Who will win at the weekend?
The late-afternoon kickoff on Sunday afternoon sees Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool make the short trip to the Etihad Stadium to face top 4 rival Manchester City.
The Reds won the reverse fixture in December, with a Gigi Wijnaldum goal the difference between the sides at Anfield.
Since then, both sides have had rather contrasting form. The win for Liverpool at that point put them second in the table, a fair way behind Chelsea (yes, Chelsea have been dominating the league since December) but 4 points ahead of Pep Guardiola’s team, who hadn’t had the greatest month, they had lost poorly away at Leicester and at home to Chelsea.
In 2017 however, the tables have turned. It is Jurgen Klopp’s team who have struggled to get points on the board, going without a league win in the whole of January, while City have only lost once in the league since the turn of the year, to Liverpool’s city-rivals, Everton.
It has lead to quite a transformation in the table. City are now the ones 4 points ahead of their opponents on Sunday, and are now looking much more likely to finish in the top 4. They seemed to have reignited the fire that gave them such a strong start to the season.
But I expect Liverpool’s attack to do a job on them on Sunday.
Let’s be clear, both sides cannot claim that they have world-class defences, or world-class goalkeepers. Willy Cabellero and Simon Mignolet both have their strengths, both are fantastic shot stoppers and penalty savers, but both are liable to dodgy moments that could cost their team points. Loris Karius has had a difficult first season at Anfield, while Claudio Bravo is possibly the worst buy of the summer window.
When it comes to the back 4, Liverpool have the edge I would say. Joel Matip has been a strong force for the Reds at the back, while James Milner slotting in at left-back has been a masterstroke by Klopp. It has been the absence of a really strong centre-back partner for Matip that has been Liverpool’s downfall this season.
City, on the other hand, quite simply cannot defend, it’s as simple as that. Liverpool thrive on defences that are as poor as Man City’s, and it is almost a guarantee that they will score at least one goal on Sunday afternoon.
In fact, the games against top 6 opposition is where Liverpool are at their best, and it’s all about the way those top 6 sides like to set up against them. If Guardiola had any sense about him, he would set up like Hull, Burnley, Manchester United and Wolves all set up against Liverpool this season. Set up for a draw and plan to steal a goal and win the game. When teams get players behind the ball when playing Liverpool, Klopp’s team find it very difficult to break them down. And Liverpool’s main weakness? They can’t defend a counter attack to save their lives.
However, City are at home, in front of their own fans (yes, all 6 of them) and it’s unlikely that Pep will choose to set up that way. They want to win the game, of course they do, so they’ll set up to score the first goal. Unfortunately, that’s what every other team in the top 5 this season (United were smart and set up for a draw, they got two draws) also did, and that’s why Liverpool are unbeaten against all of those teams this season. In fact, they’re unbeaten against teams in the top half of the league. Their 5 losses have all come against teams struggling in the lower end of the division, against teams who planned to get a point but wound up with all 3.
The first goal is massively important on Sunday, if Liverpool go ahead, City become even more vulnerable, as they have to go for it and try and find that equaliser. This will leave even more space for Liverpool’s front 3, Mane, Coutinho and Firmino, to operate, and the chances will flow for Liverpool.
I’m not saying it’s going to be a whitewash, I’m not saying there will be a repeat of the 4-1 victory Liverpool enjoyed there last year, but unfortunately for City, Klopp knows exactly how to play agains their calibre of team, and I foresee Liverpool walking away from the Etihad with all 3 points on Sunday.
SCORE PREDICTION: Manchester City 1-2 Liverpool
By Ben Kelly – @benkelly_10