Arsène Wenger claimed the English game now had superstar managers to go with the superstar players. He wasn’t kidding, was he? Jurgen Klopp v Pep Guardiola.
Liverpool moved back to second place with a 4 – 1 thumping of Stoke in midweek which set this fixture up nicely. Both sides are chasing Antonio Conte’s seemingly unbeatable Chelsea and both know defeat at Anfield will mean their title hopes going up in flames. Even a draw makes an already difficult task seem mountainous. For Liverpool, it’s harder. Before the end of January, they travel to Old Trafford and host Chelsea. For that match to take on board more significance, they need to win this and every one in-between.
City hauled themselves back into the title race with a 2 – 1 win over Arsenal, following that with a 3 – 0 victory at the KCom against Hull. It was vital for their ambitions but seven points behind the leaders, it’s clear they are on borrowed time in Guardiola’s debut season. They can’t lose, they can’t even draw but faced with the same situation last year, crumbled to a 0 – 3 defeat at Anfield. Putting another of their rivals out to pasture in this fixture would be the perfect revenge.
Few expected this much of an improvement from Liverpool from last season’s eighth place. Would it have come had they lifted the Europa League instead of collapsing in Basel against Sevilla? It’s hard to believe that we would be looking at the Reds as potential champions. No midweek interruptions has seen them into the last four of the EFL Cup and they will fancy their chances against Southampton. A Wembley return would be the perfect mid-winter tonic for the troops.
The surprising defeat at Bournemouth aside, Liverpool’s form has been outstanding. It’s their only defeat in sixteen Premier League games, a run of results which briefly took them to the top of the table. They, like the rest of the top four, have struggled with Chelsea’s relentlessness and are waiting for a mistake to capitalise on.
Jurgen Klopp admitted that he hadn’t seen City live at the Etihad this season – or last for that matter – prime material for the media to proclaim confidence on his part. That he lost both home Bundesliga games in charge of Dortmund against Guardiola’s Bayern Munich is probably giving him more pause for thought. Pep outwitted him twice and that won’t be easily forgotten. Neither will his cup successes in the same fixtures; the good bits mixed into his Anfield soup to form a brew City can’t cope with.
He must be wishing he could sign a new goalkeeper before then. Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius are proving equally hapless but just as the Belgian seemed to be regaining Anfield’s trust, he dropped a ricket for Stoke’s goal this week. Fortunately, Liverpool scored four in reply but that will have given City hope that getting at the Liverpool defence could prove productive.
Attack is proving to be the Reds best form of defence. They are clear at the top of the Premier League goal scoring list and only Crystal Palace and Swansea are close to them in total goals in their games this season. The last time Liverpool were the great entertainers, they were a Steven Gerrard slip away from being crowned champions. Defeat in this match would prove equally as damaging.
The biggest concern for Klopp is the fitness of mercurial Brazilian, Philippe Coutinho whose ankle injury makes him a major doubt for the New Year’s Eve clash. Coutinho is as vital to Liverpool’s success as he has ever been with 5 goals and 5 assists. Despite missing half-a-dozen games, he remains at the top of Liverpool’s shooting list, averaging 3.8 per game. Speculation remains strong that PSG are looking at him for a summer move.
Pleasingly for Liverpool, goals and assists are being shared around. Mané, Lallana and Firmino are equally as important in attack, taking on their share of goalscoring duties, scoring almost half of the Merseysiders 45 goals between them.
At the other end, Klopp’s only fitness concern is Jöel Matip, with a knee injury making him a slight doubt.
Hull may argue that the 3 – 0 scoreline flattered City last week but for Pep Guardiola, it was an important win, building on the victory over Arsenal before Christmas. It also signalled the end of Sergio Aguero’s suspension and the Argentine striker is sure to be back in the starting line-up, ready to fire on all cylinders. Swansea will attest that Aguero can be lethal in front of goal on returning to the first XI.
City are on a run of three straight wins following consecutive defeats at Chelsea and Leicester. While they have conceded just the once in those wins, Arsenal exposed their defensive frailties consistently during the first half of the game at the Etihad. Age is Guardiola’s biggest enemy in defence. Only the injured John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi are under thirty with pace a continuing concern at full back. Liverpool are nothing if not quick up front and will look to exploit this weakness.
The tactics Guardiola employs will be interesting. Jose Mourinho’s blanket smothering of the Liverpool midfield won’t have gone unnoticed and a replication of that won’t be that much of a surprise. His success for Bayern against Klopp’s Dortmund came with a more direct approach than he is given credit for using. The Spaniard effectively negated the Dortmund midfield and he may look to do the same at Anfield.
That puts pressure on City’s supporting cast with De Bruyne, Sterling and Silva will need to be ruthless in possession. Between them, they have sixteen assists with Aguero the main beneficiary. They need to rediscover that rhythm quickly following the Argentine’s return.
Equally, Fernando and Fernandinho will be key players. Liverpool like to pass and move and the two City defensive midfielders will be looking to break up play and snaffle possession from the Liverpool playmakers. The two sides top the list of Premier League passers with 11,062 by Liverpool and 10,555 by City. City though are more accurate by a whisker, 84.8% v 83.6%; those are the sort of margins on the night, which can make all the difference.
It may be an unusual match for the Citizens. So far they have averaged 61% possession; they may have to settle for less at Anfield. And that will suit them. City have netted 22 times on the road in the Premier League with only Tottenham denying them a goal. Liverpool, despite their meanness in defence, have only kept one clean sheet at home this season and the Citizens attack is certainly capable of exploiting that weakness.
FORM (Last six games)
Liverpool - WLDWWW
Manchester City - WLLWWW
- Manchester City have struck the woodwork 12 times this season, the second highest in the Premier League
- Pep Guardiola has won the title in whichever division he has managed in seven of his eight seasons as a manager
- Manchester City have scored over 2.5 goals in 8 of their last 9 away games
- Manchester City have won once at Anfield in the Premier League, 2 – 1 in 2003
- Liverpool have scored in every home league match against Manchester City since a 0 – 0 draw in 1986 (22 games)
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CURRENT MATCH ODDS [BEST PRICED ODDS]
HEAD TO HEAD
Last six meetings
02.03.2016 Premier League -Liverpool 3-0 Manchester City
28.02.2016 League Cup - Manchester City 1-1 Liverpool
21.11.2015 Premier League - Manchester City 1-4 Liverpool
01.03.2015 Premier League - Liverpool 2-1 Manchester City
25.08.2014 Premier League - Manchester City 3-1 Liverpool
13.04.2014 Premier League - Liverpool 3-2 Manchester City
It isn’t very often that a match lives up to the hype but this one has all the ingredients to do that and more. Sergio Aguero’s return could prove vital for City, even though none of the four goals he’s scored against Liverpool have come at Anfield. It’s incredible to see City’s Premier League record at this venerable ground, even when they were on course to the title.
There is much riding on this game with the losers effectively ruled out of the title race, assuming Chelsea make short work of Stoke City earlier in the day. Nine and ten points behind the Blues? It’s too much, even at just the halfway point in the season. For that reason and in spite of the weaknesses in both clubs’ goalkeepers, a low-scoring match might be the order of the day.
Neither manager is naturally cautious, preferring an attacking approach to the game but both are experienced enough in European football to know how to shut up shop having secured a lead.
Liverpool 1 – 1 Manchester City (13/2 with Bet Victor – Bet here!)
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Francois is one of Howtobet4free’s co-founders and has written many of Howtobet4free’s popular Betting Guides. Francois also helps run the @howtobet4free_ Twitter account