Man City vs Liverpool
Referee: Craig Pawson
Venue: Etihad Stadium
Manchester City welcome the league’s defending champions, Liverpool to the Etihad Stadium in a gargantuan clash on Sunday afternoon. The pair have built up quite a rivalry in recent times, with Liverpool becoming the team to end Manchester City’s 17/18 unbeaten run in January of 2018, which was then followed up an attack on the Manchester club’s team coach, as they made their way to Anfield for a fiery night of European football.
City then responded by – literally – one-upping Liverpool in the season to follow, rending Liverpool runners-up despite a mammoth 97-point total, fuelled by a comeback from eight points behind in December. Last season however, the Reds blitzed the league, while a City side deprived of enthusiasm and ideas stumbled to a 2nd place finish which seemed nothing but tame in comparison.
Although Liverpool were still top of the league going into this week, City’s game in hand puts an interesting spin on this game. City could move to within two points of Jurgen Klopp’s side having an extra game to play. Although results so early into the season are generally not as ‘make or break’ such as those in the run-in, a victory over Sunday’s opposition may just be the spark that ignites the winner’s season for good, after a start that’s relatively slow by the immense standards the pair have set for themselves, and for the league as a whole.
In the summer, both clubs recruited extremely smartly, with Diogo Jota, Thiago Alacantara and Tsimikas donning the Liverpool red. Jota has already overtaken Firmino in the goals scored in the calendar year, having several impact-off-the-bench moments in recent weeks. Although Thiago has tested positive for COVID-19 earlier on, and then was on the receiving end of a very harsh Richarlison tackle in the Merseyside Derby, his 2nd half cameo against Chelsea really set the tone for what his tenure is going to be like at Liverpool.
Manchester City, too, seem to have finally learnt their lesson from the aftermath of their 18/19 season, in which they let club legend Vincent Kompany depart and did not adequately replace him. A long-term injury to Aymeric Laporte led to their entire season collapsing before it got off the mark, and City never really recovered. However, with Ruben Dias arriving from Benfica to add some much-needed steel to the back line, City’s defence has seemed a lot more resolute in recent games. Further, the Portuguese seems to be exactly the type of personality they needed to replace a man of Kompany’s stature and leadership in the heart of the defence, and by extension, the dressing room as well.
Nathan Ake has looked solid in his outings, both at centre half and left-back, and Ferran Torres already seems like a contender for bargain of the summer – An insanely difficult feat to achieve if you’re replacing a man like Leroy Sane.
Liverpool’s ability to cope in the absence of Virgil Van Dijk will be tested as the season progresses, with the Ballon D’Or finalist ruled out for the season with an ACL injury. For the sake of competition, we hope that they will be able to handle the situation in a better way than City did when the shoe was on the other foot last season. As for Sunday, a game half as good as the one which cemented John Stones’ name in City folklore will be an absolute treat for all fans worldwide. Tactics will play a monumental role in this tie, and we will see how Klopp responds to Guardiola’s plan to play almost exclusively through the wings. It promises to be quite the spectacle.
City are likely to be without star talisman Sergio Aguero, who, to quote Martin Tyler, “always scores when Liverpool visit”. The Argentine was rushed back just a tad too early, and suffered a thigh injury shortly after his return. Although Guardiola mentioned he is “getting better”, it will be more likely to see his return following the international break.
Benjamin Mendy and Fernandinho are ruled out, with the former yet to return to training, and the latter’s latest scans more on the optimistic side. What was initially perceived to be a 4-week layoff, may, following the latest reports be brought down by a week.
Gabriel Jesus returned from injury in the midweek fixture against Olympiakos, and netted in the classic Sergio Aguero near-post fashion to extend City’s lead to 2. He looked sharp enough in his cameo, but this week might be just a bit too early for him to feature right from the get-go.
Thiago Alcantara will be unavailable for selection, having been missing from action since the Merseyside Derby. As someone who knows Pep’s system inside and out, he would have been a key piece to the Liverpool puzzle, but will be forced to advice from the dugouts instead.
Virgil Van Dijk and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain continue to be long-term absentees for Liverpool. Joel Matip has spent over a week in training, and should be certain to feature for the Reds.
Fabinho will also be missing for Liverpool on Sunday, after their official website ruled him out of contention in their pre-match feature.
Predicted Starting XIs:
Manchester City (4-3-3): Ederson; Walker, Dias, Laporte, Cancelo; Gundogan, Rodri, Kevin De Bruyne; Bernardo Silva, Torres, Sterling
It would be very harsh on Ferran Torres is he was relegated to the bench after a sensational outing midweek. Further, with Aguero already suffering after being rushed back too soon, I believe Guardiola will opt to unleash Jesus from the bench, than from the start. This would allow either of Foden or Bernardo Silva to start from the right.
Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Gomez, Robertson; Wijnaldum, Henderson; Mane, Firmino, Salah; Jota
Jota’s form means he is too critical for the Reds right now. Further, with the injuries in midfield, Roberto Firmino could start in a more withdrawn role and pull strings from deep.
Manchester City 2-1 Liverpool
With all the news about City’s slow start to the season, and with a certain subset of fans wanting Guardiola to be shown the door, this match could mark the perfect moment for the Catalan tactician to show the world exactly what magic he can weave. Liverpool’s injury worries are similar to what the Citizens had the last time they visited Anfield, and Pep will be sure to remind his men about the opportunity they have on their hands to truly kick-start their season.
Even though Liverpool are the definition of ‘down but not out’ in the way they always seem to resurrect dismal scorelines from the dead, with the array of first-team players missing, this may just be too tough a task against a City backline buoyed by Ruben Dias. This is of course, contingent on City scoring first. Either way, the team to score first should end up clinching the three points, and with the way De Bruyne and Torres have been playing, I am biased towards the first blood being drawn by the blue half of Manchester.