‘The fixture to define this Premier League era’ – Liverpool v Man City preview

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Klopp v Guardiola. Super Sunday. The best two teams in England go head to head. Heavy metal gegenpress meets the super-attacking jugo de posicion. Judgement Day. Sky Sports can push whatever slogans they want in the lead up to this match, it won’t boost their numbers that much, because everyone from around the world will be tuning in to watch the footballing spectacle that is Liverpool v Manchester City on Sunday afternoon.

The Premier League champions and leaders travel to a place where they haven’t won since 2003, to face a Liverpool side who seem to be the only team in the English game who can say they can go toe-to-toe with City and outperform them. Other teams in the league have done it, such as Wolves, but lightning won’t strike twice with those teams, it does with Liverpool. Consistently, Klopp’s men up their game for the visit of Manchester City: the crowd up the ante from the stands, whilst the players seem to start the match at a 100 miles per hour tempo, which seems to only be reserved for the visit of City.

Here, we look at Liverpool v City and try and preview what will be a fascinating tactical battle…

‘Forcing a rivalry’

It’s become clichéd by now, but Liverpool and City fans love to accuse each other of ‘forcing a rivalry’. Whether it be bricking a coach, singing about each others failures at games not involving one another, or simply just getting hit up about the other seemingly more than either team would for Manchester United these days, the fans of the opposing clubs would talk negatively on this and accuse the other of the aforementioned.

Don’t beat around the bush. There is a rivalry.

Liverpool v City is the modern-day Arsenal v United, the grudge match of the decade. People will look back on this period in a decade or so’s time and conclude that this was the era defining fixture.

There may be no Vieira’s or Keane’s on the pitch, but there certainly is talent in abundance. Two revolutionary coaches and a couple of star-studded teams that could dominate the English football landscape for years to come.

The attacking styles that Guardiola and Klopp have brought to England will set a blueprint in the league just as the styles of Wenger and Ferguson in the late 90’s. Just as Arsene Wenger and Sir Alec Ferguson popularised the whole idea of a second, deeper lying striker (Dennis Bergkamp and Eric Cantona), in ten years, a vast portion of the league may use goalkeepers of the Ederson or Alisson breed, or play with the ‘number 6’ style of midfielder that Kevin de Bruyne is.

It may not be a bitter rivalry yet, but the fixture could be looked on as England’s answer to the Clasico, the two big hitters going toe-to-toe to out-tactic one another.

Should Guardiola alter his ways?

In his press conference ahead of this game, City boss Pep Guardiola admitted that to play defensive would be ‘boring’.

Does that mean he can’t alter his tactics to be slightly more pragmatic? Pragmatism isn’t putting 11 men behind the ball, in fact you can be offensive by being defensive. Mourinho used to deploy three men on the half way line when defending a corner, which in turn meant the box was less crowded. Guardiola won’t do this, but the essence rings true.

Playing his usual 4-3-3 plays into the hands of Liverpool, and ‘taking the sting out of it’ via playing simple passes in the first fifteen minutes just doesn’t work. You either need to go all out and try to score a goal first, or sit back (which Guardiola won’t).

The main thing for City and Guardiola has to be to stop the early goal. In the last five or six visits, City have gone one down within the first half an hour. From there, it has been an uphill battle. If they do this, it makes for an entertaining spectacle, where both teams can feasibly win.

Will Liverpool’s front three turn up?

So much has been made of Liverpool’s scintillating start from the widespread media that it has been near impossible to scratch beneath the surface of what has been a relatively poor start for ‘the front three’, for their standards at least.

When talking to Liverpool fans, they will admit the fascinating trio of Mané, Firmino and Salah look like they have never played together before, and look disjointed.

While Sadio Mané started the season in impressive fashion, Salah and Firmino have struggled to find the form of last season.

Despite this, if history repeats itself, Liverpool players should up it for the visit of Guardiola’s City.

Predictions

Taking my neutral hat off for a second, I am not confident. Less confident than ever. I think that City may get a draw from Anfield, but I can’t see it. Liverpool up their game for the visit of City every year and while I think City will give it a better go than last, I am going with a Liverpool win.

2-1. Salah and Mané to score, with David Silva scoring a consolation for the visitors.

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