Verdict: Total goals over 2.5
Best odds: 4/6
Manchester City, the team that won the Premier League title in three of the previous four seasons, will be travelling to Anfield to face Liverpool – the team that stopped them from making it four in four in 2019-20 and gave them a close run in 2018-19 as well, winning the sixth Champions League trophy as well that season – the only trophy that keeps eluding the Citizens year after year.
Make no mistake, it’s going to be a thrilling match between two top-of-the-range sides, loaded with top-quality players and led by the two arguably best coaches in the world at the moment.
The Reds were mostly left out of the conversation about potential title winners before the season started, mostly because they didn’t spend as much money in the summer transfer market as their three main rivals. The only signing they made was defender Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig, but it was clearly the one they needed the most given the incredible injury woes they suffered throughout 2020-21 in the centre-back department. With Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez all 100% fit and Konate on board, they are as well-equipped as anyone to challenge for the England crown.
Liverpool’s campaign started with a 0-3 win away to Norwich City. Then came a 2-0 win over Burnley at Anfield, a 1-1 home draw against Chelsea, a 0-3 win away to Leeds United, a 3-0 home triumph over Crystal Palace, and finally, an exhilarating 3-3 draw away to Brentford last week. As things stand at the moment, the Merseysiders are at the top of the table with 14 points from these six matches. It doesn’t mean too much, however, given that no less than five teams sit directly below with 13.
It’s a similar situation in the Champions League for Jurgen Klopp’s team, who beat AC Milan 3-2 at home in the opening round and thumped FC Porto away by 1-5 to take the lead in Group B. Their next challenge there will be Atletico in Madrid on October 19th.
As for the Carabao Cup, Liverpool repeated the league result away to Norwich in the third round, and will now face Preston North End in the round of 16.
Rarely has Klopp had the full squad at his disposal during the six years he’s been in charge at Anfield, and it’s not the case now either. Midfielders Thiago Alcantara (calf) and Harvey Elliott (ankle) are unavailable through injury, as is right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold (adductor).
Having been unhappy with the result at Brentford last week, Klopp wanted the players involved to rectify their mistakes and named the same lineup (minus the injured Alexander-Arnold) in Porto, and it worked big-time. It’ll be interesting to see if he chooses the same players again; given that it’s probably the best starting XI he has at the moment, he probably would do so if it weren’t for the fact that it would be their third match in eight days.
Also, the German probably won’t want to tinker too much given the quality of the opposition. The likeliest man to come into the lineup is Roberto Firmino in the place of Diogo Jota upfront, after coming off the bench to net twice in Porto. Liverpool’s starting XI against Manchester City can hardly be imagined without Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Fabinho, Van Dijk, Andy Robertson, or Alisson Becker in goal. Without Thiago and Elliott, Jordan Henderson is likely to start as well, as is former City midfielder James Milner, though on the right defensive flank instead of Alexander-Arnold.
Apart from Jota, Klopp could opt to rest Matip, with Gomez and Konate eager for some game-time too.
Unlike for Liverpool, the season didn’t get off to a great start for the defending Premier League champions, but if you were to put too much stock in that, you’d be doing so at your peril. After all, it happened last season as well, and they finished at the top of the table quite comfortably in the end.
It started with a 1-0 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur in North London, but they followed it up with a pair of 5-0 home triumphs, over Norwich and Arsenal. They beat Leicester City away by 0-1, and then played a disappointing, goalless draw at home against Southampton. Last week, however, they got some revenge on Chelsea after last season’s Champions League final defeat to Thomas Tuchel’s side by winning 0-1 at Stamford Bridge. Pep Guardiola’s team are the first in the line of five teams that are breathing down Liverpool’s neck in the table with 13 points.
The Champions League campaign started well enough for City as they beat RB Leipzig at the Etihad by 6-3, but they were humbled earlier this week by Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes as Idrissa Gana Gueye and Guardiola’s former charge Lionel Messi struck to earn a 2-0 victory for the Ligue 1 side.
City added Jack Grealish to their ranks this summer, paying a fee of £100 million for his services, but they failed to sign Harry Kane as Spurs held on to their stance that the England captain was not for sale. Grealish has been given a chance to stake a claim for a regular starting spot straight away and his talents are there to be seen. As a consequence, the futures of Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva have come under media scrutiny.
As with Liverpool, there is a number of players that seem nailed on to start the match on Sunday – Ederson Moraes in goal, Kyle Walker on the right defensive flank and Joao Cancelo on the left, Rodri ahead of the centre-back duo of Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte, and Kevin De Bruyne as the main creative force. Bernardo will probably start in midfield too. Grealish is likely to keep his place on the left side of attack too, but Sterling and Riyad Mahrez could make way for Phil Foden and Gabriel Jesus.
The players Guardiola cannot count upon are left-back Benjamin Mendy (suspended, under criminal investigation), his frequent deputy Oleksandr Zinchenko (undisclosed injury) and midfielder Ilkay Gundogan (thigh). The Catalan tactician says he expects the latter two to be ready to play after the upcoming international break.
It’s never easy to guess what’s going to happen when Klopp’s Liverpool and Guardiola’s Manchester City meet. We’ve seen Liverpool victorious when it seemed nothing could stop City’s unbeaten run in 2017/18, followed by a double dose of the same in the quarterfinals of the Champions League. Funnily enough, City previously thumped Liverpool with five unanswered goals that same season. They also triumphed over the Merseysiders convincingly in 2019-20, when Liverpool won the title comfortably. We’ve even seen Guardiola change his approach completely to contain Liverpool and hold onto a 0-0 draw, in which they missed a penalty.
It could be down to the smallest tactical detail, a dubious referee call, a red card or a howling mistake by a defender. Only one thing is certain: it won’t be a dull affair. There will be plenty of attacking football, plenty of passion and noise from the packed stands of Anfield.
Verdict: Total goals over 2.5
Best odds: 4/6
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