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Five key battles that will decide Manchester City vs Liverpool

We’ve been treated to a heavyweight clash almost every weekend in the Premier League this season and the coming one is no different.

Inspiring flashbacks to their sensational title race during the 2013/14 season, Manchester City play hosts to Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday – kickoff at 5.30pm.

There may be nine places and nine points separating the Reds from their table-topping opponents, but the Anfield outfit actually boast the upper hand in terms of recent encounters; winning three and drawing one of their last six against the Citizens.

The Reds still carry that air of unpredictability under new manager Jurgen Klopp, but will it be enough to stop a City side currently averaging over three goals per match at the Etihad?

As is often the case which such high-quality encounters, it could well come down to who dominates the individual battles. With that in mind, here are FIVE Football Fancast believe could decide the match.

SERGIO AGUERO VS DEJAN LOVREN


With Mamadou Sakho sidelined until January due to a knee injury, £20million flop Dejan Lovren has a fantastic chance to prove himself under the new regime at Liverpool.

Every slate has been wiped clean by Jurgen Klopp, which is great news for the Croatian international considering the negativity surrounding his first twelve months at Anfield.

That being said, Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero represents the biggest test in the Premier League for any given centre-back, the only striker in the divison unanimously viewed as ‘world-class’ with a potent haul of 84 goals in 128 league outings for City under his belt – including six strikes this season.

He’s been out of action since scoring five past Newcastle in October with a hamstring injury but looks set to be rushed back into Manuel Pellegrini’s starting line-up as understudy Wilfried Bony takes his place on the physio table.

That suggests the Argentina international will be a little rusty and probably won’t last the full ninety minutes. Once again, great news for Lovren – but a half-fit Aguero is still deadlier than the vast majority of the strikers in world football.

Philippe Coutinho vs Fernando


Just when Philippe Coutinho’s early season had begun to tail off, the Brazil international hits back with three goals in his last two Premier League appearances – including a match-winning brace against reigning champions Chelsea.

The 23-year-old is still a rather inconsistent presence, often rendering his penchant for long-range shooting frustratingly wasteful. But the attacking midfielder has more than proved that he can punish even the Premier League’s best goalkeepers from distance when in top form, so it’s imperative Manchester City don’t wait to find out what kind of mood he’s in.

Although shared between deep midfield partner Fernandinho, the task of stopping Coutinho will predominantly fall to Fernando.

The Brazilian isn’t the most exceptional holding player the world has ever seen but he does his job well in the City midfield, this season averaging 2.5 tackles and 1.8 interceptions per match whilst committing less than one foul per game.

The 28-year-old’s ranging limbs eat up the kind of space Coutinho craves, in that No.10 pocket between midfield and attack, so the Liverpool star may have to drift into wider positions to get a foothold in the match.

CHRISTIAN BENTEKE VS VINCENT KOMPANY


Two beastly Belgians of incredible physicality, we could see quite the contest between Christian Benteke and Vincent Kompany on Saturday.

Benteke’s performed well for Liverpool since his £32.5million arrival to find four goals in nine Premier League appearances, especially considering he’s suffered a few injury problems and is now working under a different manager than the one who signed him in the summer.

At 6 foot 3, he offers the Reds something a little different in attack and arguably something a little more in line with Klopp’s ethos, as an old-fashioned centre-forward and focal point similar to Robert Lewandowski.

But that physical threat, boasting power, pace and leap in almost equal measure, could be cancelled out by City skipper Vincent Kompany at the Etihad, who measures in an inch taller and always aggressively asserts his athleticism on the opposition.

It may be somewhat less spiteful than Diego Costa and Martin Skrtel’s heated exchange a few weeks ago, but this battle has the potential to be equally entertaining in its ferociousness.

Kompany suffered a slight calf strain on international duty, however, which could be just enough to give Benteke the edge.

RAHEEM STERLING VS NATHANIEL CLYNE


One can only imagine the reception Raheem Sterling will receive on Saturday. Although the Etihad Stadium represents a safe surrounding, jeers from the away end may seem deafening to a 20-year-old experiencing the role of pantomime villain for the first time.

Nonetheless, not buckling under pressure is part of the reason Manchester City invested almost £50million in the England international during the summer and he’s already demonstrated his worth to Manuel Pellegrini’s side, with four goals and one assist in eleven Premier League appearances.

Perhaps more important than his output is the directness, penetration and pace Sterling offers from the left, speeding up City’s attack immeasurably when compared to some of their displays last season.

That is what Liverpool right-back Nathaniel Clyne might struggle with most at the Etihad. The England defender has received glowing reviews since joining his new club during the summer, providing a delicate balance between defence and attack whilst averaging 3.5 tackles per match, but Sterling’s speed, especially on the ball, would trouble most defenders in world football.

Although Jurgen Klopp likes his full-backs to push forward, Clyne must ensure he doesn’t leave his compatriot with a free run down the wing. Should Sterling overcome the occasion, he’ll relish the chance to punish his former club.

LUCAS LEIVA VS THE WORLD


It’s almost hipster to rave about Lucas Leiva’s unsung importance to the Liverpool midfield, but it’s impossible to dispute his influence has continually grown since the start of last season and especially under Jurgen Klopp.

The tough-tackling Brazilian has started every league fixture since the German took the Anfield helm and is becoming increasingly vital in defensive midfield – an area Klopp likes to cram as much as possible to create room for sweeping counter-attacks out wide.

No doubt, Leiva has been up there with the Premier League’s best in terms of play-breaking this term, averaging a whopping 5.5 tackles, 1.8 successful aerial duels and 2 interceptions per match.

But City’s attacking midfield is composed essentially of three No.10s in Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Yaya Toure – whilst Fernandinho likes to venture forward from deeper positions and David Silva could also feature if his ankle injury is fully healed – and all will look to find space just behind Sergio Aguero.

That will put a lot of pressure on Leiva to perform at his very best. But James Milner and Emre Can have both done a fantastic job of providing close support to the 28-year-old thus far under Klopp.

Article title: Five key battles that will decide Manchester City vs Liverpool

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