Preview: Liverpool vs. Manchester City
Preview: Liverpool vs. Manchester City
Top spot is up for grabs at Anfield on Sunday afternoon as Liverpool and Manchester City face off in arguably the biggest fixture of the season to date.
The Citizens sit directly above their opponents by virtue of a superior goal difference after seven matches, but this is a fixture that they have struggled in down the years.
The Reds’ momentum from their perfect start to the season appears to have dried up, having now gone three matches without a win in all competitions.
A home defeat to Chelsea ended Liverpool’s EFL Cup campaign in the fourth round, while Wednesday’s loss away to Napoli means that they still have plenty of work to do if they are to progress through in the Champions League.
The third of those winless matches will surely be looked back in a more positive light, though, having scored late on through Daniel Sturridge at Stamford Bridge in their most recent Premier League outing to keep their unbeaten run intact.
A 1-1 draw away to Chelsea, particularly having trailed with just seconds of normal time remaining, ensures that the Reds are still very much in the hunt for a first title success since 1990.
Six wins from six marked their best ever start to a Prem campaign, in fact, and not since that memorable campaign 28 years ago had they started a campaign so strongly in all competitions.
Jurgen Klopp will be concerned by the drop off in results over the past week-and-a-half, however, especially as his front three are now looking a lot less prolific than last season, with Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino managing 10 goals between them in a combined 30 outings.
Even the best sides are guilty of having disappointing runs, though, and it does have to be factored in that the fixture list has not exactly been kind to Liverpool. In the words of Klopp himself, this weekend’s match provides a perfect chance for his players to quickly respond.
In a fixture that Liverpool have dominated down the years, they will be full of hope that a bad week can end on a real high, with the reward being top spot with nearly a quarter of the season played.
Winning games at Anfield does not tend to be too much of a problem for them, either, having won four in a row there in the Premier League and gone 24 matches without a defeat since April 2017 – the best-such run of any team in the top flight.
Klopp’s men are also on a 12-match streak without a league defeat against their established top-six rivals on home soil, including a narrow win over the Citizens earlier this year, suggesting that we could see a different Liverpool on Sunday.
Recent form in Premier League: WWWWWD
Recent form (all competitions): WWWLDL
Rather ominously for their title rivals, it has taken Man City just seven games of the season to move to the top of the Premier League pile, having dropped points in just one of their matches so far.
That came in a 1-1 draw against Wolverhampton Wanderers at the end of August, suggesting at the time that motivation may become an issue for Pep Guardiola this time around, but that could not be further from the truth judging by his side’s results since then.
Even accounting for Guardiola’s complaints of profligacy following City’s straightforward 3-0 win over Fulham, which was followed up by a 2-1 European loss to Lyon, it has been a perfect run of league form since failing to overcome Wolves at Molineux.
Twenty goals have been scored and just two conceded either side of that match, while victories over Oxford United and Hoffenheim over the past week-and-a-half have ensured that Guardiola’s men are still on course for silverware on multiple fronts.
City now have a great chance to strike a major psychological blow on a side that many have tipped to be their closest challengers this term by moving three points clear of them at the summit.
A word of caution for the Citizens, though, as their only away league defeat in 25 came at Anfield in January’s dramatic 4-3 loss – winning 20 and drawing four either side – leaving them without a win at this ground in 17 attempts.
Guardiola also has an unfavourable record against opposite number Klopp, having lost seven matches against the German down the years – more than any other manager – and he is now in danger of losing three successive away games against a single opponent for the first time in his career.
City will no doubt head to Merseyside with little fear, however, as they are the champions of England for a reason. Since the beginning of last season they have collected an unrivalled 27 points from a possible 33 against the established top six, compared to Liverpool’s tally of 14 points.
Should they add to that tally this weekend with three more points, it may well be that even Liverpool supporters begin to concede that this City side really is in a league of its own.
Recent form in Premier League: WDWWWW
Recent form (all competitions): WDWWWW
Liverpool are hopeful of having Naby Keita back in their squad for Sunday’s clash, four days on from the Guinean midfielder spending the night in a Naples hospital after suffering a back spasm in the loss to Napoli.
Keita took over from Jordan Henderson in the only change from the Reds’ 1-1 draw with Chelsea, and Klopp may well revert back to the same XI that claimed a credible point in West London.
That will mean keeping faith with front three trio Firmino, Mane and Salah. The latter does have 14 goals in his last 16 starts at Anfield, while also boasting a record of three goals and two assists in his last three meetings with Man City.
A similar record is something that Sergio Aguero craves, as he has failed to net in nine previous trips to this ground. The Argentine striker will point out, however, that he now has more than 200 goals in a City shirt, and he remains one of the first names on Guardiola’s teamsheet.
Raheem Sterling is also in contention to retain his starting spot for this trip to his former hunting ground, and not many players can match the English attacker’s stats since the start of last season – his combined 35 goals and assists bettered only by Salah (46) and Harry Kane (36).
The visitors remain without Kevin De Bruyne, meanwhile, but Benjamin Mendy’s return to the squad is a big boost and could potentially mean a change in formation, though that all depends on the Frenchman’s fitness.
Liverpool possible starting lineup:
Alisson; Robertson, Van Dijk, Gomez, Alexander-Arnold; Milner, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Mane, Firmino, Salah
Manchester City possible starting lineup:
Ederson; Zinchenko, Laporte, Otamendi, Walker; Bernardo, Fernandinho, D.Silva; Sane, Aguero, Sterling
Head To Head
Liverpool have won 12 and drawn five on home soil against Man City since losing 2-1 in May 2003, most recently winning 3-0 here in April’s Champions League quarter-final first leg.
The Citizens have already lost three times to the Reds in 2018 and risk losing four times to a single opponent in a calendar year for just the third time in their history, having also done so against Grimsby in 1936 and Tottenham Hotspur in 1993.
Last season’s two Premier League fixtures produced 12 goals in total, as the Reds followed up a 5-0 early-season defeat with that 4-3 triumph in the reverse fixture four months later.