Manchester City and Liverpool are set to square off in the clash of the weekend at the Etihad Stadium
Pep Guardiola’s influence at the helm has seen Manchester City recruit a number of world-class players over the summer to transform them into a team set to challenge for the league this season. However, three games into the season, and the Citizens already have ground to make up on their local rivals.
Liverpool, on the other hand, have not had the window like their opponents on Saturday, but have addressed most of the areas that needed to be worked on, barring a central defender. On the plus side, although, keeping hold of Philippe Coutinho was key for Jurgen Klopp, but the Brazilian has been officially ruled out against City.
With two title rivals taking on each other, it is needless to say that the game has an awful lot riding on it. Building up to this mega fixture, the Hard Tackle takes a look at the three positional battles that could prove to be key in shaping the outcome of the match.
1. De Bruyne vs Henderson
Manchester City’s Belgian attacking midfielder was their highest chance-creator last season and also contributed with a staggering 18 assists to his name. Thus, it was expected that Pep will play him with a close proximity to the opposition goal so as to maximise his team’s goal-scoring opportunities.
However, due to the Spaniard’s summer influx, he was been forced into playing de Bruyne in a slightly withdrawn position with the likes of Raheem Sterling and Bernardo occupying the attacking midfield positions in-behind the striker.
That hasn’t stopped de Bruyne from pulling the strings and getting into the game, and Jordan Henderson will be tasked to keep the dexterous Belgian at bay. The England international has made the deep-lying midfield position his own at Liverpool, and he will be looking to shield the defence and prevent players like de Bruyne from having their way.
Henderson leads the way with the most tackles of any Liverpool midfielder this season, and is a man that Klopp can blindly rely on. He has formed a fantastic connect with the Anfield faithful as well, and has all the makings to shine for many more years to come.
2. Jesus vs Lovren
After chasing Virgil van Dijk all summer, Jurgen Klopp failed to look for a backup option until it was too late to make a move in the market. The Dutchman would’ve bolstered the Reds defence, and would have given them much needed solidity at the back.
Last season, Liverpool had a nightmare against teams that averaged players taller than themselves. They struggled at winning aerial duels and conceded countless goals from set pieces. It has followed suit this time around as well when they conceded a shambolic three goals against Watford on the opening weekend.
City will pose the biggest threat to them this season, and if the Liverpool defence isn’t up for it, they could end up getting battered on the day. Gabriel Jesus is likely to lead the line for the hosts, and his industry and precision on the ball could go on to haunt the likes of Dejan Lovren and co.
Jesus may not pose too much of an aerial threat, but his movement off the ball is sublime. The Brazilian moves into the channels on a number of occasions, drops deep to bring others into play, and shrugs his shoulders to get past defenders closely marking up.
Thus, Lovren could have his work cut out on Saturday, and he will have to be up for a physical duel with the tireless Manchester City striker. Klopp will have his men well prepared for Jesus’ threat, but the Brazilian has the potential to wreak havoc in opposition defences.
3. Walker vs Mane
Arguably the most intriguing positional battle of the game will be that between Kyle Walker and Sadio Mane. The Englishman hasn’t got off to the best of starts at Manchester City as he has already picked up his first red card of the season, but has served his ban and is likely to start on Saturday.
He will be up against the pacey and ambitious Mane, who has been in exceptional form this season. The Anfield faithful were treated to some blistering maneuvers from the Senegalese last season, but he now seems to have taken his game to a whole new level.
With the arrival of Mohamed Salah, Sane has been deployed on the left flank, but is still finding it an easy job to put the ball into the back of the net. His link up play with Andrew Robertson and Emre Can has been exceptional in the past few games, and Liverpool look like a more ferocious unit with Mane in the side.
Thus, Walker will have to be prepared to deal with the physical wing presence of Mane on the day. Known to surge up front, the England international knows that he cannot offer the Senegalese a hint of room on the wings or he could end up being punished for his misdemeanors.