Monday, 1900 hours GMT
Times have certainly changed, haven’t they? Manchester City are headed to Anfield on Monday having cemented their new status as one of the new ‘big four’ of England. On the other hand, their hosts are drifting further away from the same tag and are in huge danger of missing out on Europe altogether.
Monday night’s encounter is certainly one you wouldn’t want to bet on if you like to play safe. Neither of the two teams is particularly predictable in their form or ‘mood’. While City have the ability to destroy teams on a given day, they do have the ability called ‘The Balotelli’ – i.e. to self-destruct at the nearest sign of tough opposition. Liverpool, on the other hand, have a unique ability to raise the hopes of their fans and then destroy this hope in a spell of atrocious football.
The 2-1 defeat at the Hawthorns was a welcome reminder of why Liverpool are far from making stable progress. They may be making steady progress, but if Liverpool were an aircraft, the seat-belt signs would be perpetually on – indicating a turbulent flight. The defeat was a major blow to their hopes of landing a seat in Europe. Eight points to Tottenham seems too much distance to cover up in the final 7 matches.
On the other hand, Manchester City enter this game on the back off a convincing 5-0 thrashing of Sunderland that included some sumptuous attacking display, lethal finishing and near-zero petulance from Balotelli. City sit two points behind third-placed Chelsea but that’s not what they are worried about. Twist your neck full tilt and one will see Harry’s Tottenham within striking distance behind them – a mere three points from City.
Tevez scored two against Liverpool in August
If City are victorious, they would have dealt a fatal blow to Liverpool’s European hopes, while a Liverpool victory throws the race for the Champions League place wide open. The stakes are high and we are very certain of a close game at Anfield, unlike Liverpool’s 3-0 hammering in the reverse fixture at the Eastlands in August.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Sixth-placed Liverpool need victories, especially at home, and Kenny Dalglish would be hoping to overcome injury troubles to put up a fight against tough opponents. The one thing positive from every defeat is that Dalglish is consistently playing the striking pair of Carroll and Suarez. They may not have clicked against West Brom but there was enough to suggest that once these two gel into a partnership, they could be lethal. Kevin Nolan used to read Carroll’s knockdown incredibly well and Liverpool is hoping Suarez will do the same. Though injuries could be half the reason for West Brom’s defeat, Liverpool were really negative at the Hawthorns. The sense of urgency was only seen after going behind and Kenny must address the problem because as things stand, offence is the best defence for the club.
The club from Merseyside will be missing its captain Steven Gerrard for the remainder of the season due to a groin injury. Daniel Agger is another major casualty for Kenny Dalglish. The Danish defender is held in high regard in Kenny’s eyes but will miss the game due to a knee injury. This compounds Liverpool’s problems in defence as they are already without their two right-backs – Johnson and Kelly. Jonjo Shelvey, Fabio Aurelio and David Ngog are training again but lack the match fitness to feature in this game.
Huge loss for L’pool
What this means is that Liverpool are likely to line-up with the same four centre-backs in defence that finished the match against West Brom. While Carragher and Wilson will be the full-backs, Skrtel and Kyrgiakos will play in centre of defence. Gerrard’s absence means Spearing will partner Lucas in the middle. This is where Liverpool lacks creativity and will be looking to Meireles for providing that creative spark. Meireles will be given a left-sided role. However, Suarez, who loves to roam on the wings, and Meireles often interchange positions to cause the opponents trouble. Carroll will be the target man and with City’s midfield much stronger than Liverpool’s, expect a lot of balls directed towards Andy’s head. Liverpool’s top four – Carroll, Suarez, Meireles and Kuyt – have an eye for goal and will often end up in striking positions.
Probable starting XI: (4-4-2): Reina, Carragher, Skrtel, Kyrgiakos, Wilson, Lucas, Spearing, Kuyt, Meireles, Carroll, Suarez
Fourth-placed Manchester City can easily go from beauty to beast within a few days. They are yet to win an away game in 2011, which suggests Mancini’s tactics aren’t correct away from home. City are a team that often wilt under the pressure of the home crowd and the exuberance of the home players. Add to that Mancini’s love of playing three holding midfielders until recently and what you get is an extra-defensive away setup.
Manchester City have no new injuries to report. Shay Given, Jerome Boateng and Micah Richards remain the absentees due to injuries. Kolo Toure remains suspended after failing a drugs test a few weeks ago.
Mancini is not expected to change the team that beat Sunderland but he could revert back to his three holding midfielder strategy by bringing back Barry. City will attack with the dangerous quartet of Silva, Tevez, Balotelli and Johnson. However, if Mancini decides to play defensively, one of the four will be sacrificed. Nigel de Jong and Yaya Toure will form a formidable central partnership for the Liverpool midfield to deal with. In the absence of Gerrard, Mancini should ideally play only two holding midfielders and provide the attack with an extra man. The Liverpool midfield of Lucas and Spearing should be overpowered by Toure and de Jong.
Probable starting XI: (4-4-2): Hart, Lescott, Kompany, Kolarov, Boyata, Y.Toure, De Jong, Johnson, Silva, Tevez, Balotelli
1. Manchester City have failed to win an away league game in 2011, taking 2 points from a possible 15. (via BBC)
2. Maxi Rodriguez has created 31 scoring opportunities for team-mates this term, without any of them being netted – the highest such figure in the top flight (via OptaStats)
3. Manchester City have failed to win in their last seven trips to Anfield. (via BBC)
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Andy Carroll (Liverpool)
The man who made Liverpool break the British transfer fee is yet to score for his new club. Manchester City at Anfield will present the young Englishman with a chance to play in front of the home crowd for the first time with full fitness. He has got some games under his belt now and he could make a huge impact on this game. TheHardTackle looks forward to his pairing with Suarez on home turf.
Liverpool 1-1 Man City
The absence of Liverpool’s best player – club captain Steven Gerrard – and the absence of their best defender – Daniel Agger – might just be too heavy a loss to recover from. The Anfield factor will play a huge role in this match. Manchester City should not be in a mood to mess around, but that depends on their attitude on a given day. TheHardTackle reckons it will be a close encounter that will end up being a stalemate, if not a narrow win for City.