Etihad Stadium, Manchester
December 26th, 2013; 17:30 GMT
Oh yes, this is the big one ladies and gentlemen! No, we don’t mean ‘the match that decides the fate of the title’ – which, must be said, what every match between last season’s top 7 sides is referred to as. Rather, this is the coming together of two hurricane-strength football forces. The two highest scoring teams of the greatest footballing league in the world. And the rest of the Premier League flock are some ways behind these two when it comes to getting the ball into the net. Manchester City have scored 51 and Liverpool FC have scored 42 in 17 PL outings, effectively averaging 3 goals/game and 2.47 goals/game effectively. For reference, Arsenal & Chelsea have 33 and 32 goals effectively (i.e. goals/ game averages of 1.94 and 1.88).
Manchester City have in recent games finally shown the kind of form one expects from one of the most expensive squads in the world. In their last 4 outings, they have scored a minimum of 3 goals against Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Leicester City and Fulham. The fact that they managed 4 goals against Fulham despite not having star-striker Sergio Aguero available pretty much says it all. The manner in which they destroyed Arsenal, scoring 6-goals past Arsene Wenger’s side, has served as a strong declaration of intent from Manuel Pellegrini. Even Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has been quick to point out that the superiority of the City squad means that the title is theirs to lose. A win over Liverpool would put City at the top of the Premier League table and firmly in control of the title race.
Liverpool FC may not have a squad as deep as Manchester City’s, but they have an astute manager who has been able to switch tactics and formations to suit the players he does have available. He has done incredibly well despite having a relatively thin squad (especially when compared to the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea), and having the likes of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho, Joe Allen and Steven Gerrard unavailable at different parts of the season. Beyond this tactical intelligence, he also deserves credit for his role in ensuring that Luis Suarez has signed a contract extension with Liverpool FC, effectively killing budding rumours about a possible move to Real Madrid in January.
Manchester City FC – Team News, Line-up and Formation
Manager Manuel Pellegrini is reaping the rewards of adding key signings to the already deep squad he inherited from Roberto Mancini. While Martin Demichelis, Fernandinho and Jesus Navas have all contributed to the first team, Alvaro Negredo is by far their best piece of business from the summer window. Signed from Sevilla for around £16.4 million, La fiera de Vallecas (The Beast of Vallecas) has already contributed 7 goals to the Manchester City cause. But more importantly, his surprising blend of brute physicality and nimble footwork have regularly created opportunities for team-mate Sergio Aguero to capitalise on. While he will have to manage without his better-striking-half in this game, he is a major threat in himself, one Liverpool need to be very vary of.
Man City have a fairly long injury list that includes forwards Sergio Aguero and Stevan Jovetic, as well as defenders Pablo Zabaleta, Micah Richards and Matija Nastasic. While Aguero is definitely the biggest loss, Pablo Zabaleta is a close second. The right-back is the leading provider of assists (5) in the Manchester City line-up. The loss is exaggerated by the fact that the other option at right-back, Micah Richards, is also unavailable. That means Pellegrini can either slot in midfielder James Milner (who scored after coming on as a substitute against Fulham) or left-back Gael Clichy. Against Fulham, Pellegrini took the latter option, with Aleksandar Kolarov getting some much needed game time at left-back. Kolarov has been linked to a move away from the blue half of Manchester, though Pellegrini has been quick to dispel any notion of a January transfer for the Serbian.
Manuel Pellegrini will build his defensive strategies for this game with one core purpose: stop Luis Suarez. The manager has already commented on how Suarez is “in a very good moment”; he will surely have atleast one of his defenders responsible for marking the Uruguayan. Vincent Kompany, who scored at both ends in the Fulham game (including a spectacular own-goal), is the man most likely to be handed that responsibility. Joe Hart will be back between the goal-posts, having somehow wrestled his role back from Costel Pantilimon. It will be interesting to see if Pellegrini plays with two strikers as he has done all season – the method had worked fantastically when Aguero was partnering Negredo up top, but Edin Dzeko was not half as effective against Fulham. Rather, Pellegrini could switch from the 4-4-2 (or 4-2-2-2) formation to a 4-2-3-1, playing David Silva behind Negredo and Jesus Navas on the right. This will have the added benefit of having a pacey winger like Navas playing against Liverpool’s rookie (and makeshift) left-back Jon Flanagan. This way, the center of the park will turn into a fairly direct 3-on-3 battle (assuming Rodgers sticks to the 4-3-3 from Liverpool’s last 2 outings), with Silva-Toure-Fernandinho facing off against Henderson-Allen-Leiva. It will be a very interesting battle, as all 6 are very accomplished passers, and whichever triad outdoes the other will have a large bearing on how the match turns out.
Manchester City FC Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Hart (GK); Clichy, Demichelis, Kompany, Kolarov; Toure, Fernandinho; Navas, Silva, Nasri; Negredo
Liverpool FC – Team News, Line-up and Formation
Brendan Rodgers, despite having two daunting away fixtures lined up (Chelsea after Man City), will be a content man. His team sit at the very top of the Premier League table, and his star striker has just signed a huge new contract. Liverpool may have upped their wage bill by a big margin by making Luis Suarez the highest paid player in the Premier League (allegedly), but then that is what they need to do to hold on to someone who is being touted as one of the best players of the world, and whose name is being spoken in the same breath as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Besides, the wage bill is nothing compared to the disaster management that might have ensued had galactico-hungry Real Madrid swooped in during the winter and Liverpool had to handle the task of replacing him. One needs to only look at Tottenham Hotspur’s sale of Gareth Bale to see how mountainous a task that can be.
Liverpool have no new injuries this week, but are still without captain Steven Gerrard, left-back Jose Enrique and their second highest goal-scorer this season, Daniel Sturridge. Liverpool FC have coped excellently in the absence of these three first teamers. Young Jon Flanagan (who turns 21 on New Years Day next week) has put in some stellar performances at left-back (despite being a right-back by trade). He even managed to get on the score-sheet against Tottenham. Jordan Henderson has been moved to a more central role since Stevie’s injury, while Suarez has been prolific as a lone-striker.
Rodgers will have to think long and hard about retaining the 4-3-3 he’s used against Tottenham and Cardiff City over the last two games. One can see why he would probably want to retain this set up: Liverpool have scored 8 goals in these 2 games. Rodgers being someone who doesn’t tend to tinker with a winning team, would like to see the fluidity and counter-attacking strength this formation provides him. However, neither of those two teams were half as good at attacking and scoring goals as Manchester City are. They have an attacking line-up as good as any in Europe, and Rodgers would want to ensure he counteracts some of their strengths. Firstly, if Jesus Navas is played on the right flank with Gael Clichy behind him, they could easily get the best of Flanagan; who, for all his merits, does not possess the kind of pace these two do. The threat is enhanced by the fact that Philippe Coutinho, who has been played on the left in the 4-3-3, tends to drift inside more often than not, and is not the most disciplined at tracking back and lending a hand in defence. Samir Nasri has combined well with Kolarov on City’s left flank in the past, and Glen Johnson will have to be fairly disciplined and at his defensive best to stop them. Rodgers may even consider going for a 4-2-3-1, with Sterling-Coutinho-Henderson (left-center-right, respectively) forming the three man attacking midfield band behind Suarez: Henderson and Sterling would do a much better job of tracking back to defend on their respective flanks. But this would be a reactionary approach, and Rodgers is more likely to stop City by pressing them high up the pitch; which is a task Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen have performed with excellence. If Martin Skrtel can effectively mark Negredo, and Lucas Leiva tracks David Silva well enough, Sakho (who tends to drift to the left anyway) would be able to help Jon Flanagan out in nullifying Navas and Clichy.
But all tactics aside, if Luis Suarez has another stellar game like so many others he’s had this season, he could easily settle the outcome with one moment of magic.
UPDATE: Jon Flanagan’s involvement in the game has been thrown into doubt due to continuing worries about a hamstring strain he picked up in the Cardiff City fixture.
Liverpool FC Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Mignolet (GK); Johnson, Skrtel, Sakho, Flanagan; Lucas, Allen, Henderson; Sterling, Suarez, Coutinho
- The Premier League’s top 4 goal-scorers all belong to these two teams: Luis Suarez (19), Sergio Aguero (13), Daniel Sturridge (9) and Yaya Toure (9).
- The last top-flight team to score as many goals as Man City (35) in their opening eight home games were Spurs in 1962-63.
- Six of the last nine Premier League matches between Liverpool and Manchester City have been draws (Two City wins, one Liverpool, all 3-0 at home).
Statistics Source: Squawka, DailyMail
Players to Watch Out For
Vincent Kompany (Manchester City)
So often, Manchester City’s fate seems closely tied to their captain, Vincent Kompany. City have only lost once this season when Kompany was on the pitch, but have been beaten thrice without him. His is easily one of the best center-halves in the world on his, and if there ever was a defender who could negate the impact of Luis Suarez, it is Kompany. How he performs on Boxing Day will have an enormous impact on the final outcome of the game.
Manchester City 2 – 3 Liverpool FC
At full strength, the smart money would be on Manchester City taking the spoils in this home fixture. But for a team that has been winning by outscoring their opposition, losing their star striker (Sergio Aguero) could prove a killing blow. Especially when you consider that the last thing a leaky defence wants to see is Luis Suarez leading the line for the opposition. Liverpool FC should edge what can be expected to be a very open match.