Liverpool host Manchester City in a very crucial Premier League match that could well go on to prove an important factor in Liverpool’s top 4 bid and City’s title fight with Chelsea.
The Reds won’t be too disappointed with collecting just a point in this fixture, even though it could mean that Spurs overtake them in the table if they’re able to beat QPR away from home.
Some people are arguing that Liverpool’s season might have reached its breaking point now as the side looked nothing like its recent self against Besiktas. Brendan Rodgers’ young side needs to prove these statements wrong and beating last season’s title winners will be just the right way to go about it. The fight for the top 4 places is very intense with Arsenal, Manchester United, Spurs and Southampton all there sniffing blood at any chance, and West Ham United also breathing heavily down their necks from not far below.
Here are three questions Liverpool need to answer against Manchester City.
Is Daniel Sturridge fit enough to start?
Liverpool’s talismanic striker’s return to action was the most awaited thing in Merseyside. After a gap of five months, the England international finally made his return, and scored as well. Brendan Rodgers is doing the right thing by easing him in and not making him start too many games. The Northern Irishman did start him against Besiktas and Sturridge didn’t look like he is ready to play 60-70 minutes, let alone 90 minutes. Against City, it will only be tougher and the pace of the game will naturally be more. If the 25 year old isn’t on his top game, it might cost Liverpool dearly.
Rodgers has two options in this case- either he starts Mario Balotelli as a lone striker against his former team, or use Raheem Sterling as a false nine. Balotelli has looked really good of late, but starting him alone might bring back the old problems. The Italian isn’t very mobile and Liverpool’s high intensity pressing game might be hindered with just him up front alone. In case Sturridge starts, Balotelli’s inclusion then makes sense. Otherwise, getting the player from the bench might be the best way Rodgers can use him in since the 24 year old has proved to be a great impact substitute lately. Raheem Sterling had a nightmare of a game against Besiktas and also played the full 120 minutes. He would understandably be tired. However, starting him as a false nine might be the way to go as the player fits all the bills needed from a Rodgers’ striker. Moreover, Sterling’s finishing has also improved lately and he might make the crucial blow in City’s title challenge.
Who starts in the midfield- Emre Can or Joe Allen?
Emre Can started in the midfield alongside Joe Allen against Besiktas. Even though the two played okay, they clearly don’t compliment each other’s game and the results for Can being put in the midfield – to get the attacks going from the heart of the pitch – didn’t come Liverpool’s way. Against City, Jordan Henderson will come back so there will be space for only one alongside the likely captain on the day. Brendan Rodgers would have to make the call as to which player gets to play in the midfield on the day.
Allen has done well since coming in the side for the injured Lucas. He is not the most loved by the Liverpool fans, but has put performances that must surely have got the Kop faithful to reconsider their decision. Therefore, Allen has the form to play this big match. Moreover, his defensive presence will allow Henderson to weave the attack from the midfield. Alongside Can – who Henderson hasn’t partnered in the midfield much – he wouldn’t know if he is getting enough cover to play his natural game. Emre Can is a defensive midfielder but his positional sense makes him an ideal box to box player so he will be at his impactful best if he plays alongside another defensive midfielder. Therefor it would make more sense if Rodgers goes with the back-line that has got him a bevy of favorable results recently and uses Allen in the midfield. Let’s not forget, after Joe Allen’s wonderful performance against City where he “put Yaya Toure in his back pocket throughout the game” in February 2013, the Ivorian went on to admit it was the toughest game he has played in England.
Who should the front 5 comprise?
Brendan Rodgers needs to ensure that he gets his team selection absolutely spot on against the second placed side. Especially in terms of attack, since City pose a relatively vulnerable defence. On the left wing, undoubtedly Alberto Moreno should start the game. The Spaniard has put on some very underrated performances recently. He was brought on as a second half substitute against Southampton after Lazar Markovic had a torrid time on the left flank against Clyne and Filip DuriA?i . After his introduction, Clyne hardly got a whiff on the left wing and Moreno contained the threatening full-back extremely well. On the right flank, Brendan Rodgers has two options, Lazar Markovic or Jordan Ibe. Ibe has been Liverpool’s X factor recently, and his pace and ability to cut inside might be too much for the City defenders. But Markovic has got enough rest after missing the Besiktas clash and he will be fresh and ready for this game. Rodgers could start both the players by placing Ibe as the right wingback and Markovic slightly ahead behind the striker. Philippe Coutinho will be a sure starter for the Reds. After 19 straight start, the Brazilian was given rest and was left out of the squad against their Turkish opponents. Liverpool supporters will hope Coutinho, like in the corresponding fixture last season where Liverpool’s title dreams were firmly made (0nly to be shattered shortly after), can make a similar impact against Pellegrini’s side this season as well. Raheem Sterling will start alongside Coutinho in case Sturridge doesn’t place. In case the striker isn’t tarted, Sterling is likely to be used as the false nine, and one of Adam Lallana or Lazar Markovic will be started alongside the 20 year old.