Manchester City have been nothing short of irresistible this season. Just two points dropped in the Premier League and only one defeat suffered across all competitions speaks for itself, but the style of football Pep Guardiola’s side have played has created the real aura of invincibility. And yet, there is a feeling that if their undefeated run in the top flight is to eventually cease, it will be this weekend.
Anfield remains one of the Premier League’s least penetrable fortresses – especially for Big Six rivals – and City travel there on Sunday to take on a Liverpool side naturally equipped to counteract Guardiola’s philosophy. So will Liverpool halt City’s momentum this weekend, or will the visitors continue their relentless onslaught of the Premier League? This week’s expert, Ric Turner from Bluemoon-MCFC, shares his thoughts and predictions ahead of Sunday’s 4pm kickoff.
A big part of the reason many are predicting City’s undefeated streak will come to an end this weekend is because of their underwhelming record at Anfield. They haven’t actually won a Premier League game on Liverpool’s patch since 2003, which is their last victory there in 36 years, and have lost the last four in a row.
Do those kinds of records no longer apply with City a frighteningly more formidable animal this season, or are there lessons to be learned from those games in terms of approach?
“City are certainly stronger than they have been for a long time under Guardiola, so we should go to Anfield with more confidence than is usually the case. However, our record there is absolutely dire and it can’t just be dismissed out of hand. It can play on the minds of players and fans alike. Usually Liverpool come flying out of the traps against us, and all too often our players have looked overawed. We need to keep possession early on, which thankfully we’re very good at, and try to take the sting out of the game and subdue the crowd. If Liverpool swarm forward we have the payers to pick them off on the counter attack.”
Raheem Sterling is inevitably one of the centre-pieces in the buildup to Sunday’s game, having infamously left Liverpool for the Etihad Stadium on rather sour terms in summer 2015. An underwhelming first few seasons with City didn’t help his cause much either, but the England international has become a pivotal influence under Guardiola’s guidance this term, netting 18 times across all competitions.
How much has he improved this season and how important will he be for City on Sunday?
“Sterling has been in excellent form this season, and is having the most productive campaign of his career so far. It’s easy to forget that he’s still only 23 – I’m not sure there are many other players in Europe of a similar age who are producing as consistently. Obviously there is a lot of resentment on Merseyside for the way in which he left Liverpool, but you have to say his decision has been completely vindicated. He has, however, struggled in games against Liverpool so far in his City career, and will need to show mental resilience and courage on Sunday if City are to win.”
Liverpool are amid an especially busy January. While star playmaker Philippe Coutinho has left for Barcelona, Virgil van Dijk has arrived from Southampton – a re-balancing of the squad that, while diminishing the Reds’ attacking ranks, is expected to eradicate some of their notorious flaws in defence.
But do Liverpool still have weaknesses City can take advantage of?
“Van Dijk is a great signing for Liverpool, regardless of the fee. He’s always impressed greatly when playing for Southampton against us. However, Liverpool clearly have defensive issues that run deep and cannot be resolved by one signing. I’m sure City will look to exploit Liverpool’s defensive fragility and test Simon Mignolet whenever possible.”
What do you see as the decisive factor in this game?
“City’s defence will have to be at their best to keep Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah quiet. If we can do that (and it’s a big if) then we can cause Liverpool plenty of problems with our forward players. I’m relived we won’t have to face Coutinho anyway, as he always seems to play well against us.”
And finally Ric, let’s hear your score prediction…
“I think it will be a great game, with both teams looking to play on the front foot. I can see it being a score draw, maybe 2-2.”
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