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Match Preview: Manchester City v. Liverpool, 12.26.13

Team news, ways to watch, and a full preview as Liverpool travel to the Eastlands to face Manchester City on Boxing Day.

Richard Heathcote

Firstly, Merry Christmas to those of you that celebrate! Hope you're able to enjoy the day, and that you find a sweet-spot drunk that enables you to engage in amicable conversation with people you otherwise find insufferable. Family!

Best to not drink all the alcohol, though, as you'll need some of it to get through what's sure to be Liverpool's toughest test of the season to date. Top of the table at Christmas--insert relevant statistic about top four chances and title-winners and etc. here--is a remarkable achievement given where the club have been the last few years, but as Brendan Rodgers highlighted in his pre-match presser yesterday, it means little if they can't push on from here and make a genuine challenge to finish in the top four come May.

Facing the side everyone's tipped for the title might mean the stay at the top is short, however, as Manchester City have been untouchable at home and have been scoring goals for fun on a consistent basis. They're averaging over four per match at the Etihad, with the top flight's only perfect home record, and have hit both Arsenal and Spurs for six after hanging seven on Norwich in early November. Arsenal hit back with three of their own, though the third came as a consolation after City had taken a 5-2 lead into injury time.

The absence of Sergio Aguero, who's set to miss an extended spell with a calf injury, complicates things slightly for Manuel Pellegrini, but Alvaro Negredo has settled nicely and should start up top tomorrow along with Edin Dzeko, who came into the eleven against Fulham last weekend. Jesus Navas and James Milner have come off the bench to good effect in each of the last two league matches, with David Silva and Samir Nasri preferred from the wide areas and Fernandinho and Yaya Toure the preferred central midfield partnership. Injuries to Micah Richards, Matija Nastasic, and Pablo Zabaleta mean that Aleksandar Kolarov and Martin DiMichelis will likely start in defense along with Vincent Kompany, Gael Clichy, and either Joe Hart or Costel Pantilimon in goal.

For Liverpool:

Kelly Skrtel Sakho Johnson
Henderson Lucas Allen
Sterling Suarez Coutinho

With news yesterday that Jon Flanagan is a doubt after suffering a hamstring injury in the days leading up to the Cardiff City match, Brendan Rodgers will likely have to shake up the defensive unit he's used for Liverpool's last four league wins. If Flanagan is ruled out, he'll join Steven Gerrard, Jose Enrique, and Daniel Sturridge as the short-term injured contingent, with Sebastian Coates the only longer-term injury in the squad.

What we'll likely get in the absence of Flanagan is what we saw after the young fullback came off last Saturday; Glen Johnson shifted to the left with Kelly coming in on the right, which worked to decent-enough effect as Liverpool saw the match out. Kelly's match fitness remains a question, and there's a number of other possible options--Aly Cissokho or Daniel Agger among them--if Rodgers doesn't feel that Kelly is ready. And, speaking of Agger, this could be the match that sees him supplant Martin Skrtel, though it seems the Slovakian is set to continue despite shaky form of late.

Liverpool's midfield will have a tough task tomorrow, and there's little reason to shake up the Lucas, Joe Allen, and Jordan Henderson triumvirate. Yaya Toure and Fernandinho are a far more cohesive partnership than what they faced against Spurs, but similar to that matchup, Liverpool's trio can cope with the opposition's physicality with a combination of smart passing, possession, and pressing so long as the balance is right.

The Luis Suarez show will inevitably continue, as will the support from Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho. The former's had a remarkable turnaround over the past few weeks, while the latter continues to impress with his creativity and vision. It might be time for a rest for both over the next few days, though--Liverpool need to ensure that neither gets run into the ground ahead of the season's second half, and while the squad isn't bursting at the seams, Rodgers could call on Victor Moses, Iago Aspas, and/or Luis Alberto to provide fresh legs.

Kickoff is set for 5:30PM GMT/12:30PM EST, with BT Sport airing the match live in the UK and NBCSN/NBC Sports Live Extra carrying coverage stateside. This will be it for our coverage other than an open thread in a few hours, which will lead us into the matchday post first thing tomorrow. Hope you'll be around to join us--if you haven't already, join the community on the Liverpool Offside, where we'll have full coverage and lively in-game discussion for every match this season.

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