Manchester City may be powering through all Premier League opposition, recently handing a first league defeat to Newcastle United, but Liverpool away might prove to be a sterner test, with the Anfield side hot off a surprise victory over Chelsea this past weekend.
Each team enjoyed home victories over the other last season. The standout performers of both of those games are now taking a more peripheral role for their clubs, with the struggling Andy Carroll resigned to a place on the bench and the Carlos Tevez episode paving the way for others to take on goal scoring responsibility.
There are, however, a number of reasons why this season’s first encounter could prove to be in greater contrast, primarily the difference in ambition of both clubs a year on.
Manchester City last year were still a team building to becoming a title-winning side. A team capable of sustaining a charge on the domestic title whilst at the same time proving they belong with Europe’s elite. Now with additions such as Sergio Aguero and the new-found role for David Silva as team playmaker, City are looking a far more complete side. A team who maybe at times lacked the know-how to go away to places like Old Trafford and Anfield a year ago are now looking the complete package. Never before have a team gone to Old Trafford and humiliated Manchester United in the manner City did last month.
Similarly, it’s very difficult to remember an Anfield humiliation of that magnitude, despite the lows of the Hicks-Gillette reign. Manchester City are a team now with a lot more purpose than the side that lost 3-0 at Anfield in April. Yes Champions League qualification was important back then, but now a sustained challenge on the Premier League title becomes of paramount importance as Roberto Mancini describes his side as one capable of going toe-to-toe with Barcelona.
Should City have any reason to fear Liverpool and the atmosphere that should greet them as they walk onto the pitch at Anfield? Perhaps even at this stage it’s a little unclear what to expect from Liverpool. A team who have picked up victories away to top four rivals Chelsea and Arsenal have also been on the receiving end of a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Tottenham. Their Jekyll and Hyde form doesn’t end there as Liverpool have struggled for points against Premier League new boys Swansea and Norwich, both of whom managed to pick up a point at Anfield.
But like Manchester City a year on, Kenny Dalglish’s side have far greater aspirations this season. Backed by the heavy spending of owner John W. Henry over the summer, there is now an expectation for Liverpool to finish in the top four. As has been mentioned, a year on and with strengthened squads the targets for both sides seem a lot more realistic.
With all of Manchester City’s muscle both on and off the pitch, the determination to be back among the top tier of European clubs will give Liverpool enough incentive to prove why they can be taken seriously as top four contenders.