Manchester City host Liverpool in the Premier League’s headline clash this weekend – a fixture that could have a huge bearing on the final standings come the end of May, with both sides eyeing the English crown or at the very least improvement on where they finished last season.
Liverpool have claimed all three points against the Citizens four times from their last five attempts, the only respite coming in a 1-1 draw at the Etihad Stadium back in March. That will be the venue once again in Saturday’s early kickoff, but will we see the Reds’ dominance in this fixture continue or City begin to reverse the tide?
Pep Guardiola looks unlikely to select the same XI in any games this season – how would you line up City on Saturday?
Stuart: The first thing I would do is abandon the two up front idea. Liverpool have a tendency to overrun us in midfield and that’s why we haven’t beaten them in the league since 2014 (but, as a reminder to gloating Scousers, we did beat you in the 2016 League Cup final!). With Walker and Mendy both available, Pep’s 3-5-2 has the wide options it requires, but at the time of writing it is unclear if Vincent Kompany will be fit for the clash. That would mean either a midfielder moving into defence or the unfancied Eliaquim Mangala starting.
The big dilemma is whether to start Aguero if Pep does opt for one up top. A goal against Liverpool would make Kun just the fourth player to score in six consecutive home Premier League matches against the same opponent. The problem is, he doesn’t look in form at this time and the lively Gabriel Jesus may be a better pick against Klopp’s high-energy side. Raheem Sterling is suspended, which may not be a bad thing, as City players often underperform against their former sides and Bernardo Silva is an exciting player who can slot into Sterling’s position on the right.
With that in mind I’d go for a 4-1-4-1 of: Ederson, Kyle Walker, Vincent Kompany, Nicolas Otamendi, Benjamin Mendy; Yaya Touré, Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Bernardo Silva, Leroy Sané; Gabriel Jesus.
Liverpool’s starting XI looks pretty set after the 4-0 win over Arsenal, but would you make room for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain?
Ollie: Klopp has no reason to change his starting XI and it wouldn’t be fair on those who have performed when the club have needed them most to make way. With Oxlade-Chamberlain, he’s a very useful option off the bench for us and I think we’ll see him deployed in various positions this season.
Pep’s lost to Jurgen Klopp the most times of any manager and City have won just once in their last six meetings with Liverpool, losing four. Should Guardiola remain committed to his attacking mantra or make tactical compromises to avoid another defeat?
Stuart: This is a tough one. My instinct is to say be more cautious, particularly in the first 20 minutes or so when Liverpool can be hard to handle. In his own words, Klopp has an effective way of countering Pep’s style of football. But Guardiola has been given a lot of money to spend on his squad, which is now far younger than it was last season. And given how he insists on implementing his philosophy, I don’t think he will compromise much at all. I don’t think he has to if his team press and defend as a unit, making them capable of combating Liverpool’s high-pressure game.
Liverpool adapted to exploit Arsenal’s weaknesses at Anfield by creating space on the counter, can the same trick work against Man City?
Ollie: Absolutely, Liverpool have found huge amounts of joy against Manchester City in recent years due to their defensive problems and inability to play a high line correctly. Klopp’s frontline is one of the fastest and most potent in the Premier League and any defence won’t look forward to facing it. City have struggled defensively for the past few seasons but with new personnel on board in the likes of Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker it remains to be seen whether lessons have been learnt.
What key battle will decide this game?
Stuart: City have often been overwhelmed and outfought in matches against Liverpool. I think we’re better equipped to combat that now, but Klopp’s men are among the very best at these big matches and it will be interesting to see how City deal with their intense pressing. I think the midfield battle will be very important, but with both teams also quite flaky in defence (especially if Kompany doesn’t make it), then it may also be a case of which backline holds up the best.
Jurgen Klopp has a fantastic record against Guardiola – do you think he’s in Pep’s head or is it all about style of play?
Ollie: I don’t think he’s in Pep’s head, both managers are fantastic and have their own methods and styles. At the end of the day it comes down to those 22 players on the pitch and whoever is better organised, both defensively and offensively, will come out on top.
Finally lads, let’s hear your score predictions…
Stuart: Our record against Liverpool isn’t great lately and our home record in big matches also leaves something to be desired. I could be the optimist and predict a City win, but I’ll go for a pulsating 2-2 draw.
Ollie: 3-2 Liverpool.