Manchester City come into every game now with a spring in their step.
Unbeaten in the league, there’s still a chance of an Invincible season, and as we’ve seen since the end of August, even a managing a draw against the league leaders gets people excited these days.
That said, there’s a reason only Arsenal have gone an entire season unbeaten in the Premier League, and even then only once: it’s tough. Indeed, these days, with five other rivals who are head and shoulders above the rest of the league, it’s probably harder than ever. Indeed, given this side are fighting on four fronts, a defeat will surely be on the cards at some point. And when the next game is big six rival away from home, that probability rise even further.
The last time these two clubs met, Manchester City wiped the floor with a Liverpool side who simply gave up in the second half. But there’s a caveat. As good as City were on the day, Liverpool will point to a controversial red card given to Sadio Mane in the first half as a mitigating factor.
Pep Guardiola’s side were already a goal up when the Reds’ attacker was sent off and so it’s still likely the home side would have triumphed, but it’s certainly the case that City’s defence were panicked on occasion by Liverpool’s threatening attack, but that all changed after Mane’s dismissal.
That means City can’t rest on any laurels in this game. They’ll remember well that Liverpool posed numerous problems for their defence at the Etihad that day, and Guardiola will also remember his visit to Anfield last season, when Klopp’s side triumphed on New Year’s Day. A Georginio Wijnaldum header was the difference between the two sides that day, but City are a different proposition to the side they were in 2016.
Despite that, the big performance which will see City win this game may not come from the attack, but rather the defence.
If City are going to struggle anywhere for the rest of the season, it’ll be at the back, and if Liverpool are dangerous anywhere, it’s surely up front. With that in mind, Guardiola might need a big performance from John Stones in Liverpool on Sunday afternoon. The Englishman is back again from injury and has played alongside both Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi in the last two games.
The Argentine has thrived this season, becoming one of the best centre-backs in the league, but he and Stones will need to spark up the partnership that was blossoming before the former Everton defender’s injury, and they’ll have to do it quickly to deal with the threat of Mohamed Salah and co. His return to his best from injury will be key.
The back-three formation which Pep Guardiola used at the start of the season has been well and truly ditched in favour of a 4-3-3 which will surely be the system of choice against a Liverpool side who also favour the same setup this weekend.
That change of system from City has allowed Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane to thrive as wingers this season, rather than being stuck as either supporting strikers or wing-backs.
However, there was a logic to starting the early games against Everton and Brighton with a back-three: Guardiola spent last season wondering how his side could make themselves less vulnerable on the counter-attack. With a back-three, the side has an extra body to deal with breakaways, and against a team with the attacking pace of Liverpool that might be a bonus.
Expect a back four as usual, but perhaps if Guardiola had more centre-back options, given the injuries they’ve suffered, and indeed better quality than Eliaquim Mangala, a back three may well have entered into the manager’s thoughts.
Three goals against Watford, four against Burnley and then two in a difficult night against Bristol City in the first leg of an EFL Cup semi-final mean that City are still motoring along as an attacking threat.
They are the most elegant team in the league when on their day, but prior to the festive period, the Blues were finding goals harder to come by than usual, but four goals in three games from Sergio Aguero shows that if they create the chances for him, the Argentinian striker will take them as normal.
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