When Manchester City last won at Anfield, Tony Blair was prime minister and ‘You Said No’ by Busted was number one in the charts. The year was 2003 and a young Nicolas Anelka scored a brace to give City their most recent win away at Liverpool – thirteen and a half years ago. The signs are ominous, but records are made to be broken and City’s trip to Liverpool tomorrow is huge. Lose and we’ll be 10 points behind Chelsea halfway through the season. Win, and 12-year-old City fans will finally see us win at Anfield – that, and it’d give City some serious momentum going into the second half of the campaign.
John Stones is in contention to start after Guardiola confirmed that he is “much, much better”, and he was pictured in full training with the team on Friday morning. Stones’ ability on the ball could be crucial against a geigen-pressing Liverpool team. But as is always the case with Stones, his biggest asset is also his greatest flaw. Give the ball away to the likes of Mané and Firmino deep in your own half and well, you may as well turn away now.
The other team news is that Leroy Sané isn’t fit enough to be involved, but on the bright side Fabian Delph has been back in training for around 10 days now and should be in contention to make the bench. Ilkay Gündogan is course unavailable – leaving a big Gündogan-shaped hole in our midfield but interestingly Pep did confirm in his press conference that “we are looking to give Aleix [Garcia] more minutes, he can give us a lot in midfield.” For me, Garcia is the most similar player to Gündogan in our squad. Admittedly, he’s a little more defensive and won’t make those lung-busting runs nearly as often but he does have possess that metronomic passing ability that very few players have.
Aguero comes straight back in:
It’s been genuinely impossible trying to predict Pep’s teams this season. He’s always throw-in a rogue Jesus Navas when we’ve not expected it, or (god forbid this tomorrow) opted for a three at the back. However, I don’t think this will be the case tomorrow. Since Leicester, Pep’s been a bit more pragmatic. We’ve seen a back four in each of our last 3 games and he’s reduced the number of changes from game-to-game, only making a couple of tweaks. I’m expecting a very similar side to the one that we saw at Hull, with the exception of Sergio for Kelechi.
Sergio will be absolutely crucial for us tomorrow. We know that he can be rusty when he comes back from an extended lay-off, it’s always been the case with Aguero. But thanks to those home draws against Everton, Southampton and Boro – we now have very little margin for error. So in spite of his lay-off, we’re really counting on him to hit the ground running tomorrow.
Whilst we’re on the subject of Aguero though, I’m going to say something that I’ve been thinking for a while and it’s this: I think he’s been meandering at a few levels below what he’s capable of for the last 18 or so months now. There have been flashes this season of his supreme quality: against Barcelona and West Brom he was superb. But I think in the big games particularly, against the league’s best sides, he has underperformed.
He only managed 2 goals against last season’s top six in 10 games which quite frankly isn’t good enough for a striker of Aguero’s calibre, especially when you consider that one of those goals was a mere consolation against Leicester in the last minute. He also hasn’t managed to score against any of the top 6 season this season either and whilst admittedly, he did miss the Arsenal game, it’s becoming a worryingly long run. If we have any hopes of overhauling Chelsea’s points advantage then we’re going to need Kun back to his very best. And that has to start tomorrow.
Toure to start:
That’s enough on Aguero though, back to team selection. Sané’s injury means that Toure is pretty much a shoe-in in midfield. It would have been really harsh to drop Toure on the back of his recent form but I think had Sané been fit, he would’ve played the zippy German winger – to get in behind the likes of Klavan and Lovren. The only other selectiion headache I can envisage is whether to play Kolarov or Clichy at left-back? Clichy’s pace means he’s probably the favourite but Pep loves Kolarov, so I’m going for him.
With all that in mind, here’s the team I think Pep will go with: