Etihad Stadium, Manchester
August 25th, 2014; 19:00 GMT
The scale, and the stakes involved, in a bout between two Premier League heavyweights always seem that much bigger the closer on gets to the end of a season. If this game had been taking place in the final third of the season, terms like ‘title decider’ and ‘6-pointer’ would have been thrown around with abandonment. As it stands, we are only in Matchday 2 of the 2014-15 season, and hence this game is being looked upon simply as a high-impact entertainer, and little else.
But the importance of this fixture needs to be properly recognized. It is a skirmish between the winner of the 2013-14 Barclay’s Premier League season, and the side that finished a very close second. This is a game that has a very real say in the outcome of the League. And Manuel Pellegrini and Brendan Rodgers will treat it as such.
Manchester City FC – Team News, Line-up and Formation
Why fix something that isn’t broken? Manuel Pellegrini found a winning formula last season, with his star-studded team having the right depth and the right attitude to go all the way. The manager has such faith in his squad that he has chosen not to go in for a host of signings (as has been City’s usual approach to transfer windows in recent years). Instead he has made only a handful of signings to reinforce key areas of the pitch. Central midfielder Fernando, center-half Eliaquim Mangala, right-back Bacary Sagna and goalkeeper Willy Caballero have been recruited.
Mangala and Alvaro Negredo will be unavailable due to injuries, while Sergio Aguero should again start on the bench as he has still not attained 100% fitness. Against a passing side like Liverpool, he might choose to strengthen his central midfield by shifting Silva to a number 10 role with Samir Nasri and Jesus Navas on the flanks. But that would mean missing out on the attacking edge that the Stevan Jovetic – Edin Dzeko pairing offer. In a home game early in the season, it makes sense that Pellegrini would take the latter, more aggressive approach. Silva and Nasri will regularly drift in from their wider roles, with Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy providing the width with regular overlapping runs.
Sergio Aguero is a dream option to have on the bench, but Jesus Navas will also make an excellent 60th minute substitute. Liverpool tend to play fairly narrow, and with Sterling expected to contribute in a big way in attack, the 19-year old may not always track back, especially in the later phases of the game. Unleashing Navas (in place of Jovetic) will allow Pellegrini to shift Silva behind the striker, while Navas, Nasri and the 2 full-backs can outnumber Liverpool’s new Spanish fullbacks when they attack.
Manchester City FC Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-2-2): Hart (GK); Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy; Toure, Fernandinho; Nasri, Silva; Jovetic, Dzeko
Liverpool FC – Team News, Line-up and Formation
The big news for Liverpool FC this past week has been the signing of ex-Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli from AC Milan. Football writers might have blown a mental fuse out of sheer joy had the Italian been available to play against his former employers. As it stands, Liverpool will be without his services, and will also be missing Adam Lallana, Daniel Agger and Jon Flanagan, while Jose Enrique will undergo a late fitness test to decide his availability.
Rodgers made an odd selection in the previous game (at home, against Southampton) by starting both Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva in the heart of midfield. Both players effectively play in the same deep-lying midfielder role: Gerrard has made that role his own under Rodgers, while Lucas has been featured there for most of his Liverpool career. Playing both together leads to a predictable lack of mobility in midfield, with neither player likely to be truly effective with the ball at their feet and contributing to attacking play. The selection is especially strange considering that Rodgers had Joe Allen and Emre Can available. He subbed the Brazilian and brought on Allen in the second half, and the team looked considerably better.
Against City, Rodgers will need his team to be at their peak. He not only needs his men controlling the heart of midfield, but also needs to ensure that his full-backs aren’t overly narrow when his attacking midfielders move into more central zones (which is typical of Rodgers’ sides). To this effect, the 4-2-3-1 from Southampton game should be retained, but with Lucas Leiva (who anyway seems bound for a loan move to Napoli) replaced by Jordan Henderson, Emre Can or Joe Allen. With Sturridge up front, Raheem Sterling on the left and Philippe Coutinho in the number 10 role, the right attacking midfielder role is the only open slot in the 4 forward most positions. It makes sense to use Can or Allen in a central role, and have Henderson in the right of center role. Henderson has long done an excellent job of shielding the right-back when played in this role, often disguising Glen Johnson’s defensive frailties in the process. He would need to do the same against City.
Liverpool FC Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Mignolet (GK); Manquillo, Skrtel, Lovren, Moreno; Gerrard, Can; Henderson, Coutinho, Sterling; Sturridge
- Daniel Sturridge has more League goals in a Manchester City shirt (5) than Stevan Jovetic (3).
- Of the 8 highest goalscorers of the previous season, 4 are expected to feature in this game: Sturridge (21), Yaya Toure (20), Sergio Aguero (17) and Edin Dzeko (16). For reference, the other three are Luis Suarez (31), Wayne Rooney (17), Olivier Giroud (16) and Wilfried Bony (16).
- Of the 7 highest assist providers of last season, 4 could feature in this game: Steven Gerrard (13), Rickie Lambert (10), Toure (9) and Silva (9). The others are Suarez (12), Rooney (10) and Mesut Ozil (9).
Player to Watch Out For: Stevan Jovetic
The last time these two teams met, David Silva played behind the striker and was probably City’s most effective player, running most of the play for them. This time around, it could be Stevan Jovetic in that position. He’s a dynamic talent, capable of moments of wondrous skill as well as having a good eye for a finish. He also has a point to prove. Last season, he barely got to step onto the pitch, in part due to long periods of injury layoffs, and partly because he was Pellegrini’s fourth choice striker. With Negredo injured, and Aguero also not fully fit, this is the ideal time for Jovetic to stake his claim on the starting 11.
Manchester City 2 – 1 Liverpool FC
Man City not only have home advantage, they also have the benefit of having a steady starting 11 that have played together in their title-winning season. Brendan Rodgers, meanwhile, will need time to get his new look defence and his Uruguayan-free attack clicking completely. It is a critical fixture that has perhaps come a little too early for the Northern Irishman.
Expect Liverpool to concede goals that will originate from wide areas, where they have limited options (Lallana unavailable, Markovic not ready to start), and new full-backs (Moreno and Manquillo). Liverpool will probably score themselves, but their defence isn’t yet solid enough to resist City’s attacks.
Blast from the past