These high flying fixtures seem to be coming thick and fast. Having visited Tottenham and Chelsea already, it‘s now time to welcome the current Premier League champions Manchester City to Anfield. A tall order, you might assume. But is the task that awaits us as formidable as it seems?
We all remember only too well how the corresponding fixture finished last season. 90 minutes filled with high-octane football; intensity like you’ve never seen it and a desire to leave everything out there on the pitch. Of course we can’t guarantee the same this season; this is football, after all, there are never any guarantees. What we do know, though, is that our players will be unrelenting. They won’t give the opposition a minute to breathe. They will hunt in packs and they will force them to make errors. After all, this is the very least that Jürgen Klopp demands from his team; hard work, doggedness and to harass the opposition.
Naturally, our line up will be considerably different this time around. Robertson will likely be the only survivor of the back 5 that played in this fixture last time out. Karius was between the sticks, Gomez was at full back and Lovren and Matip completed the defensive back line at centre-half. With respect, if we can win at Anfield against the champions with that back 5, then why on earth can’t we this season? Having conceded only 3 goals in 7 games in the Premier League this season, the evidence speaks for itself. 7 games into last season we had shipped 12 goals!! As a unit, we are defensively much more sound. Everyone has a real understanding of what their role entails and we don’t look anywhere near as vulnerable as we did on so many occasions last season.
Having a top goalkeeper and a world class central defender with an innate ability to improve the players around him are, of course, huge reasons for this noticeable improvement. However, it shouldn’t go unrecognized how much time has been invested on the training ground working on defensive shapes when in possession and when not. It is not a coincidence that we have dramatically improved our defending, most notably with corners and set pieces. In contrast to last season, it is actually our defensive organisation and structure that is winning us games and allowing us to grind out results. Last year, the approach was far more ‘if you score 3, we’ll score 4.’ For as long as I can remember, there hasn’t been this much balance to a Liverpool team. It’s a new-found luxury for us fans to be able to rely on the aptitude of our defensive players and I, for one, am loving the fact that I don’t need spare underwear to watch us play anymore.
Wijnaldum may be the only midfielder to feature from the start in both last and this year’s home games against City. On that day in January, the midfield was comprised of Gini, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Emre Can. It would be a miracle if either of them partnered Gini this time around, given that one of them can’t run at the moment and the other now plays in Italy. Fortunately we have options aplenty in the middle of the park; seemingly these options divide opinions amongst the fans more than any other. The club captain for starters. Deemed mediocre by some and imperative by others.
Such has been the presence and quality of Wijnaldum’s general play so far this season, particularly in the number 6 role, I think it will be very difficult for Klopp not to include him. So who plays alongside him? It is evident that Jürgen wants to give Fabinho time to settle in and adjust to the tempo of the Premier League, so I think we can assume it won’t be him. With the particular style of football that we play it is crucial that the players have fully grasped their role in the team. All it takes is one piece of the puzzle to be missing and the system no longer works. Jürgen was right to wait with Robertson and with Ox, and I have no doubt he is doing the right thing with Fabinho too.
So that leaves Milner, Henderson and Keita fighting it out for two spots. Personally I would like to see Keita start. It’s a home game where the onus will be on us to go for City’s proverbial jugular. Sadio, Bobby and Manè are all yet to hit the heights of last year and Naby’s creativity breaking through the lines could be the difference. My last midfield spot would probably fall to Milner. He has been Mr.Consistent for us so far this season and I’m sure he will have an extra edge about him for this particular fixture considering it’s against his former team.
In all probability, the usual front 3 will start as they invariably do for our ‘big’ games. Although Daniel Sturridge has done himself no harm at all of late and is surely knocking on Jürgen’s door for more minutes on the pitch. There are no two ways about it, he is the reason that Chelsea still currently sit beneath us in the table and not above us. In a strange way, I feel that the fans are appreciating his contribution to the cause more now with his bit-part cameos then they ever did before. I think we can all sense a different Daniel Sturridge this time around and long may it last.
Additionally, our options from the bench are certainly stronger this term; the likes of Shaqiri or Sturridge coming on to change a game or create a moment of magic certainly seems more feasible than looking to Solanke or Ings to do the same.
Do we know what the outcome of this match will be? Of course we don’t, that’s what we love about football. On any given day, anyone can beat anyone.
But if you ask me, we are more than capable of matching them; not only for tenacity, desire and endeavour, but also for quality.
Come on you Reds.