Preview: Manchester City vs Liverpool
It’s 2019! To kick off the New Year, the Reds will travel down the M26 to take on title rivals Manchester City. Guardiola’s men, who picked up 3 points at St Mary’s on Sunday, will be looking to close the gap on the league leaders. In the battle between England’s best sides, here’s some insights to the game.
De Bruyne To Miss?
Ahead of Thursday’s game, Manchester City are left sweating on the fitness of star midfielder Kevin de Bruyne. This is after the Belgian missed City’s 3-1 victory over Southampton. When quizzed on de Bruyne’s availability, Guardiola said: ‘I don’t know how Kevin De Bruyne is. I know it’s not serious, but I don’t know if he can play on Thursday.’
If he does miss the Liverpool clash, it’ll no doubt be a blow for the home side. After all, he was an integral part of a City side that strolled to the title last season. And even though he’s been limited to just 6 appearances for the Citizens all season, he’s still one the team’s most creative players. His through balls per 90 minutes is unrivaled in the side at 0.59.
While he’s yet to register an assist this season, de Bruyne is still one of City’s best asset. Though Liverpool will still have to contend with the likes of Bernardo Silva, David Silva, Leroy Sane, and Raheem Sterling, none have the same fear factor as de Bruyne. Still, that outcome will run down to the wire, and only on Thursday will we know for sure.
Target City’s Left
Losing to Leicester City on Boxing Day, Manchester City’s were further compounded by the sending off of Fabian Delph. The straight red card meant that the Englishman would miss City’s subsequent 3 domestic matches, hence ruling him out of the Liverpool clash. With Benjamin Mendy already a long term absentee, Guardiola’s options at left back look a little short.
Although there’s uncertainty over who’ll be City’s left back on Thursday, the Southampton game could provide some clues. That match saw Oleksandr Zinchenko lined up on the left, and he could very well keep his place versus Liverpool. An attacking midfielder by trade, the 22-year old produced an okay performance at St Mary’s by registering an assist.
However, his heat map might reveal a possible weakness that Liverpool could look to exploit. As shown by WhoScored.com, the Ukrainian spent most of his time up the field. Being attacking minded in nature, the Merseysiders can attack the space vacated by City’s No. 35. With Klopp possibly reverting to a 4-3-3 formation, the prospect of Salah down City’s left certainly looks promising. At fault for Southampton’s equaliser, he can be sure that Liverpool will capitalise on any mistake made on his part.
Another possible option Guardiola might employ is to play Aymeric Laporte as left back. Fernandinho’s return from injury meant that Stones can return to the heart of defence, although the Englishman was benched on Sunday. Even if that happens, Kopites can draw strength from Liverpool’s demolition of their rivals in the Champions League last season. Then, the gap between Laporte and Vincent Kompany allowed Salah to basically waltzed past the City defence. Adding to the fact that Trent loves to bomb down the right, attacking City’s left will play a big role in Klopp’s tactical plan.
Kings of the Counter
In the buildup to Thursday’s mammoth clash, the defending champions trail the league leaders by 7 points. Considering that the match will take place at the Ethihad, it’s fair to assume that City will be looking to attack from the start. That’ll be a stark contrast to when they drew the Reds at Anfield earlier in the campaign, a game in which they were much more passive. They simply need to win this time round in order to keep in touch with Liverpool, a problem that Liverpool thankfully doesn’t share.
City’s desire to win might very well play straight into the hands of Klopp and his men though. By committing so many men forward, the Citizens leave themselves open to counter attacks. Versus a side that converts 5 of their 12 shots from counter attacks into goals, City are simply asking for trouble. With pace merchants like Salah and Mane in the side, counter attacking play will probably be Liverpool’s best chance at victory.
Having had an entire extra day to prepare for the City game, Klopp’s men will be in a much better physical condition than Guardiola’s charges. That’ll come in handy if the Reds are to weather the initial storm and then launch their counter attacks later in the game.
Knowing that a draw will maintain their lead, and a win allowing them to have one hand on the title, Liverpool need to be patient and systematic at the Ethihad. Hopefully the travelling fans, and not the home fans, will be the ones celebrating at the final whistle.