1. Clash Of The Titans
With Liverpool on track to break City’s record 100-point tally from last season, this game should shine ample light on the likelihood of them reaching that mammoth tally.
Whether you like it or not (and it’s hard not to unless you’re a United or Everton fan) City v Liverpool has become the biggest clash domestic football has to offer. How the reverse fixture ended scoreless is anybody’s guess given the amount of goals both teams manage to rain down on most other opponents.
A Liverpool win would extend their lead over the current champions to ten points, a disparity that could prove too much for the Cityzens to overcome.
Bearing in mind history is on the Scouser’s side – no team has ever been so far ahead at New Years and failed to win the title – this game has the feel of a remarkably premature final. City must win.
The fact that a side crowned English football’s ‘greatest ever’ 7 mere months ago are under such pressure is a measure to the magic Klopp’s worked at Anfield. These are truly hallowed times. Don’t overthink it, just enjoy the staggering footy we’re blessed with watching right now.
2. Backs To The Wall
It’s testament to both sides’ defensive credentials that it finished 0-0 at Anfield back in August. Since then, their fortunes have differed slightly. City have now gone seven games without a clean sheet, conceding twice as many goals as a Liverpool defence that’s the tightest in Europe.
Significantly, both sides have injuries however. For the Reds, Joe Gomez will be sorely missed with Dejan Lovren stepping in again. Despite the mildly cretinous Croat’s heroics against Newcastle, he’s certainly still got a blunder in him and was lucky not to concede a penalty when he hurtled through the back of Aguero at Anfield.
Even Gary Neville, battled hardened from a far grittier era of English football, commented on TV that it looked a stonewall penalty. Had the City forward not got straight up and commendably played the ball, Martin Atkinson might well have blown the whistle.
He’s unlikely to be so lucky twice.
For the Mancs, Benjamin Mendy is still absent after knee surgery whilst Delph is banned. Their replacement, Oleksandr Zinchenko, looked like Bamby on ice when he came back into the squad to face Southampton, getting his pocket picked by Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in the build-up to Saints’ goal.
Having steadied a wobbly ship at St Mary’s, Vinny Kompany could be paired with John Stones if Guardiola decides Laporte is a more solid option than the young Ukranian at full back.
3. Battle Of The Brazilians.
Eyebrows were raised in July when Liverpool spent £55 million on breaking the record transfer fee for a goalkeeper. Especially given the fact that just two months earlier, the same individual had shipped five at Anfield as the Reds knocked Roma out of Europe.
Since then, few Kopites have questioned Klopp’s decision to bring in Alisson after managing to shut out 12 league opponents this season.
His opposite number is a man Allison knows well, his national team understudy, Ederson. Despite only being one year his junior, the City number one has consistently played second fiddle to the Liverpool stopper for Selecao.
There are similarities between the two compatriots. Their respective manager’s desire for ‘total football’, a possession-centric display of passing wanderlust makes the South American’s ideal protagonists.
While clean sheets are a worthy indicator of a keeper’s ability, those numbers don’t tell the full picture these days. Yes, Alisson has a preferable shot stopping record, but when it comes to footwork, the findings are interesting. Klopp’s man boasts the most keeper dribbles in the entire league this term but has made two big errors that have directly cost his team a goal this season.
That said, it was a similar story for Ederson last season who also made two howlers. Guardiola, however, is a man of faith and the keeper’s technique looked immaculate when he and his defence played a game of one-touch in their own penalty area as they calmly beat Southampton’s press.
Finally, in the lesser recognised metric of ‘staggeringly bad neck tats Ederson leads hands down – 2 absolute rotters to Allison’s none.
4. Expect Cards
Whilst the quality will be sky high, half of what’s made City v Liverpool so damn watchable in recent years is the increasing levels of needle on display. Whilst the managers have remained civil, out on the pitch it’s been getting deliciously neggy, facilitated in part by the rise of the tactical foul.
And whilst Liverpool are no angels, Guardiola’s side have become undisputed masters at the art of ‘falta tactica’, Spanish for ‘premeditated shithousery’.
There’s a cracking explanation of it below from Tifo. If you’re short of time it boils down to this:
Opposition players can’t hurt you on counter if they’re chewing on turf just outside their own box.
Flashpoints to look out for include Mane and Fernandinho, who had a decent tussle in their previous encounter, whilst the home crowd will be keen to remind the Senegalese striker of his red for an attempted decapitation of Ederson last term.
Ref, Anthony Taylor, is not likely to stand for such behaviour at the Etihad. The officious egg-head is in no mood for nonsense having dished out six yellows and two reds during Sheff United v Blackburn this week.
5. City’s Thin Blue Line
Fernandinho is described on City’s club website as ‘the invisible glue that binds City’s many strands together’. And whilst I’m pretty sure fielding invisible players is against the rules, City are certainly a less cohesive unit in the 33 year old’s absence.
The two games that the Brazilian recently missed through injury resulted in rare back to back defeats. And it was telling that following a nasty clattering at Saints, Pep’s instant reaction was to hook him despite no obvious injury. Wise to protect your best assets.
The key battle will be between him and Reds wingers, Salah and Mane. Tracking both will be tough given their lightning speed and the bolshie Brazilian’s age.
6. Milestone Man
With Sergio Aguero just one strike away from his 250th career goal, only a fool would bet against him reaching the milestone on Thursday.
Incredibly, the goal-gannet has scored in each of his last six home meetings with Liverpool, yet not once at Anfield. The only possible conclusion here is he’s long overdue one.
Here’s a particularly special effort from years gone by.
It's Man City vs Liverpool coming up! Relive this outrageous Sergio Aguero goal from this clash in 2013 ðŸ˜¦pic.twitter.com/J8FSbjeS1n— MyLocalPitch (@MyLocalPitch) September 9, 2017