Manchester City may be 2017/18’s runaway pace-setters, dropping just four points in the Premier League, but Liverpool will fancy their chances of becoming the first team to beat Pep Guardiola’s side in the top flight this season when hosting them at Anfield on Sunday.
Indeed, City lay a strong claim for being the best side in Europe this term but Anfield has proved an especially tricky venue for them down the years; they’ve claimed just one victory on Liverpool’s patch in the Premier League, which is their only win there in 36 years.
So, will history repeat itself or are the Citizens simply too good to be bogged down by such underwhelming records? This week’s Liverpool expert, Sam McGuire from Football Whispers, shares his thoughts and predictions ahead of Sunday’s game.
Begrudgingly selling Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona midseason is inevitably a big blow for Liverpool, especially considering the Brazilian’s form during the last few months and especially considering his impressive record against City – five goals in seven appearances represents Coutinho’s career-best return against a single club.
But there are some silver linings to Coutinho’s exit, most particularly that he leaves Liverpool a more functional and balanced team with less square pegs in round-ish holes.
Are there some inadvertent positives to Coutinho’s departure?
“Of course it’s a big loss to lose someone of Coutinho’s ability midway through the season when you’re still in the FA Cup, the Champions League and in the hunt for a top four finish. However, it does give Jürgen Klopp the opportunity to balance the team. Coutinho, for all of his brilliance, left the midfield exposed when played in a deeper three and lacks the pace of Sadio Mané in the attacking three. I’m not suggesting Klopp shoehorned him into the starting XI, but the fact he was so talented made it difficult to leave him out.”
City enter this game off the back of a last-minute win over Bristol City in the League Cup, Lee Johnson’s Championship side putting up a thoroughly impressive fight at the Etihad Stadium. In fact, nobody this season has come as close as the Robins to getting a positive result against City without parking the bus for the whole 90 minutes.
What can Liverpool learn from Bristol City’s valiant performance in midweek?
“You obviously need to respect Guardiola and his side but they aren’t, by any stretch of the imagination, unbeatable. There are chinks in City’s armour and Liverpool are best equipped to exploit them. A medium press, around the half-way line, is the best bet to win the ball off City and then you need to use the pace of the forwards to counter them. Bristol City managed it a few times and Liverpool did at the Etihad Stadium before crumbling after the Mané red card.”
What City weaknesses are Liverpool most capable of exploiting?
“Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva are brilliant but they’re not the best defensively, no matter how you dress it up. Fernandinho is supported by the full-backs as well as the centre-backs but they’re perhaps at their most vulnerable when they’re transitioning from defence to attack – when de Bruyne and Silva push on to support the attacking three. This has to be one of the triggers for Liverpool to press. They need to isolate the defenders in space against the pace of Mohamed Salah and Mané.”
For most of Jurgen Klopp’s tenure, Liverpool have been the side most feared by the rest of the Big Six. In fact, Liverpool didn’t lose a single game against their closest divisional rivals last season, averaging two points per match, and have only ever lost once at Anfield to another Big Six side in the Premier League since Klopp took the helm. But something has changed in 2017/18: Liverpool were humiliated 5-0 in the reverse fixture back in August and later suffered a heavy hammering to Tottenham at Wembley as well.
What do you see as the biggest factor behind that slump in results against the Big Six?
“Individual errors. Since Klopp’s arrival the players have always stepped up in the bigger games and mistakes were few and far between. It gave the team a solid base to build from. This time around, however, we’ve seen individuals have shockers against Spurs, City and Arsenal. Klopp’s tactics haven’t been that bad when you look at how he’s set his team up. He’s just been let down by certain players.”
And finally Sam, let’s hear your score prediction…
“I’m saying 3-1 Liverpool.”
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