As the Barclay’s Premier League roars down the home straight in 2013/14, two of the three title contenders come face to face on Sunday in a duel which will have an immense impact on the final destination of this year’s Premier League crown.
Manchester City will arrive at Anfield second in the table knowing, in this unprecedentedly open and somewhat bizarre campaign, that a loss against Brendan Rodgers’s inspired Reds could spell the end of their title hopes. In Manuel Pellegrini’s first season in charge at the Etihad, City will enter the arena in the unenviable position of being favourites to win the league, yet underdogs in the match betting.
That Liverpool are narrrow favourites to win this crucial clash is a testament to the performance of Brendan Rodgers’s team over the course of the season, particularly at home. Liverpool have lost just once at Anfield in 2013/14, winning 15 of their 17 games to date. Unbeaten home and away in 2014, the Reds have racked up 19 goals in their last five home games against the likes of Arsenal, Everton and Tottenham, whilst conceding just five in reply.
Manchester City’s away form has improved in recent weeks, after a poor start to the campaign. Kompany and co. won once in their first six attempts on their travels, losing four. That trend has been reversed somewhat, as Pelligrini’s side have been unbeaten away since November 10th, however two draws in the last four (against Norwich and Arsenal) are bound to have sewn a few seeds of doubt in the minds of the champions of two years ago.
Liverpool were beaten 1-2 in the reverse fixture in late December, however it was widely recognised that the Reds were the better team by some distance. Poor officiating and an unfortunate Mignolet error were costly that night, whilst the absences of Steven Gerrrard and Daniel Sturridge from the squad hardly helped matters. At Anfield though, there are no such injury worries and, in fact, the shoe may well be on the other foot. Sergio Aguero, whose been out for some time, only has a 75% chance of starting, with Fernandinho also a major doubt for the vital encounter.
The latter would be a major loss for City, should he be ruled out. The screening and protection that Fernandinho provides the back four is key to the way Pelligrini’s side plays, and Javi Garcia, his likely replacement, whilst being a top player, doesn’t have the same mobility or energy as his Brazilian counterpart. With Liverpool’s relentless high pressing game likely being carried out by Sterling, Henderson and Allen (if not Coutinho), whoever plays in the defensive midfield position for City on Sunday is sure to come under immense and often sustained pressure. This is likely to be the key area of the game, and if Liverpool can pressure City and nick the ball back high up the pitch, then the pace and quality of Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling could cut City’s back four to ribbons.
Liverpool should have no fear going into this game. Of course, it’s a huge match which could determine the outcome of the Premier League race this year, but the Reds are under absolutely no pressure. Unlike City, who’ve spent hundreds of millions over the last couple of seasons in the specific aim of becoming the Premier League’s (and Europe’s) dominant force, Liverpool have already achieved their aim for this season. By ensuring a top four finish and achieving Champions League football, the primary target has been hit, and at a canter too. Unlike Manchester City’s, the Liverpool players have already vastly exceeded most fans’ expectations and can make an assault on the title from a position of relative freedom, the freedom that has made them such a joy to watch this season.
Prediction: Liverpool 3-1 Manchester City