Club football has returned! Rejoice! The end of the transfer window and the passage of the first international break of the season marks a key point in the season. By the time the next round of international fixtures descend upon us, Liverpool will have played twelve competitive games across three competitions. The season has already begun, but there is no longer the possibility of engaging in baseless fantasies over potential transfer signings.
Next season marks a beginning of a new era for teams that finish in the top four. Fourth place gains direct entry to the Champions League group stages; moreover, Premier League clubs can no longer buy players after the first competitive game of the season. It’s a world designed by Aldous Huxley that’s neither as brave nor as fresh as any hype merchants or exaggeration peddlers would like to think, but it adds a little twist to this season’s proceedings.
Manchester City are Liverpool’s latest stop on a familiar route to a brighter future. A battle of wills between Jürgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola always gets the tactical aficiandos and narrative luvvies revved up, but post-match tactical analysis will be far more interesting this early in the season. Klopp is likely to deploy five members (Adam Lallana is injured) of the Liverpool front six that helped defeat Guardiola’s side 1-0 victory at Anfield in December as the two managers met for the first time in English football after their tussles in Germany.
Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané could feast on another top six rival with a suspect defence and an open, enterprising approach. However, Guardiola is unlikely to be as laughably naive as Arsène Wenger. In another development, Ragnar Klavan will not be asked to keep Sergio Agüero mostly quiet—the Argentinian forward did score the equaliser at the Etihad last season—for a third consecutive game. Despite the understandable and legitimate clamour for a better centre back than Dejan Lovren, the 28-year-old has built a fine partnership with the unruffled Joël Matip.
Like the two games last season, expect Guardiola’s side to dominate possession against a compact opponent determined to not only create on the counter but also engage in duels to quickly turn over the ball and fashion opportunities to score. Manchester City will probe and seek to exploit half spaces with fine interpreters within their ranks; meanwhile, Liverpool will trust in counter pressing as a playmaker and wield pace as well as movement as a dangerous weapon.
For Liverpool (4-3-3):
Mignolet; Gomez, Matip, Lovren, Moreno; Can, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mané
Philippe Coutinho will not feature after Jürgen Klopp revealed that he wants the Brazilian to train more before returning to the first-team picture. Despite arguments for the player to be restored to the starting line-up, Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum excel in big games. Manchester City at the Etihad and Sevilla at Anfield should be ideal opponents for two players in fine form. It is the match against Burnley, however, that will test Liverpool’s capacity to break stubborn teams down when they sit in low defensive blocks.
New signing signing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will probably find a spot on the bench at the expense of either Dominic Solanke or Marko Grujić. There were no injuries to report after international duty, but after Ben Woodburn’s exploits with Wales, will the 17-year-old find a place on the bench? Nathaniel Clyne is out for the rest of the year to leave Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold to engage in a youthful duel for the right back spot.
Klopp tends to have one centre back and one fullback on the bench, which means that Andrew Robertson may miss out on the matchday squad like he did against Arsenal if Alberto Moreno keeps his place at left back. Gomez is clearly the more defensive option on the right, but the more experienced contest on the left doesn’t really have a clear defensive option. Gomez enjoyed excellent support from Matip at home to Arsenal, and despite one or two absent moments, Moreno handled himself excellently on the day.
Klopp said that Simon Mignolet will return to the team, but Loris Karius helps the backline push up more and has better distribution. It is when a goalkeeper is called upon in his area, though, that is of primary importance. Also, Danny Ward will be looking to earn his chance in a goalkeeping battle royale for the starting spot this season. The front three should be unchanged against a Manchester City defence without Vincent Kompany. Another injury has kept the influential centre back out of contention, leaving Pep Guardiola with one injury or suspension away from the glorious reality of Eliaquim Mangala.
A red card before the international break against AFC Bournemouth has saved Raheem Sterling from the harrowing experience of playing his former club, but Kyle Walker returns from suspension. Guardiola has confirmed that the wonderfully composed İlkay Gündoğan should return to the matchday squad after 10 months out injured, and the former Borussia Dortmund star could be vital to freeing Kevin De Bruyne from playing deeper in midfield. The options the home side possess in attack are considerable and should test the sturdiness of a team that has kept seven clean sheets in the last nine Premier League games.
Klopp has a good record against Guardiola, Liverpool have an excellent record against Manchester City in recent years, and games between the two teams tend to be fascinating. A draw could be seen as a good result for both sides, but with the way these managers set up, expect a compelling tactical affair with a healthy serving of excitement. Or unbearable tension.
Kickoff is set for 12.30PM BST/ 7.30AM EST tomorrow on Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Premier League in the UK. Elsewhere, Optus Sport in Australia, TSN1 and TSN5 in Canada, DAZN Europe in Germany, Star Sports Select HD1 in India, SuperSport3 Africa in Kenya, Astro SuperSport 3 in Malaysia, SuperSport 3 Nigeria in Nigeria, 102 (HD) mio Stadium in Singapore, SuperSport 3 in South Africa, and NBC Sports Live in the US are carrying the match. BBC Radio 5 Live and LFCTV Go provide online options to follow the game. You can find full listings at LivesoccerTV.
We'll be keeping you updated with all the buildup to the game, including team news as it's released, our live matchday thread and post-match recaps from The Liverpool Offside staff. If you want to join the discussion, sign up for an SB Nation account to have your say on all the action as it happens.