Ask the Opposition

Ask the Opposition 62: Liverpool (with Neil Atkinson of The Anfield Wrap)

After dropping out of the Champions League midweek, Manchester City will be keen to briskly move on to the next match which sees them host 4th placed Liverpool.

Both teams are renowned for prioritising attack over defence and in doing so have scored (and conceded) a fair amount of goals in the process. The previous fixture back in December however, was a scrappy affair of little chances that saw Liverpool emerge victorious.

We spoke to Neil Atkinson of The Anfield Wrap for his thoughts on the fixture:

Hi Neil, thanks for talking to us. Liverpool currently sit fourth place in the Premier League, would you be happy finishing there? What have you made of the season so far?

Happy finishing there? Nope. Take it? Yep.

My position on it is that we should be looking with the games we have left and the comparative lack of distractions to snatch a top three finish. We can do that and I think we have been one of the top three sides in the country this season.

We’ve also been a bit rubbish at times. So it is one of them. But if we finish strongly I will be right in saying we have what we deserve if you see what I mean. We’ve a very winnable set of games, especially at home remaining. The idea we are poor against the smaller sides has only really been an issue since Christmas and never been an issue at home – we could well end this season with 15 home wins. Only against Swansea and West Ham have we dropped points at home against a side we should beat and West Ham very much felt like “one of them”. Swansea was absolutely abject, a genuinely dreadful performance.

Jurgen Klopp was one of the first of this new wave of elite managers entering the Premier League. What are your views on him and his high-pressing style of football? Is he the right man to eventually win you the league?

You have to think that or what is the point? His football is very good indeed when it clicks. It can be a bit of a high wire act – it needs a lot of players to play well to truly function. Therefore the concern is playing in that way every week with the variances of form, energy levels, focus and injury.

But yes, clearly we can do what we need to do to win the league – get to 28 games and 60 points 3 seasons in 5. I think if we do that in 3 of the next 5 seasons one will stick minimum. I also think one league changes a lot for us.

Liverpool’s league form since the New Year has been something to forget but a couple of wins recently suggest maybe you’re getting back on track, what do you think are the reasons for the mid-season slump?

Injuries, tiredness, number of games mounting up, Mane being away. If we allow “Fatigue” to cover a multitude of factors then that. Within there we got two good draws with United and Chelsea which easily could have been six points. We’re a bit strange to be honest with you.

There was doombrainness on show at Sunderland and there was simply being terrible against Swansea.

Liverpool have the slightly better head to head record in recent years with four out of seven victories – including the most recent – against City. Do you expect to add to this tally? Which players do you think will play key roles in helping you do so?

Expect? No. I expect a performance from Liverpool and a good game which could go either way. Adam Lallana, Sadio Mane, Jordan Henderson and Firmino will be integral to that performance and there is a chance the last two won’t make the game. Think it will be two sides going at one another from the outset, but I thought that before the Anfield game and it became very attritional.

Raheem Sterling’s move to Manchester was seen as controversial to say the least and it appears to have spawned a nationwide media witch-hunt that has seen him jeered at practically every ground and portrayed as the reason for England’s woeful run at the Euro’s. As a Liverpool fan it’s understandable that there is ‘friction’ but do you think the media has taken it too far?

I think in general the way Sterling is portrayed is little short of disgraceful and it shows a constant implication of racism around the fact a young British black person is wealthy and not “behaving” as a small cross section of people might like. The issue is the combination of all of those factors – he is young, he is black, he is British and he is wealthy; all of this is ostentatious and it is just his turn to be got stuck into. It is one of a long, long list of examples of how mean aspects of this country has become or perhaps always has been and we have turned our eyes away from it.

Listen, I think he’s a terrific footballer and I am still very, very annoyed he doesn’t play for Liverpool. I think he will continue to improve but even if he doesn’t his current level is good enough for a side that can win league titles regularly. He is the player I most regret and am most annoyed about Liverpool selling. Losing Suarez or Mascherano to Barcelona feels like a thing which would always happen one way or another. The same cannot be said for Sterling to City at that stage of his career.

Finally, please could we have your predicted starting line-up?

Mignolet; Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner; Henderson, Can, Wijnaldum; Coutinho, Mane, Lallana.

Think he gamble on one of Henderson and Firmino. Could be either but the latter arguably more use as a sub if required.

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