On 10 November, the defending Premier League champions, Manchester City, will travel to Liverpool to face the league’s top side in a game that could well decide which team wins the title next May. It’s early days yet in the league, with just 11 matches played, but both teams are already in title-chasing mode, where every dropped point counts as a massive setback. The match at Liverpool’s Anfield stadium is deliciously set up after both teams had to dig deep and come from a goal down to win crucial matches recently. While there are many subplots to this game, here are five things to watch out for.
Guardiola Vs Klopp
Both Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp wouldn’t settle for anything less than the full three points, no matter what they may be saying publicly. For Liverpool, a win would see them extend the lead to nine points over Manchester City, and City might even be leapfrogged by third-placed Leicester if the latter win their game at the weekend. A City victory would see Liverpool’s lead slashed to just three points. A draw would maintain the status quo. Guardiola would be wary of that, as Klopp seems to have fashioned a Liverpool team that is incapable of losing. They have dropped just two points out of a possible 33 on offer so far, and a draw would suit them. It’s probably not surprising that Guardiola began with the mind games last weekend, calling Liverpool’s star striker Sadio Mané a diver. Klopp, for his part, has hit back with the allegation that City are adept at tactical fouls. Of all the rival managers that Guardiola has faced, his head-to-head record is bad against only one, and that is Klopp. This will fuel his competitiveness.
The strike force
Neither manager likes to lose, and they have fashioned two talented squads in their image.The attacking football that Liverpool and City have been regaling the world with for the past two years are mirror-images of each other. While the City front six of Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling, Sergio Agüero and Gabriel Jesus are all supreme attacking talents, Liverpool rely on their own lethal front three of Mohamed Salah, Mané and Roberto Firmino. Liverpool’s midfield three of Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum and Fabinho are not quite as creative, but they play their part in Klopp’s frenetic press, and free up Liverpool’s attacking wingbacks to feed the front three with inviting crosses. So far, City’s front three of Agüero, Sterling and Jesus have scored 32 goals and provided seven assists in all competitions, while Liverpool’s attacking trident have scored 19 and provided assists for another ten.
Fabinho in, David Silva out
This might prove to be the most crucial detail on which the game turns on Sunday. City’s veteran schemer-in-chief David Silva, is doubtful for the game after suffering a muscular strain against Southampton last weekend. Even at 33, he remains one of City’s most potent weapons in attack. His phenomenal footballing brain, close control and eye for a pass make him the perfect player to pick a telling pass in a congested midfield. This year, he has already scored three and provided four assists, but more tellingly, his ability to find pockets of space in the hurly-burly of a Premier League game allows his co-attackers to flourish. He will be a big loss. On the other hand, Liverpool will have Fabinho back, after resting him against Aston Villa. The Brazilian has been a revelation this season, and has grown into the most commanding central midfielder in the division on current form. He provides cover for the marauding full backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, breaks up play, instigates attacks and is not above a few tactical fouls himself. Liverpool are a far better team with him on the field.
Man for man, Liverpool’s defence is superior. While the Reds’ back four have not been as airtight as last season, when they boasted of the division’s meanest defence, there’s no doubt that the presence of Virgil van Dijk at central defence and Alisson between the goalposts gives them a solidity that City currently lack. City’s makeshift rearguard of John Stones and Fernandinho don’t inspire the greatest confidence, and only right back Kyle Walker would be a first-choice defender for Guardiola. However, they have let in just one more goal than Liverpool in the league this season, and, barring a howler, the match is sure to be decided by who attacks better, not who defends better. In this regard, Liverpool’s full backs are a clear advantage, as they are not afraid to venture forward with goals and assists.
Strength in depth
This is one area in which City are superior, at least in forward positions. Although Liverpool have a good bench, they can’t bring in the likes of Jesus and Riyad Mahrez when they need to turn a match around. Having said that, in the last few matches, Klopp’s substitutions have been more effective, with late cameos by Adam Lallana, Divock Origi, Naby Keïta and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all contributing to late and dramatic victories.