28 February 2015

Liverpool v Manchester City 03.01.15

7am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
1-3 City (a) 08.25.14
3-2 Liverpool (h) 04.13.14
1-2 City (a) 12.26.13
2-2 (a) 02.03.13

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-1 Besiktas aet (a); 2-0 Southampton (a); 1-0 Besiktas (h)
City: 1-2 Barcelona (h); 5-0 Newcastle (h); 4-1 Stoke (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Gerrard, Sterling 6; Lallana, Own Goal 4; Coutinho 3; Henderson, Lambert, Markovic, Moreno, Sturridge 2; Balotelli, Borini, Can, Johnson, Skrtel 1
City: Agüero 17; Silva 9; Yaya Toure 7; Jovetic, Lampard 5; Dzeko 3; Fernandinho, Milner, Nasri 2; Clichy, Demichelis, Fernando, Zabaleta 1

Referee: Mark Clattenburg

Guess at a line-up:
Can Skrtel Sakho
Markovic Henderson Allen Moreno
Lallana Coutinho

So, who's gonna be fit after last Thursday?

That question includes players both left out and included against Besiktas. Coutinho, rested, will return, but that might not necessarily be the case for Henderson and Sakho, who just had minor knocks.

And then there are concerns over those who played in Thursday's vigorous contest. Especially Sturridge, still needing to be managed after his long injury layoff. But you could voice similar concerns about Sterling, Moreno, Can, and Allen, who all played 120 minutes and did quite a bit of running.

Other than Sturridge, who will almost certainly be better served coming off the bench, I'm hopefully guessing everyone will be available. Sakho and Henderson are key pieces; the former is Liverpool's best defender, the latter is not only a vital box-to-box midfielder but also allows Can to play in defense. Without those two, it's basically the back seven we saw at Besiktas and no thank you please no. Liverpool's potency will be worrisome regardless of personnel, but Liverpool also need much better link-up play between defense and midfield, better passing out from the back, than they showed on Thursday.

City, despite their similarly packed fixture list, have no injury concerns. They've a full strength XI to pick from, one which will probably be 4-4-2. But that doesn't make it any easier to forecast. I'll guess Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy; Navas, Fernando, Yaya Toure, Silva; Agüero, Bony. But it could be Mangala in defense. It could be Kolarov at left-back, as he'll have to play there at Barcelona next week. It could be Fernandinho that partners Yaya Toure. Nasri and Milner are both options on the flanks, or Milner could also be used in midfield. It could be Dzeko rather than Bony up front, but I expect the Ivorian to make his first start for City.

Having gobs and gobs of money must be nice.

And Manchester City have seemingly returned to the peak of their powers – an unsurprising 1-2 loss to Barcelona notwithstanding – since the African Cup of Nations ended. Without Toure (and the just-signed Bony), City drew three and lost two. Since, they utterly demolished Stoke and Newcastle by a combined score of 9-1 (and, yes, lost to Barcelona, but did I mention that was totally expected?). That's how important Toure is to their side. Now, witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational battle station.

Surprisingly, City haven't won at Anfield in 12 years, since Anelka's double in 2002-03. Anfield is the only ground that City haven't won at since Abu Dhabi's takeover in 2008. But, for some reason, that statistic doesn't make me feel more comfortable. Everything ends, after all. Nor does the fact that Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 10 league matches.

This is the last match in Liverpool's brutal run. There are obviously difficult fixtures to come, but nothing of the likes of Everton then Tottenham then Southampton then City, while also in the Europa League. Liverpool are now out of Europe – both a good and bad thing (mostly bad) – but drew, beat, and beat those Premier League opponents, setting themselves up for an unlikely run at the last Champions League spot.

Now, just 62 hours away losing in Istanbul, this. Fatigue be damned, injuries be damned. Against the defending league champions, needing a result to keep pace with their competitors for a Champions League place.

Once more into the breach, dear friends.

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