Liverpool face Manchester City in their first home Premier League match of the new season, kicking off a stretch that'll see them play the top three from last year's table in four matches. The clubs started with very opposite results last weekend; City fought back from 1-2 to Southampton to win 3-2, while Liverpool began brightly at West Brom before a second half meltdown saw them on the wrong end of a 3-0 scoreline.
Tomorrow's worrisome, obviously, but there's also a sense of calm about Liverpool's prospects against City. Yes, the defending champions are more talented top to bottom, and have the type of depth that Liverpool can only dream of. They showed both skill and steel in winning the Premier League title in the final moments of last season, and, despite showing signs of vulnerability at home last weekend, they continued to display their fight in notching two second-half goals to win their opener.
But the calm comes from cliche, and it's a cliche that has yet to be concretely disproven. Liverpool have been a different side against top-level opposition, with only a handful of results belying what's become more or less an absolute truth. Against Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, and Manchester City, they're more committed, more invested, and, simply put, a hell of a lot better than they look against everyone else. We've talked a lot about the changes Brendan Rodgers will need to oversee, but this is one that only needs to be half-addressed--keep the mindset they're able to channel against the sides at the top of the table, and somehow apply it for the course of a whole season.
Which isn't to say that tomorrow isn't at least a little frightening, as City has the potential to expose Liverpool even worse than West Brom did last weekend. As mentioned, they were a little wobbly in the league opener, conceding two goals in ten minutes to fall behind newly-promoted Southampton. They found their legs quickly, though, with Carlos Tevez netting the equalizer and Samir Nasri getting the winner with ten minutes to play. They've won each of their last three matches via the same scoreline dating back to the season finale against QPR; neither of the last two (which includes the Community Shield win over Chelsea) carried the drama of the first, but they've continued a winning streak that's stretched to eight matches dating back to April.
Roberto Mancini's basically always got a full-strength squad, even if tomorrow he'll be without Sergio Aguero, who injured his knee against Southampton, Gareth Barry, and Micah Richards. Edin Dzeko replaced Aguero last weekend and might be in line for a start tomorrow, and he could join Carlos Tevez as part of an attacking duo. Mario Balotelli's also available, and whoever's selected will be supported by David Silva and Samir Nasri, with James Milner a possibility as well. One of Jack Rodwell or Nigel De Jong will partner Yaya Toure in the middle with Barry still out. The backline against Southampton was as expected, with Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany, Joleon Lescott, and Gael Clichy lining up in front of Joe Hart, and there's no reason to expect too much different for tomorrow.
Johnson Skrtel Coates Enrique
Downing Suarez Borini
There's a couple questions about the personnel that'll be available tomorrow. We know that Nuri Şahin is ineligible, with a deal yet to be completed, and Daniel Agger's serving his one-match ban for the red card he received at West Brom. Beyond that, though, I haven't seen anything yet about Jose Enrique's fitness or any new injuries.
Which makes things straightforward enough to guess everywhere else, but the back line isn't quite settled. If Enrique's out, then we're left with Glen Johnson shifting left and Martin Kelly on the right; if Enrique's in, then it's surely going to be Glen Johnson. In the middle we know Martin Skrtel will play, and after the horror show Jamie Carragher produced in Edinburgh on Thursday, there's a collective expectation for Sebastian Coates to partner the Slovakian. Most of us are resigned to Carragher playing, though, and left to hope that he somehow does a 180 from midweek.
In front of that it's easy stuff, I think, with Lucas, Joe Allen, and Steven Gerrard making up the midfield contingent, and Stewart Downing, Luis Suarez, and Fabio Borini across the front. Borini's participation against Hearts might see him on tired legs, but there's really no other options unless Brendan Rodgers includes Oussama Assaidi. That wouldn't be a huge surprise, although Downing played less than half an hour on Thursday and has been a consistent pick under Rodgers.
It's going to be important or Liverpool to dictate play and maintain possession against anybody, home or away, but it goes without saying that they'll need to find a way to stay consistent in their approach regardless of what goes right or wrong tomorrow. City are more than capable of exploiting Liverpool if they show the type of frailty they did against West Brom, and if the hosts want to make this the longest ninety minutes of their visitor's lives, they'll need to show significant improvement in the football and their mentality.
As with any bigger Sunday match, viewing's not to tough to find tomorrow. Kickoff is set for 4:00PM BST/11:00AM EST, and it'll be aired live in the US on Fox Soccer Channel and on Sky Sports 1 in the UK. We'll have the matchday thread up and running a few hours prior to the start time, which will include the team sheets after they're released an hour before the opening whistle.
Looking forward to a big one tomorrow, and hopefully we'll see you all around.