Following Manchester City’s European exit on Wednesday evening, attention turns to the Premier League clash with Liverpool as Pep Guardiola’s side look to consolidate their Champions League spot for next season.
Victory against their rivals for the top four would see City open up a four point gap on Jurgen Klopp’s side and potentially see the Blues go second if Tottenham fail to beat Southampton earlier in the day.
Although City’s record overall against the Merseysiders makes somewhat bleak reading (53 wins and 101 losses in 205 meetings), the Blues have lost just two of the last ten league encounters at the Etihad, winning four in the process.
This is also a fixture that generally promises goals, with only eight 0-0 draws between the two sides since the first meeting in September 1893. The highest scoring game came 77 years ago in January 1940, when Liverpool triumphed 7-3 in the West Region War League at Maine Road.
City will be looking to avoid a repeat of the last home match against Klopp’s charges, when the visitors blitzed Manuel Pellegrini’s side in the opening half an hour. The eventual 4-1 score line was a fair reflection of Liverpool’s dominance on a day to forget for the beleaguered Blues.
With 19 points from nine games against teams in the top six of the Premier League, the Reds’ appetite and hunger in the big matches will be an area that the Blues need to be wary of.
Wounded from the midweek disappointment in Monaco, one of two City teams could turn up for the final game before the international break. The worst case scenario is a team that has a European hangover, demoralised from the Champions League exit and feeling sorry for themselves after being outclassed in France.
Or, Guardiola will have galvanised his troops and prepared well for Liverpool’s high-pressing, high-tempo approach that proved impossible to cope with at Anfield on New Year’s Eve.
Performances against the top six sides, particularly at the Etihad, have been exemplary, even if results have left little to be desired. A return of seven points in six games against their main rivals has seen City fall off the pace in the title race.
The 3-1 defeat to Chelsea was one of the more frustrating games this season, but one that seems to sum up Guardiola’s first campaign in a nutshell: a season of missed opportunities. Not to mention a series of somewhat calamitous and costly refereeing decisions – namely against Chelsea and Tottenham – that eventually swung the pendulum in favour of City’s fortuitous visitors.
Taking charge of Sunday’s clash will be Michael Oliver, who last officiated City in the 4-0 victory at West Ham last month. It will be the fifth time that Oliver has refereed a Blues’ game this season, with the 32-year-old awarding four penalties for Guardiola’s side in the previous four encounters.
Oliver has also officiated six Liverpool games this campaign and awarded two penalties for Klopp’s side. The last time he was in charge of a clash between City and Liverpool was last season’s League Cup final, which the Blues dramatically won on penalties following a 1-1 draw.
In order to claim all three points, City will need to be wary of the threat posed by Sadio Mane, who has 12 league goals to his name. Eyebrows were raised when the Anfield hierarchy splashed out £30m to secure his services from Southampton in the summer, but the Senegal international has been a revelation under Klopp.
However, Liverpool are without captain Jordan Henderson and striker Daniel Sturridge for Sunday’s key clash, while Roberto Firmino and Divock Origi are also doubtful. In contrast, City’s list of absentees is minor: only Ilkay Gundogan and Gabriel Jesus are long term injury concerns for Guardiola, who more or less has a full strength side to choose from this weekend.
Ball retention is a key part of both managers’ philosophies, with City and Liverpool averaging the highest possession stats in the league – 60.8 per cent and 58.4 per cent respectively. Klopp’s side are the highest scorers in the Premier League this campaign too, and with 24 away goals only City (30) and Arsenal (29) have scored more on their travels.
However, the Reds have shown their defensive frailties on the road and have conceded 22 times in 14 fixtures away from Anfield. City, meanwhile, have a somewhat meagre return for goals at the Etihad, with just 23 in 13 league matches. Guardiola’s side also concede, on average, a goal a game at home.
This is the first of three crucial matches that could determine where the Blues finish this season. Trips to Arsenal and Chelsea follow the international break and then we will have a better understanding of how the campaign may eventually pan out.
But up first is Liverpool, and three points for City heading into international duty will do wonders to help restore the confidence that was shattered on the French Riviera.
Written by Chris Wildgoose
Typical City is now funded by the readers through our Patreon page. Please consider funding us with $1 a month so we can continue to operate as we are now. It keeps the site independent and free from click-bait.