After a comprehensive victory over Crystal Palace, Jürgen Klopp built this fixture up by claiming that TV records would be broken with everybody and their dogs tuning in to watch the two best teams in the country. The prospect of the champions-elect claiming their first title in thirty years at the home turf of the holders certainly would have had television executives excited.
Alas, it was not to be as City’s loss to Chelsea a day later handed Liverpool the league with a record seven games to spare. Make no mistake though, the burgeoning nature of this rivalry will ensure that the fixture will be fiercely contested. Pep Guardiola and his players will provide Liverpool with a guard of honor before kickoff, but it will be through gritted teeth. They will be desperate to show the world that the twenty-three-point difference currently is not a real indication of the gap between these two sides.
Liverpool, on the other hand, would have reset their priorities now that the title is done and dusted. There are a multitude of records they will be eyeing, chief among them being City’s 100-point total from the 2017-18 season. Given that an all-time third highest point total of ninety-seven did not deliver the league last year, with many claiming that the Reds had hit their ceiling, beating this particular milestone would give Klopp’s men particular joy.
There is also the record for the most wins in a season (32) and the biggest title-winning margin (19 points) that Liverpool will be aiming for. A defeat or even a draw at the Etihad could jeopardize these efforts, which is why a fascinating duel awaits us on Thursday. The corresponding fixture last year was probably the best game of the season and if this one comes anywhere close to it; we are in for a treat.
- The Reds and the hosts are currently tied at thirty wins apiece in this fixture. Having last lost to their rivals at home in November 2015, City have won two and drawn one of the previous three league games at the Etihad.
- Liverpool have won just one game in their last ten league visits to the Etihad and taken six points from a possible thirty in that period.
- Sergio Aguero has scored in all seven of his appearances against Liverpool at the Etihad, a Premier League record. Liverpool will be relieved to learn that the Argentine striker is unavailable due to injury.
Bernardo Silva picked up the man-of-the-match award in this fixture last year and justifiably so. In a pivotal fixture which eventually decided which way the title would go, he would cover 13.7 kms, the most by any player in the Premier League last season. He made the most interceptions on the night for either side while also assisting Aguero on the first goal. It was a complete performance and the player would grow in stature throughout the season, cementing his place as one of the best players in the league. He has not played as many minutes this season but scored City’s consolation goal at Anfield in November. Kevin De Bruyne will be key as always, but the Portuguese midfielder has the qualities to hurt Liverpool once again.
Roberto Firmino has scored in his last two appearances at the Etihad in all competitions and will be crucial to Liverpool’s chances at a ground where they have struggled in recent times. Guardiola has tweaked his formation in some games against the Reds to try and win the midfield battle. The Brazilian’s ability to drop deep and add an extra body in the middle of the park will be important in countering that threat. The wingers on both sides usually have more defensive responsibilities in this fixture but Firmino’s movement could possibly open up opportunities for Salah or Mane to capitalize on.
As mentioned above, Aguero will miss this fixture and the rest of the Premier League season following knee surgery. Eric Garcia has been cleared to play again after suffering a concussion against Arsenal but is expected to miss out while Fernandinho is unavailable following his red card against Chelsea in City’s last league fixture.
For Liverpool, Joel Matip will miss the rest of the season with a foot injury. James Milner sustained a hamstring injury in the Merseyside derby and while reports indicate that it was not serious, this fixture may come too soon for the veteran. Xherdan Shaqiri remains sidelined following a calf injury which has kept him out for months.
Liverpool will be aware of their poor record at this ground and with both Aguero and Fernandinho missing, this could be their best chance yet to set that right. Guardiola has decisions to make regarding personnel for several key positions and his tactical approach, which has been pragmatic against Liverpool in recent games, will dictate the direction this fixture takes. With the league gone, he may decide to throw caution to the wind and with the Reds chasing records themselves, a high-scoring game could be on the cards.
Manchester City 2 – Liverpool 2