The league leaders visit Anfield tomorrow, unbeaten in their first twelve matches and having dropped only two points. It's been a blistering start domestically for Roberto Mancini's squad, which is packed with talent and has been nearly faultless in blowing by their opposition to this point. Struggles in Europe this past week might have an influence, though, and hopefully for Liverpool tomorrow will be a perfect time to face the frontrunners, as it comes on the heels of an emotional 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge.
Those who have watched much of City this season would argue there's not really a good time to face them; they haven't gone a single league match without scoring twice, and at times they've looked untouchable. But for all their shortcomings in matches they "should" win, Liverpool have demonstrated a penchant for coming up big in matches against high-level opposition. And in this season, the level of the opposition doesn't get any higher than Manchester City.
After failing at times to put the pieces together in the 2010-2011 season, the start of the new campaign has seen City absolutely dominate anyone and everyone. The late equalizer against Fulham aside, they've only had two matches closer than a one-goal margin, famously sweeping aside Manchester United at Old Trafford by five clear goals and dismissing Newcastle United last weekend in what was supposed to be a litmus test of the Geordie's top-four credentials. That might say less about their chances than it does about City's utter dominance, though, as few have managed to give Mancini's club a true challenge in league.
Unfortunately for them, the excellent domestic form has largely been lost in translation in their first Champions League appearance, and with their most recent stumble they find themselves in need of serious help to progress past the group stage. Their fluidity and efficiency has gone missing, as they've struggled to put together any sort of consistent form on the continent.
It's not for lack of skill (or trying, as they dominated possession in Naples), with an eleven that, when on form, is among the more talented in the world. Mancini will have the luxury of choice tomorrow, with no fitness concerns of note; Mario Balotelli was apparently ill midweek, but there's no lasting injuries in the squad. David Silva's arguably their most impressive player, frequently marveling throughout the forward areas and providing a huge spark in the City attack. Play at the back has been solid if unspectacular; Joe Hart's the mainstay in goal, with Joleon Lescott and Vincent Kompany the most likely central defensive partnership and Micah Richards and Gael Clichy in the full-back roles. Yaya Toure has started every match in central midfield, partnered with either Nigel de Jong or Gareth Barry. Silva's managed to link up with whatever constellation Mancini selects up front, with Mario Balotelli, Eden Dzeko, Sergio Aguero, Samir Nasri, and James Milner all in contention in attack.
Who starts for Liverpool?
Johnson Skrtel Agger Enrique
---As mentioned yesterday, Steven Gerrard is the only regular whose absence has been confirmed, with Jamie Carragher ostensibly back and ready to play.
---Like last week, though, that doesn't mean he should, and if anything the case against him was only strengthened during the win over Chelsea. Both Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger were superb, with the former putting in one of his best performances in a red shirt and the latter continuing his excellent form on the season. The pairing is head and shoulders above any other potential partnership, and should continue to play regardless of who's got more history. Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique should also retain their places, as neither seems to be in serious jeopardy of being displaced.
---Manchester City presents a slightly different task than Chelsea away, but I don't know that there's much of a case for changing things in terms of personnel. The only change I could see is Jordan Henderson coming in for either Craig Bellamy or Maxi to give the hosts more numbers in central midfield, but if the triumvirate of Dirk Kuyt, Bellamy, and Maxi make another appearance, their work rate in both directions should be enough to support the central midfield pairing of Lucas and Charlie Adam. As was the case last week, this is a match crying out for composure, something we saw in spades at Stamford Bridge.
---That leaves Luis Suarez alone in attack, which, considering the type of support he received from the above names in the first half last weekend, isn't really that alone at all. Andy Carroll's two goals in this fixture last season provide some support for a return to the starting lineup, but as Keny Dalglish mentioned yesterday, what happened nine months ago isn't necessarily the most relevant factor at this point.
What's the most important factor for the Reds?
It's been a strange opening third of the season for Liverpool at home---Anfield's always talked about as one of the most difficult places for other teams to play, but through the first six matches of the season, only Bolton's looked truly beaten, while Wolves put up a valiant fight in their narrow loss and each of Sunderland, Manchester United, Norwich, and Swansea have come away with a point. Liverpool had opportunities to win each of those matches, but with failure to finish chances as the most dominant narrative of their home form thus far, eight dropped points is a disappointing but deserved outcome. So finding some of whatever sort of cutting edge they've created away from Anfield, where they've earned twelve of their 22 points on the season, is paramount, particularly against such fierce opposition.
Once again Liverpool find themselves in the premier Sunday matchup; they're not the only fixture on the calendar, as Swansea host Villa, but this is clearly the one to watch. Sky Sports 1 will once again carry coverage in the UK, and Fox Soccer Channel will have the match live in the US. Links for those watching via stream will be included in the matchday thread, which will run as usual late tonight into early tomorrow, and team sheets will follow around an hour before kickoff.
Hope you all enjoy your Saturday, and we'll see you back here first thing tomorrow morning.