August 26, 2012 | 15:00 GMT
Two clubs with contrasting fortunes face off against each other on Sunday. Over recent seasons, Liverpool have slumped from being title contenders to a team struggling for a Champions League berth. Manchester City on the other hand have become one of the powerhouses in club football under Mancini with the help of a huge injection of cash from their Abu Dhabi based owners. Liverpool come into the game on the back of their worst start in the Premier League having lost 3-0 to West Brom at The Hawthorns while Manchester City came from behind to secure an entertaining win against newly-promoted Southampton.
Brendan Rodgers’ team got back to winning ways after the 0-1 victory against Hearts but there is still a long way to go for The Reds. The possession based approach favoured by Brendan Rodgers will take time to implement as the players get a better understanding of the tactics and their individual roles. Unfortunately though, the players have little time to settle as Liverpool face one of the toughest starts to the Premier League. It’s a baptism by fire for Brendan Rodgers’ side as they host Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United with an away trip to Sunderland sandwiched in between. After the loss against former assistant manager Steve Clark’s side, pressure will be high on Liverpool to pick up points at Anfield.
With the win against Southampton, Manchester City have now won their last 7 Premier League games. The Citizens have a settled squad and will be looking to continue to stretch that run against Liverpool. City have not won at Anfield since 2003 and Sunday’s clash looks as good an opportunity as any with Liverpool in a transition phase. Manchester City played some brilliant fluid football against Southampton and even without their last season’s top scorer Sergio Aguero, City boast of one of the most potent attacks in the league. Tevez looks to have found his goal-scoring boots while Balotelli and Dzeko will look to take their chance against Aguero’s absence.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Brendan Rodgers opted to rest several key players ahead of the Europa League clash against Hearts. Martin Skrtel, Glen Johnson, Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez didn’t travel with the squad and will be expected to slot into the Liverpool line-up on Sunday. Daniel Agger’s red card against West Brom means that he is set to miss this crucial encounter. Fitness concerns still remain over Andy Carroll and Jose Enrique and Rodgers is likely to take a late call whether to include them in the side. Joe Cole is set to miss this clash with a hamstring injury.
Brendan Rodgers is likely to persist with his 4-3-3 system against Manchester City. The team played well for large parts of the game against West Brom and created several goal scoring opportunities. The Anfield faithful will be hoping that they can take those chances against The Sky Blues this weekend.
Pepe Reina will continue in goal but Daniel Agger’s absence is a huge blow for Liverpool. The Danish defender was a calming presence in Liverpool’s back-line last season. Along with Martin Skrtel, the duo have formed one of the best centre back pairings in the League. Jamie Carragher played in the midweek game against Hearts which would indicate that Sebastian Coates will probably pair up with Martin Skrtel against the English Champions. Glen Johnson will start at right-back but could switch flanks if Jose Enrique fails his fitness test. Martin Kelly would take his place in that contingency.
The midfield will be key to Liverpool’s chances and Rodgers is likely to go ahead with his first choice trio of Lucas, Allen and Gerrard. The midfield partnership of Lucas and Allen showed signs of promise in the first game and they will be pivotal in starving the opposition of the ball. Both players had pass completion rates above 90% and Rodgers will want them to continue in the same vein. Gerrard looked off the boil against West Brom and he will want to rectify his mistakes against Manchester City. The Liverpool captain will be expected to provide the attacking thrust from midfield and his performance on the day could determine the outcome of the match.
After scoring 3 each against Bayer and Gomel, the goals seem to have dried up for Liverpool with none of their forwards finding the net in the last 2 matches. Downing and Borini were largely ineffective against West Brom while Suarez spurned some good opportunities to score. Rodgers might make a few changes in the front three which started last game. Andy Carroll has tormented Mancini’s side in the past and, if fit, may prove to be a handful for a shaky looking City defence. Suarez would then start on the right with Borini occupying the other flank. In the event of Carroll’s absence, Downing would regain his place with Suarez playing as a No. 9. Assaidi will be hoping to take his Anfield bow and Sterling is also likely to play a role after his impressive showing in Liverpool’s Europa League game on Thursday.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Reina; Johnson, Skrtel, Coates, Enrique; Lucas, Allen, Gerrard; Suarez, Carroll, Borini.
