By Ritchie Slack (@Slack_9)
The clash of the champions and the collision between two giants of English football is upon us; the glory of taking an early step towards the Premier League title awaits the victor.
In years gone by the battle for the league title has featured only two teams: Liverpool and Manchester City. Whilst there are/were contenders along the way, it would take a brave soul to bet against one of these two titans this season. The importance of this game is therefore undeniable.
Liverpool come in to this momentous game on the back of a truly wonderful display against Atalanta in Bergamo. Liverpool demolished last season’s CL quarter finalists 5-0 in a display in which every member of the squad performed to near perfection.Embed from Getty Images
Manchester City also recorded a win in the competition by besting Olympiakos at home. A game they should have won no doubt, but the performance(s) of Ferran Torres not just in this game but in recent weeks, is perhaps the most obvious boost to their credentials.
Hitherto present day, well, at least since Manchester City’s cash injection in 2008, Liverpool and City have been at loggerheads, competing for domestic and European glory for well over a decade.
The Citizens have found themselves part of the big boys since Abu Dhabi’s involvement, and their free spending has propelled them to some impressive successes over the years; but Liverpool are no strangers to success.
This game needs no real ballyhoo, no catalyst or touch paper to ignite this rivalry, the silverware in recent years speak for that.Embed from Getty Images
FACT: Pep Guardiola has lost more times to Jurgen Klopp’s teams than any other manager, dating back to the Bayern vs Dortmund battles to the wars between Manchester and Liverpool, the City manager has 9 losses against Klopp, only winning 8 times (according to TransferMarkt).
Liverpool Team News
With regards to team news Liverpool look to be able to call upon many of those who have been missing in recent weeks: The Reds saw the return of Naby Keita, Kostas Tsimikas and Joel Matip in the midweek squad.
Earlier today Klopp said Thiago Alcantara, one of Guardiola’s former stars, will not play this weekend. Thiago is also not available for international selection for the upcoming internationals following the Richarlison horror tackle a few weeks ago. Liverpool fans will be hoping for a swift return for the Spanish sorcerer, sooner rather than later.
In defence the 23 year-old Joe Gomez is facing the honor of being the senior centre back in the Liverpool team; who accompanies him is anyone’s guess.Embed from Getty Images
Rhys Williams (who was very impressive in midweek and has been since he has come in to the squad), Nat Phillips (who picked up the MOTM award in the last PL win over West Ham), or the returning and experienced Joel Matip are the obvious options.
Both Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson were afforded a rare luxury of a short rest once the game in Italy was wrapped up, but expect them to come back in and give the City fullbacks, and indeed their midfield, an attacking test they are rarely used to seeing.
In the midfield, the leader of the pack Jordan Henderson will undoubtedly cut himself a key and influential figure once more as he will look to supress City’s main man, Kevin De Bruyne. This is no easy task, but if anyone can do it, Hendo can.
The rest of the midfield is somewhat of a lottery: Keita, James Milner, Georginio Wijnaldum, Curtis Jones and Xherdan Shaqiri are all players who could play there.Embed from Getty Images
However, Klopp could also opt to play just one alongside the skipper and execute the double pivot, with all four of Diogo Jota, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino playing. It is anyone’s guess, and a pleasant conundrum to have.
Either way what is for sure, City don’t like teams attacking them through the middle, or indeed at all, so Keita, Jones or Shaqiri in that 8/10 role could be a key area and battleground to expolit.
Man on Fire
It is no secret that the form of Diogo Jota is scintillating and beyond what fans may have expected when he signed from Wolves for £45m. Scoring 7 goals in his first 10 appearances as a Red, and often from the bench.
Klopp has to decide whether Roberto Firmino or Jota plays in one of the biggest games of the season, or indeed both. Firmino has scored 5 times against City and is perhaps under pressure to make it six.Embed from Getty Images
Did you know: Jota has played 500 minutes of football for Liverpool, meaning that he has a goal every 71 minutes!
Manchester City Team News
As for Man City, Gabriel Jesus returned from injury and scored a goal in midweek, so could play against Liverpool and lead the City line. Americ Laporte and Ruben Dias were on the bench for the game against the Greeks, so expect them both to play.
Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez have been in good form for City, but with the plethora of expensive talent in the Man City ranks, the sensitive Bernardo Silva and exciting Ferran Torres could also feature.Embed from Getty Images
Sergio Aguero has seven goals against Liverpool in his time at City, but alas, he will not be fit to play. Benjamin Mendy and Fernandinho are also unfit to play.
This fixture has been dubbed as the ‘acid test’: a test where acid is applied to a metal and if it didn’t corrode, it means it is real gold. The metaphor is asking whether or not this Liverpool side have the repeated ability to go again and prove their worth. Can they verify themselves as golden once again?
City have demonstrated it with back to back title wins and now it is up to Liverpool to prove that their deadly 99-point season can be attained o’er, and that the championship will end up behind the Shankly Gates for a 20th time.Embed from Getty Images
This is by no means a title decider, but it will absolutely shape the season for these teams in terms of how they attack the rest of the campaign.
Liverpool could begin an early pull away once again from their rivals; City could close the gap and even overtake the Reds should they win their game in hand.
All eyes on the Etihad. Up the Reds.