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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Manchester City, 04.11.11

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Roberto Mancini and fourth-place Manchester City visit Anfield on Monday.

Even though we're in an uninterrupted for the home stretch, it seems like it's been forever since the loss to West Brom. That's partially a product of the fact that the loss at the Hawthorns was among the most painful Liverpool's experienced this season, but also down to the fact that nine days is the longest break Liverpool will have until season's end. It's been a tough and strange few months for Liverpool, and the end of a difficult campaign is closing on the horizon.

The new year's been a relatively strange one for City as well, both in league and as they crashed out of the Europa League against Dynamo Kiev. They've managed to get victories against most of the sides they "should"---Blackpool, Wolves, West Brom, Wigan, and Sunderland, all at home---but only the most recent, a 5-0 demolition of Steve Bruce's side at the Eastlands, came in any sort of convincing fashion. They've also struggled in draws with Birmingham, Arsenal, and Fulham, and lost to Villa, United, and Chelsea, all of which came on the road. For a squad that started 2011 level on points with league-leading United and ascended to the top spot in the middle of January, it's been a stretch.

It's no secret they're loaded with talent, most of whom will be available for tomorrow's match. The only semi-regulars Mancini will miss are Kolo Toure (suspension) and Micah Richards (hamstring), with the rest managing to come through the international break and Sunderland match unscathed. For all their attacking prowess they've still turned in reserved displays, which is less an indication of their abilities and more a result of Mancini's controlled approach, which eased off a bit in the 5-0 win last Sunday. If tomorrow's squad is anything similar, we can expect to see a front line that includes Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli, David Silva, and Adam Johnson, with Nigel De Jong and Yaya Toure in the midfield and some combination of Zabaleta-Lescott-Kompany-Boyata-Kolarov in front of Joe Hart in goal. Worth noting that James Milner and Gareth Barry could figure into the side as well, but only if Ray Wilkins is filling out the team sheet.

For Liverpool:

1. Who will start for Liverpool?
2. What’s the most important factor for the Reds?
3. Who’s going to win and what’s going to be the scoreline?

1. Who will start for Liverpool?

Reina
Carragher Skrtel Kyrgiakos Aurelio
Kuyt Meireles Lucas Maxi
Carroll Suarez

---We're back to the days of a fairly robust injury list, with Steven Gerrard and Daniel Agger ruled out for the rest of the season, and Glen Johnson and Martin Kelly both around 3-4 weeks away from match fitness. Of those only recently declared fit, both Jonjo Shelvey and Fabio Aurelio are expected to make the squad.

---Aurelio's fitness should remove the concerns about a back line filled with four central defenders, but any optimism created by his return is blunted by the reality that he hasn't turned in a full 90 in two months. He should get the start, though, and Jamie Carragher will likely feature at right back with Martin Skrtel and Sotirios Kyrgiakos or Danny Wilson in the center. The Greek has been awful of late, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him start ahead of Wilson. Interesting to see if John Flanagan and/or Jack Robinson make the squad---not likely that either feature unless it's in the final minutes of a match that's already decided, but it'd be a nice moment for both.

---I think we're all ready to see Raul Meireles return to central midfield alongside Lucas, which would allow for Maxi to return to the squad on the opposite flank from Dirk Kuyt. Strange to see the increased talk about Maxi's effectiveness over the past few weeks as he fell out of contention against Sunderland and West Brom, with Spearing playing centrally and Meireles floating wide. When it comes down to it, I think Meireles > Spearing in the middle, and Maxi > Meireles wide.

---Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll are going to get most of the minutes up front from here on out, which is just as much about this season as it is about next. The former was Liverpool's main threat against West Brom (not that that means much), but the latter had little to offer after the yellow he received early in the first half. They'll need to work out some sort of understanding as their time together increases, which would most likely be aided by service that doesn't only come from the heavens.

2. What’s the most important factor for the Reds?

If nothing else, it's that this one's at home. Liverpool's home form has been one of the only consistently positive aspects of Liverpool's 2010-2011 campaign, with the club earning 31 of their 45 points at Anfield. They've also looked miles better in terms of the performances they've turned in, particularly against upper level opposition. Against a City side that's struggled on the road, Liverpool should see this as a chance to get all three points.

3. Who’s going to win and what’s going to be the scoreline?

This section is suspended pending a time at which I can have a non-jinxing impact on the result. Predict the scoreline at your own, and possibly Liverpool's, peril.

Tomorrow night's match will be one of the first in awhile that's available on TV both in England and stateside, with Sky Sports 1 carrying it in the UK and ESPN2/ESPN3.com in the US (and just a heads up on the ESPN3 service in the US---if you're signing on a military base or on a college campus, you should be able to access the service). For everyone else looking to watch online, you can likely catch a stream starting just before kickoff, and we'll have links up in the matchday post along with the team sheets and any other news.

Hope you all enjoy what's left of your weekend, and that Monday kicks off a successful run-in for Liverpool.