3pm ET, live in the US on espn2
Last four head-to-head:
0-3 City (a) 08.23.10
0-0 (a) 02.21.10
2-2 (h) 11.21.09
1-1 (h) 02.22.09
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-2 West Brom (a); 2-0 Sunderland (a); 0-0 Braga (h)
City: 5-0 Sunderland (h); 0-2 Chelsea (a); 1-0 Kiev (h)
Liverpool: Kuyt 8; Meireles 5; Gerrard 4; Maxi 3; Johnson, Kyrgiakos, Ngog, Skrtel, Suarez 2; Cole 1
City: Tevez 19; Balotelli 6; YToure 5; AJohnson, Silva 4; Barry, Vieira 2; Kolarov, Lescott, Richards, KToure, Zabaleta 1
Referee: Mark Halsey
Guess at a line-up:
Carragher Skrtel Wilson Aurelio
Kuyt Lucas Meireles Maxi
It just gets better and better. Gerrard's joined Agger on the sidelines until 2011-12 after yet more groin surgery, while Johnson and Kelly's hamstring injuries will keep them out another month.
Even in Gerrard's absence – which we've unfortunately become accustomed to – defense remains the biggest concern. Both right backs are injured. Liverpool's best (read: only) ball-playing center-half is done for the season. There are two left backs on loan, leaving one perma-crock who's only recently "healthy." Not counting barely (if at all) tested prospects like Robinson and Flanagan, Liverpool are limited to two over-the-hill center-backs, one underperforming center-back, one inexperienced 20-year-old center-back who's almost always used at LB, and Aurelio, who'll hopefully stay fit for more than 20 minutes this time. That's it.
Will Liverpool stick with the 4-2-2-2 we've seen in the three league matches since losing at West Ham? Three at the back remains unlikely because of the threadbare defense, especially at right wing-back, where choices would appear to be Kuyt and Carragher, each with glaringly-obvious flaws. I'm hoping Wilson gets a chance at center-back with Aurelio available and after Kyrgiakos' abortion against West Brom. Otherwise, there aren't many possibilities.
The lone debate in midfield, regardless of formation, seems to be Spearing or Maxi. Either Spearing continues to partner Lucas, as against both Sunderland and West Brom, or Meireles moves back into the middle with Maxi coming in on the left. I'm hoping for the latter, but the recent past is often a good predictor. I guess Cole's a possibility as well, but a more unwelcome and unlikely one. Shelvey has little chance to start after just 60 uneventful minutes for the reserves since returning from injury.
Liverpool hasn't beaten City in its last four attempts, since October 2008, playing out three consecutive draws prior to August's mauling at the City of Manchester Stadium.
As against Liverpool last time out, City were absolutely rampant a week ago, bombarding Sunderland with five goals from five different players. It was one of the few matches where Mancini removed the shackles. However, they've only impressed at home; City last won away on Boxing Day, with five draws and four losses on their travels since the New Year.
Mancini has used a 4-2-3-1 formation in recent weeks – even though Balotelli basically played as a striker for long stretches last Sunday due to Sunderland being pinned so deep. Because of an injury to Richards and Kolo Toure's suspension, the back four writes itself: Kompany will partner Lescott in central defense with Kolarov and Zabaleta at full-back. Against Sunderland, the front six was Silva, Johnson, and Balotelli behind Tevez with De Jong and Yaya Toure holding, but Barry or Milner could return, especially if Mancini reverts to his usual caution.
Aside from August's drubbing, matches between these two sides have been incredibly tight in recent years. There's little to suggest that won't be the case tomorrow, despite City's recent form or Liverpool's injury crises. In theory, City have one of the strongest squads in the league, if not the outright strongest. But currently in fourth following Chelsea's win against Wigan, out of the title race after topping the table mid-January, they've been inconsistency squared this season. And wins over Chelsea and United have demonstrated Liverpool's ability to raise its game against "better" opposition.