12:30pm ET, live in the US on NBC
Last four head-to-head:
2-1 Liverpool (h) 03.01.15
1-3 City (a) 08.25.14
3-2 Liverpool (h) 04.13.14
1-2 City (a) 12.26.13
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-2 Palace (h); 1-0 Kazan (a); 3-1 Chelsea (a)
City: 0-0 Villa (a); 3-1 Sevilla (a); 2-1 Norwich (h)
Liverpool: Benteke, Coutinho 4; Ings, Sturridge 2; Milner 1
City: Agüero 6; Sterling 4; De Bruyne 3; Bony, Fernandinho, Kompany, Toure 2; Iheanacho, Kolarov, Nasri, Otamendi, Silva 1
Referee: Jon Moss
Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Skrtel Lovren Moreno
Milner Lucas Can
Maybe it's just me, but it seems like it's been a long time since Liverpool played a match. Stupid international breaks.
I have two questions: whether Liverpool stick with the more recently used 4-2-3-1 or revert to the 4-3-2-1 and, regardless of formation, which two from Milner, Firmino, and Lallana start.
Whichever formation Klopp chooses, there won't be many surprises in the XI. Liverpool's current player availability doesn't really allow for surprises.
In theory, the 4-3-2-1 could provide more midfield protection and congestion, leaving less space in front of Skrtel and Lovren and making it easier to double up on the dangerous Sterling and de Bruyne. Benteke up front gives Liverpool a potential much-needed out-ball if (when) the side's pinned back, although that front three – any front three – will probably be isolated against this side on this ground. It'd be a big day for Milner and Can as the side midfielders, both in defense and attack. But we haven't seen Liverpool line up in this formation since the 1-1 draw against Southampton a month ago.
As for the personnel. If it's 4-3-2-1, Milner will definitely start, with either Firmino or Lallana opposite Coutinho behind Benteke. If it's 4-2-3-1, it's harder to guess; Firmino or Lallana centrally, Milner or Lallana on the right. Your guess is as good as mine. With six weeks of practice, it's become easier to forecast what Klopp's going to do, but there are still some surprises.
One that won't be a surprise is Daniel Sturridge. It's great – absolutely great – that he's finally back in training. He remains a game-changing difference to this team and club. With a fit Sturridge, the sky's the limit. Without, Liverpool are a fairly standard upper mid-table club who need help and luck to be better than average. But he's not going to start. Off the bench? I think so, I hope so; 20-30 minutes to potentially make all the difference. But from the opening whistle? That seems way too large a gamble considering the player's length injury history, no matter the opposition.
Unlike Sturridge, I expect Sergio Agüero will be risked from the start. He's further along in his recovery, and Manchester City has plenty of experience with the timeline for Agüero's hamstring problems. And, like Sturridge, Agüero is utterly crucial to City performing to maximum capacity, even if they're obviously better able to cope with his absences. However, Kompany, Nasri, and Bony are out, while Silva, Zabaleta, and Delph are questionable.
Which suggests an XI of Hart; Sagna, Otamendi, Mangala, Kolarov; Toure, Fernandinho; Navas, De Bruyne, Sterling; Agüero. Maybe Yaya Toure's pushed further forward, with a midfield base of Fernando and Fernandinho, leading Navas on the bench. Both Iheanacho and Sterling are capable of playing up front if Agüero's to be used as a substitute. But I suspect we'll get Agüero, because he's Agüero, and we'll get Navas in the hopes of exploiting the space behind Moreno and outside of Lovren. And regardless, City are City, and even with absentees, City are strong.
Admittedly, City haven't had the easiest time with injuries, especially in attack. But that XI should have a lot more points than 26 through 12 matches, only ahead of Arsenal on goal difference. That XI should have a lot more goals than 26 through 12 matches, even if that total still leads the league.
As usual, they've one of the strongest sides, if not the strongest, in the league. Which, I guess is what happens when you take last season's second-place side and add £54m Kevin De Bruyne, £49m Raheem Sterling, and £32m Nicolas Otamendi.
I guess here is where I make mention of Raheem Sterling, even if I'd rather not. I still believe it was a good deal for both clubs: City needed the player, the player had no desire to stay at Liverpool, and Liverpool got a lot (a lot!) of money for a 20-year-old. That said, I've seen far too much 'hahaha Liverpool ripped them off for an unproven, overrated player with no football intelligence.' Both then and now. Sterling has his flaws: he doesn't always make the right decision in the final third and he's a fairly awful finisher. He's 20! Only Agüero has more league goals for City than Sterling; almost always used in a wide left berth, Raheem has the same amount as Liverpool's two top scorers. Only Fernandinho, Sagna, Hart, Toure, and Kolarov have played more minutes in the league and Europe than Sterling has. He gives City exactly what City needed: pace in the final third and a bit more width on the left. I am exceedingly fearful that he will punish Liverpool tomorrow.
This match-up has seen what were arguably Liverpool's two best wins in the last two seasons: 2-1 last season, 3-2 in 2013-14. Liverpool played well, Liverpool's game plan worked to near-perfection, Liverpool were resilient, Liverpool took its chances. But both of those matches were at Anfield. Liverpool haven't beaten City in the league at the Etihad since 2008-09, with four losses and two draws in the last six PL matches, comprehensively outplayed in the last two losses in the last two seasons.
However, Liverpool have been marginally better away from home than at Anfield this season: 2W-2D-2L at home, 2W-3D-1L on the road, made more emphatic when you look at who Liverpool's played in those matches. Bournemouth, West Ham, Norwich, Villa, Southampton, Palace at Anfield; Stoke, Arsenal, United, Everton, Tottenham, Chelsea away.
This is, finally, the last of Liverpool's Fury Road hellscape of away fixtures to start the season. After tomorrow, Liverpool will have played all of last season's top five on their ground; the only teams in the last season's top 10 that Liverpool have yet to travel to are Southampton, Swansea, and Palace. And, so far, Liverpool have lost just once: at Manchester United.
Any sort of result that involves a point – let alone three – tomorrow is a good result, considering form, fitness, finances, location, recent history, etc. And if Liverpool can get a good result, it puts them in good stead for the second half of the season given what's come before. Seven points behind fourth, currently 10th, is a long, long way back, but there's still a long time left in this season.