Manchester City vs Liverpool
| Thursday, January 3rd |
Premier League | Etihad Stadium
8PM BST / 3PM EST
If one were told ahead of the season that a team could have the Premier League sown up by January 4th, most people would immediately assume that Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side would be the team in question. It was the case last year, as the Citizens lead the league by 15 points at this stage, having won 19 of their opening 20 matches.
Instead, it is Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool who sit at the top of the table, with a chance to go nine points clear — and ten off Thursday’s opponents — if they can hand City their second home loss of the year.
That would be no small feat, of course, as Guardiola’s side remains one of the very best in the history of the competition, having retained all the pieces that earned them 100 points last season, and with the all-important Fernandinho returning from injury. The most expensively assembled squad in history will be missing Benjamin Mendy, while Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gündogan are set for late fitness tests, but have enough depth to deploy an impressive XI nonetheless.
The reverse fixture back in October was an infamously cagey affair, with Guardiola’s mean nearly snatching a win at the death — foiled only by electing to let Riyad Mahrez take a penalty — after setting up to nullify Liverpool’s counter threat through a simple refusal to push players forward. That is unlikely to repeat itself tomorrow night, as only a win will be good enough for the home side if they are to have any realistic chance of catching their opponents, and neutral fans could be in for a treat.
Projected Liverpool Lineup (4-3-3)
Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Keïta; Mané, Firmino, Salah
Joël Matip and Joe Gomez remain indisposed through injury, and there will be no surprises at the back, with Dejan Lovren and Virgil van Dijk starting. Barring Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who remains months away from full fitness, the Reds sport a clean bill of health in midfield, with the potential exception of James Milner, who will be subject to a late fitness test.
That, paired with a good four days’ rest since the 5-1 tonking of Arsenal, gives Klopp plenty of options, and a double pivot of Fabinho and Georginio Wijnaldum should offer control in possession and protection without it. Bypassing City’s guard dog Fernandinho is paramount to any success against them, and Naby Keita’s ability to move the ball upfield could prove crucial in transition.
Up front, the free scoring trio of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah are set to pounce on City once more, having combined for seven goals in the two club’s past four meetings.
It would be too early to pop the champagne should the Reds emerge victorious at the Etihad, but a ten-point gap with less than half the season to go, and with the team’s form only improving in recent weeks should prove an unassailable lead, and set the Merseysiders well on their way to a first Premier League title. This one is for every single one of the marbles.
What the Managers Said
Jürgen Klopp: “If we were ten points behind would I say we can’t catch them? Of course not. It’s January 3. But it’s very important game, a six point game. It’s motivation for them and so we need to be ready.”
Pep Guardiola: “The forwards of Liverpool are good. Those three up front. They scare me. They’re dangerous, I mean it.”
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Assistant referees: Gary Beswick, Adam Nunn
Fourth official: Martin Atkinson
Kickoff is set for 8PM GMT/3PM EST tomorrow, and television listings for the match can be found on LiveSoccerTV.
In the meantime, and as always, 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 the action as it happens.