Champions Liverpool travel to the Etihad on Sunday to take on Manchester City in a mouthwatering test of both sides’ title credentials.
Liverpool currently sit top of the table on sixteen points after last weekend’s hard fought 2-1 victory over West Ham. City meanwhile, are down in 10th with eleven points having played a game less than the Reds, but having already dropped points against Leeds,West Ham and Leicester.
A win for Liverpool against City would see them open up an eight point lead over their rivals and would secure their first win at the Etihad in a domestic game in five years.
Nat Phillips picked up the man of the match award for his performance on his Premier League debut against the Hammers, but the 23 year old is set to drop down to the bench as Klopp has the experienced Joel Matip available again after injury.
The Cameroon defender has been absent since picking up a knock in last month’s ill-tempered Merseyside derby, but Klopp confirmed in his press conference that Matip had returned to training this week and it is therefore likely he will partner Joe Gomez at centre back.
One man who is still working his way back to fitness after the Everton game is new signing Thiago. He sustained a knee injury in the 2-2 draw after Richarlison’s lunging tackle on him, and although he played the full 90 minutes the Spain international has sat out their past five games.
He was spotted at Melwood this week doing some individual training and Klopp has assured fans that the injury is not a serious one, but he will again be missing for the trip to Manchester, the manager told the media today.
Liverpool warmed up for this weekend’s crunch trip in ideal fashion, thumping Atalanta 5-0 in Bergamo midweek in the Champions League with the man of the moment Diogo Jota netting a hat-trick.
He has now scored seven goals in just ten games in all competitions from Wolves and his performances have given Klopp a selection headache going into Sunday’s game.
On current form, the Portuguese international must start, especially when you consider he has more goals for Liverpool than Roberto Firmino has this year despite plying far less minutes.
The Brazilian has been a key cog in Jurgen Klopp’s front three for the past few seasons but his form at the end of last year and the start of this season has tailed off alarmingly.
He looks a shadow of his former self and given that Liverpool are likely to struggle at the back with the absence of Van Dijk, attack may be the best form of defence for the Reds and the inclusion of Jota adds to their attacking prowess alongside Salah and Mané who are still scoring goals.
Liverpool have responded well since their 7-2 drubbing at the hands of Aston Villa, winning their last five games in all competitions to bolster their quest to regain the Premier League title.
Sunday’s trip provides the sternest challenge yet, with Pep Guardiola’s men dispatching the Reds 4-0 on their last visit to Manchester after the restart. The Citizens are currently on an eight game unbeaten run in all competitions and have defeated Liverpool at the Etihad in each of the last three seasons. They will be hoping to make it four to kickstart their title charge this campaign.
City will be without striker Sergio Agüero for Sunday’s game. The Argentine has been nursing a hamstring issue since the draw with West Ham and has missed last three games. There was hope that he could feature from the bench against the Reds, but the game has come too soon and Guardiola confirmed in his press conference that he will be missing. His full return is expected after the international break.
They are still unable to call upon Fernandinho, who was forced off against Porto in the Champions League opener with a leg injury and Benjamin Mendy who is suffering from a muscle problem. Both players are eyeing up City’s game against Tottenham after the international break for their return.
City also enjoyed a comfortable Champions League win during the week, putting three past Olympiakos without reply. Gabriel Jesus marked his return to action with a goal whilst Phil Foden and Ferran Torres also impressed in that game.
Jesus should come in from the start against Liverpool to give City a focal point up top which they have lacked in his and Augero’s absence. Who he will replace is anyone’s guess given Guardiola’s constant rotation, the most likely candidate being Torres, allowing Sterling to move back out to the wing with Mahrez on the other side.
The City boss is also likely to revert to the back four who started last weekend’s victory over Sheffield United with Laporte, Dias and Cancelo coming in for Ake, Stones and Zinchenko who started midweek and Kyle Walker retaining his place.
Rodri will also be restored to the starting eleven alongside De Bruyne and Gundogan in midfield as the Citizens look to add some steel to thwart Liverpool’s devastating counter attacks. Foden is set to provide a spark from the bench if called upon alongside Bernardo Silva and the aforementioned Torres.
There are a number of intriguing match ups to watch out for in the game. Joao Cancelo up against Mo Salah will be one of them. The Egyptian has started the campaign like a house on fire, clinically scoring seven goals in seven games.
Cancelo, a right back by nature, has found his feet on the left side of Guardiola’s defence this season and has impressed going forward, but he will need to be switched on defensively to cope with Salah’s strength and direct running as well as Alexander-Arnold’s overlaps on the right flank.
Henderson against De Bruyne will see another battle between last year’s two outstanding players in the league. In the absence of Fabinho, captain Henderson has reverted to a deeper lying role and he will be tasked with picking up the Belgian De Bruyne and stop him from spraying passes out wide and from darting late into the box to get on the end of crosses.
Similarly De Bruyne will be keen to prevent Henderson having the time and space to launch Liverpool’s counter attacks when City are in transition.
Another key tussle will be Jesus up against Joe Gomez. The Brazilian starts City’s press from the front and will be alert to pounce on any little mistake from the England defender when attempting to play out from the back.
He’s also very comfortable taking players on one vs one and Gomez will have stand tall and marshal him in these scenarios, avoiding diving in as Jesus will take it past him punish him.
Gomez is one of the quickest centre backs in the league however, so will have no qualms about catching Jesus if he makes a run in behind.
Guardiola is under no illusion of how difficult a game this will be considering City’s inconsistent start to the season, telling reporters, “ When you play against teams like Liverpool you always have moments where you have to suffer. We know it, we have to do it and try to use our strength as much a possible.”
He played down the notion that the game is season defining, however, comparing the fixture to the race for the Presidency in the USA, stating:
“It is an important game but, like the presidential elections in the USA, all the votes must be counted – there are a lot of points to play for.”
His opposite number Klopp echoed these sentiments, telling the media that Sunday’s game will be:
“The most difficult game in the world of football.“
“It’s a very difficult game, hopefully for both teams. So many things are different this year, nothing can be compared with last year or the year before. I enjoy these kind of games, I enjoy the preparation, but it doesn’t make it easier, it’s just a really tough task.”
Prediction: Man City 1-2 Liverpool
Given the weaknesses in both back lines it is hard to see either side keeping a clean sheet. Chances are likely to be in abundance on Sunday as a result, and it should be the case of whoever is most clinical will take home all three points.
Liverpool have made a knack of scoring crucial goals and grinding out important wins even if they aren’t playing well, and it seems hard to overlook them edging this one if their front three have their shooting boots on.
City will cause them problems going the other way and Robertson and Alexander-Arnold will have to put in a shift defensively to prevent Sterling and Mahrez from wrecking havoc out wide.
It is sure to be a great game of football and you can watch all the action on Sky Sports with the game kicking off at 4:30 pm.