Tuesday 15 January 2019

Five talking points ahead of Manchester City's title showdown with Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool passed a big test with flying colours on Saturday (Peter Byrne/PA)
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool passed a big test with flying colours on Saturday (Peter Byrne/PA)
Jurgen Klopp, left, and Pep Guardiola have talked up each other’s sides ahead of Thursday’s clash (Martin Rickett/PA)

Andy Hampson

Champions Manchester City host Premier League leaders Liverpool in a match likely to have a key bearing on the title race on Thursday. Here, we look at some talking points ahead of the crunch clash at the Etihad Stadium.

Liverpool are the favourites

Just a few weeks ago, City were looking imperious at the top of the table with Liverpool seemingly doing well just to keep themselves within touching distance. The picture has changed dramatically since, with City losing three times in the space of four games in December to cede the initiative to Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp's men have not just accepted the gift, but ruthlessly taken advantage. Their 5-1 thrashing of Arsenal last time out - in a match that was supposed to be a stern test - showed they are revelling in their new-found status as title favourites. They will be brimming with confidence against a City side looking unusually vulnerable.

How will City play it?

After being bettered by Liverpool's attacking might three times last season, City manager Pep Guardiola took a different approach when the sides met at Anfield in October. Recognising the strength of the Reds' challenge, Guardiola played more defensively than usual and the two sides largely cancelled each other out. City would have won had Riyad Mahrez not missed a late penalty but 0-0 seemed a fair result. Having fallen seven points behind, a draw will not be adequate this time and City will have to try to take the game to Liverpool.

Will they be at full strength?

Kevin De Bruyne, who has featured little this season due to injury, is again a doubt after missing Sunday's victory at Southampton. City need him back to his best soon. Fernandinho and David Silva, who were also missed during key games in December, at least now seem to be fit. City's problems at left-back remain, however, with Benjamin Mendy injured and Fabian Delph suspended. Liverpool, by contrast, have coped well with their injuries. Joe Gomez and Joel Matip have both been sidelined recently but they remain defensively strong.

How will Liverpool approach it?

Liverpool would probably take a draw now to preserve their seven-point advantage, but they are not likely to set their stall out for one. Klopp does not play that way and, besides, their successes against City last season came when they met fire with fire. Liverpool could look to get on the front foot as much as City. The in-form Mohamed Salah, particularly, may relish the prospect of running at City's makeshift left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko. The Ukrainian, a converted midfielder, had a difficult game in the position at Southampton. Another alternative would be to move centre-back Aymeric Laporte to the left, but that has had mixed results in the past.

Battle on the touchline

The managers insist it is not about them, but the clash between Guardiola and Klopp is interesting. Both men are committed to exhilarating football, of slightly varying methods, and the strength of their teams arguably make this the biggest fixture in the English game at present. Klopp edges their head-to-head record (including their time in Germany) with eight wins to Guardiola's five, with two games being drawn.

Press Association

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