Liverpool vs Manchester City looks set to be the Premier League clash of the season so far. This rivalry has steadily moved to the forefront of English football in recent years and we’ve now reached a point where both sides are expected to push each other all the way for the 2018/19 title.
Add to the fact both are the Premier League’s resident entertainers, netting a staggering 36 times already this term, and partook in a series of high-scoring thrillers last season, and Sunday’s meeting at Anfield has all the makings of another classic.
But what will be the key factors that decide a potentially crucial title clash? Football FanCast take a look at where the 4.30pm kickoff will be lost and won…
It may seem unnecessarily hipster to focus on the two goalkeepers for a match involving two fantastically entertaining, attacking teams but that’s precisely why Alisson and Ederson’s efforts at their respective ends of the pitch will be so important on Sunday. City and Liverpool stand first and second for shots on target this season, so both No.1s will need to be at the top of their games to hope for a clean sheet.
But in terms of buildup play too, these two modern goalkeepers who look to start attacks from the edge of their own penalty box will be of intrinsic importance. Especially with both sides looking to press high and win the ball in dangerous areas, their distribution will be as crucial as their shot-stopping at Anfield.
Throw in the fact both goalkeepers, who were both brought to the Premier League for record-breaking transfer fees, are vying for Brazil’s No.1 jersey and it could quickly develop into an exciting individual battle of one-upmanship.
A big part of the reason Liverpool caused Manchester City so many problems last season was their ability to suddenly explode into bursts of unstoppable dynamic football, coinciding perfectly with City’s knack of suffering from momentary capitulations. From Liverpool’s three wins last season, there were two sets of three goals scored within twenty minutes of each other.
Perhaps as a consequence though, there has been something more measured about both teams this season. Liverpool have been efficient rather than rip-roaring, sparing themselves those awkwardly nervous ends to matches when Jurgen Klopp’s boys hold on having clearly run out of steam. City, likewise, feel like they’re a little more cautious and a little less gung-ho this time around – potentially because Pep Guardiola doesn’t want his side to peak too early into the campaign.
But that could actually cost Liverpool this weekend, because those injections of energy were so crucial to their wins over City last season. The visitors, on the other hand, can take confidence in how measured they’ve been – knowing they’ll need a much steadier and more composed performance to take something away from Anfield.
It would be unfair to argue Mohamed Salah will be essentially absent for Liverpool on Sunday, but it’s already clear the Egyptian international is some way off the standards he set for himself last season – tellingly, Klopp hauled him off with around half an hour to spare in the 1-1 draw with Chelsea last weekend. Indeed, Liverpool’s potency has been much more of a collective effort this term, with just three clubs boasting a higher number of different goalscorers in the Premier League, and unless Salah’s form completely transforms in the space of a week, they’ll be relying on that again versus City.
City, meanwhile, are still without Kevin De Bruyne – albeit there have been rumours of surprise involvement in the matchday squad this weekend. Although it’s hardly affected them in terms of results, it has impacted the Etihad outfit’s ability to launch sweeping attacks from back to front with quite the same velocity – David Silva and Bernardo Silva, as talented as they may be, are far more sideways in terms of their passing games. Having largely faced considerably inferior opposition so far, the Belgium international’s absence could be truly felt for the first time this season at Anfield.
Liverpool found just two goals and two assists from the bench in 38 games last season, but have almost met that total this term with just seven matches gone. Daniel Sturridge has of course played a huge part in that, scoring against West Ham on the opening weekend and then netting an absolute ripper against Chelsea last time out, and the oft-crocked striker appears to be back to his best after so many years of frustrating injury problems. With four goals across all competitions, Klopp will have no hesitation in throwing the Englishman on in search of a late equaliser or winner.
Manchester City, even in De Bruyne’s absence, still have an embarrassment of riches in the middle and final thirds – not least including Gabriel Jesus. The Brazilian probably hasn’t reached the levels expected since initially exploding into his Manchester City career 18 months ago, but he’s no doubt a fantastic talent and his ability to play anywhere across the front-line, or even just behind the central striker if necessary, gives Guardiola the ability to change the shape and structure of City’s attack.