Roberto Mancini has been successfully experimenting with a 3-5-2 formation in pre-season and he might set his side up in the same way against Liverpool. Liverpool will look to dictate play from midfield and Mancini’s strategy would be to try and stifle their passing game. City will be without their star striker Sergio Aguero who misses out after damaging his knee ligaments in the last game. Micah Richards has not yet recovered from his ankle injury while Gareth Barry misses out due to an abdominal injury.
Joe Hart, who won the Golden Glove award last year will continue in goal. Vincent Kompany, Joleon Lescott and Pablo Zabaleta will play as the three centre-backs while Clichy will play as a left wing back. James Milner may get a chance to play as right wing back in Micah Richards’ absence. Mancini would have taken notes from West Bromwich Albion’s successful counter attacking style against Liverpool last game and will be looking to replicate the same at Anfield. Three central defenders would allow his side to soak up the pressure paving the way for City’s forwards to exploit Liverpool’s lack of pace in defence.
Yaya Toure will be dictating play at the heart of Manchester City’s midfield with new signing Jack Rodwell partnering him. The former Everton man will have a few scores to settle after being harshly sent off in the Merseyside derby last season. Samir Nasri will be looking to continue his fine form in the attacking midfield position. Nasri will also look to drop deep on occasions to provide the extra man in midfield.
In Aguero’s absence, Tevez is expected to lead the City attack and he would be partnered by Edin Dzeko. Mario Balotelli is also in contention for a starting berth after recovering from conjunctivitis. City looked razor sharp in attack against Southampton. Tevez will be looking to run the channels and make intelligent runs into the box. He could prove to be a real handful for Liverpool. With the likes of Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri pulling the strings from midfield City are expected to create several goal-scoring opportunities.
Probable Starting Line-up (3-5-2): Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott; Milner, Rodwell, Toure, Clichy, Nasri; Tevez, Dzeko
Players To Watch
Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
Since, the departure of Fernando Torres from Anfield, Luis Suarez has been central to Liverpool’s attack. The diminutive Uruguayan is a rather notorious figure for his antics but that does not take away from the fact that he is Liverpool’s best player. Luis Suarez was top scorer for Liverpool last season and much of the goal-scoring burden will be shouldered again by him this season. Luis Suarez has a little bit of magic about him and even in the 3-0 defeat at The Hawthorns, the striker was involved in most of Liverpool’s goal-scoring opportunities. The forward not only scores goals but also creates them and his form in this game would be crucial to Liverpool’s hopes of a victory this Sunday.
Carlos Tevez (Manchester City)
Carlos Tevez has enjoyed a fine pre-season and looks as fit and hungry as ever. The Argentinian was benched for several games last season after his stand-off against Mancini and he is looking to make up for lost time. Tevez is one of the world’s best forwards when on form and has begun his Premier League campaign brightly. The former City captain is an influential figure in the dressing room and his form will boost the morale of his team-mates. Tevez will look to lead the attack in Aguero’s absence and Liverpool’s centre backs must find a way to nullify the Argentinian’s threat if they hope to get something from this game.
Prediction: Liverpool 1-1 Manchester City
Although Anfield is no longer the fortress it once was, Brendan Rodgers’ men will look to utilise the home advantage against the Champions. Should Mancini choose to employ a 3-5-2 to counter Rodgers’ 4-3-3 we could see a keenly contested tactical battle. Manchester City will look to enforce their physical advantage against a rather small Liverpool side. In spite of the wonderful attacking talents in both teams we predict a cagey encounter ending in a 1-1 draw.