Liverpool have won their last two Premier League games despite conceding the first goal – they have never conceded the first goal in three consecutive games in the Premier League ever before.
- Pep’s team are trying to win consecutive top-flight fixtures against Liverpool for the first time, since a run of four between 1935 to 1937. City have lost two out of their opening 11 games – no team coached by Guardiola has lost thrice before the 15th match of a season.
If there is one Liverpool player who likes to play against the Champions, it is their Brazilian forward. Firmino has contributed seven goals in his eight Premier League games against Manchester City (4 goals, 3 assists). In his current form his xG90 (0.45) + his xA90 (0.32) give him more than 75% chance of contributing a goal if he plays 90 minutes. His 3 goals and 3 assists so far in the season are lower than his xG (4.68) and xA (3.30) respectively. The numbers would have been even better had Firmino’s armpit not been ruled out by VAR against Aston Villa last Saturday. The Anfield faithful will hope that the forward will carry on with his good form against the Citizens on Sunday, without any of his limbs or joints being called offside.
Sergio Aguero will be playing his 250th Premier League game on Sunday. That is a momentous occasion. However, it is tempered by the fact that Aguero has not scored at Anfield in any of his seven Premier League appearances. Anfield is the ground where he has played the most without scoring. He only has had 10 shots across seven games, with just two on target. His massive tally of 9 goals scored and 2 assisted in just 10 appearances this season, however, will give him confidence to break his duck at Liverpool. His xG90 of 1.07 indicates more than 100% probability of scoring a goal if he plays 90 minutes. Guardiola will hope that his star striker’s form on Sunday is in line with those stats.
For Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp rotated his side a bit in the midweek win against Genk. He had also save Fabinho for the game on Sunday by dropping him out of the starting XI against Aston Villa last Saturday. Henderson and van Djik should also return from minor midweek illnesses, making sure that Klopp is able to field his first choice XI against the archrivals. Possible Liverpool starting lineup for Sunday: Alisson; Trent, Lovren, van Dijk, Roberston; Henderson, Fabinho, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mane.
For Manchester City, Ederson has been ruled out after he limped out at halftime at San Siro during the game with Atalanta on Wednesday night. This would mean a start for Claudio Bravo, even though he proved to be error-prone during the midweek game. Kyle Walker who kept goal after Bravo’s dismissal, will be suited more to his full-back position given Liverpool’s tendency to attack through Salah and Mane. David Silva will also miss out on the game at Anfield due to an injury he sustained last week. Leroy Sane, Aymeric Laporte, Rodrigo and Oleksandr Zinchenko continue to be sidelined as well. Possible starting lineup for the Citizens could be: Bravo; Walker, Stones, Fernandinho, Mendy; Bruyne, Gundogan, Bernardo Silva; Mahrez, Aguero, Sterling.
Liverpool are in a position where even a loss on Sunday will not hurt them too much in the standings. It would cut their lead to half (3 points) but they would remain at the top of the table. However, a win would catapult them 9 points ahead of City and possibly 8 ahead of Chelsea, which would give a massive lift to the Reds’ chances of winning the title this season. Manchester City of course will not go down easily but given the game is at Anfield, which is among the least favourite venues for the likes of Aguero and Sterling (in a Blue shirt), it does seem likely that Liverpool will nick a win in this one as well.
Liverpool 2 – 1 Manchester City