01 March 2016

Liverpool v Manchester City 03.02.16

3pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
1-1 City aet [1-3 pens] (n; League Cup) 02.28.15
4-1 Liverpool (a) 11.21.15
2-1 Liverpool (h) 03.01.15
1-3 City (a) 08.25.14

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 City aet [1-3 pens] (n); 1-0 Augsburg (h); 0-0 Augsburg (a)
City: 1-1 Liverpool aet [3-1 pens] (n); 3-1 Dynamo Kiev (a); 1-5 Chelsea (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Benteke, Firmino 6; Coutinho 5; Milner 4; Sturridge 3; Henderson, Ings, Lallana, Origi 2; Allen, Can, Clyne, Skrtel, Toure 1
City: Agüero 14; de Bruyne, Sterling, Y Toure 5; Bony 4; Iheanacho 3; Delph, Fernandinho, Kolarov, Kompany, Silva 2; Nasri, Otamendi 1

Referee: Martin Atkinson

Guess at a line-up:
Flanagan Skrtel Lovren Smith
Can Allen
Lallana Firmino Coutinho

The fixture calendar loves to mess with Liverpool. Because of course Liverpool have to face the same opponent three days after said opponent beat them in a 120-minute cup final on penalties.

And, of course, because Liverpool, there are inevitable casualties from that final. Lucas is injured, Sakho may still be absent due to concussion, and there's no way Sturridge can start again after finishing 120 minutes with cramp following three previous successive starts.

So there will be changes. Replacements for the above three players, and probably a couple more. Henderson could probably use the rest and Moreno needs a spell out of the side. Thankfully, Lovren, Skrtel, and Allen should all be available after the respective injuries. Maybe Flanagan or Smith replaces Moreno – either can – but I wouldn't mind both getting time in the team. Again, wins are good, playing well is even better, but Liverpool are finishing upper mid-table pretty much regardless of how the next 12 matches go. Let's see some alternatives, and that includes maybe even starting Danny Ward rather than Mignolet. You brought him back from loan for a reason, yes?

I'd be fine with the diamond again. I'd be fine with the above XI in a diamond – Can at the base, Lallana and Allen on the sides, Coutinho at the apex, and Firmino and Origi as central strikers. I'd be fine with something completely different after the frustrating, often lukewarm last three performances.

City will have to make changes as well, but necessarily fewer. Not because of a more limited squad – even with injuries, they're okay in that department – but because they're still almost in the league title race, nine points behind Leicester, and are definitely still in a race for fourth, needing to hold off a Manchester United that impressively beat Arsenal last weekend and sit just three points behind their neighbors.

Let's assume City make similar changes as Liverpool, if fewer. Hart returns in goal, while both full-backs, Yaya Toure, and Agüero are rested. Which would lead to an XI something like Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Otamendi, Kolarov; Fernando, Fernandinho; Navas, Silva, Sterling; Bony.

With Delph still absent, City's others options in midfield are youth players who've only made cup appearances: Manu Garcia, Aleix Garcia Serrano. Demichelis could come into defense. City could switch to 4-4-2 with both Bony and Iheanacho up front, with Silva likely to be left out in addition to the above speculation in that set-up.

Regardless of formation or personnel, expect similar tactics as we saw on Sunday. No high defensive line. No permanent assault on Liverpool's goal. Deep, defensively organized, focused on smothering Liverpool and then counter-attacking at pace, with cross-field passes targeting Liverpool's full-backs and direct long balls.

One of these days, Liverpool will need to learn how to cope with it.

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