Date: 14 January 2018
Referee: Andre Marriner
Kick off: 16:00
22 games played, 20 wins, 2 draws, 0 defeats. I think it’s probably fair to say that City are enjoying their best ever season in the Premier League; and with a 15 point lead at the top, all eyes are on the trophy itself – surely it can’t all go wrong? On Sunday, City face one of their biggest tests of the season – Liverpool at Anfield. Will this finally be the first time that City lose in the league this season? What is there to consider heading into the game?
This is the toughest test this season
Over the years, City haven’t had the best of luck at Anfield. It’s been 14 and a half years since the club have recorded a victory at the home of Liverpool, and the feeling amongst many Blues is that it’s easy to consider it our bogey ground. City have had plenty of bogey sides in the last 20 years: Tottenham, Everton, Arsenal, Chelsea, etc. In the cases of some of those sides (Arsenal and Chelsea), they were a bogey side because we weren’t at the same level. For others (Tottenham and Everton), we just didn’t used to fare very well – often home or away. Since Sheikh Mansour’s takeover of the club in 2008 though, many of our hoodoos against the aforementioned clubs have been obliterated. We’ve beaten Tottenham a number of times in the last 10 years, we’ve beaten Chelsea in a cup semi-final and we’ve made mincemeat of Arsenal on a number of occasions. One particular weakness that still appears to exist though, even in this fantastic era in the club’s history, is a genuine struggle to get a result at Anfield. We’ve seen our best sides fail over and over again. It was around a year ago though that Pep Guardiola faced his first visit to the red side of Merseyside as City boss – the game ending in defeat for us. Neither of Manuel Pellegrini’s or Roberto Mancini’s title-winning sides could get the job done either.
So, what is it about Anfield that seems so impossible to conquer? It’d be fair to say that a game against City is one that Liverpool don’t struggle to get motivated for. We’ve seen some excellent Liverpool performances against City over the years, perhaps most notably their 3-2 win in 2014 which could’ve propelled them to their first Premier League title. Another factor has often been Phillipe Coutinho’s ability to run City ragged, scoring a number of goals along the way. Maybe, with all the money spent by City, Liverpool feel the need to remind them of their illustrious history – who knows.
Records though, are made to be broken. A sentiment that Pep himself echoed in his pre-match press conference on Friday. For the fans too, there must be the feeling that if City are to ever win at Anfield again, this year could be it. With Pep’s side playing some of the best football in the club’s history, there must be the feeling that we go to Merseyside with a genuine score to settle – maybe this year will be the year? There’s certainly an argument to be made about this being City’s toughest game of the season, all things considered, an argument that I would personally side with. It’s a huge game. A loss wouldn’t wreck City’s season – the Blues’ odds of 1/250 (odds provided by My Betting Sites) to win the league say it all – but a win would perhaps give Pep’s side the confidence to believe that they can go through the entire year unbeaten. Time will tell, and Sunday will be a massive test and potentially an indicator of how far we’ve come this season.
Could it be Raheem Sterling’s afternoon?
Since his £49million move in 2015, it’d be fair to say that Raheem Sterling’s career at City has included some ups and downs. His first year, under Manuel Pellegrini, wasn’t always the most inspiring. He often struggled to make an impact in games, and maybe the management at Liverpool were beginning to think that they’d done some excellent business. After Pep’s arrival, there were signs of improvement. Sterling started to assist more goals, score more of genuine importance and most importantly, look a much more mature and well-rounded player. This season though, has been his breakthrough year so far. With a hatful of goals that has seen him surpass his totals (we’re only in January) for any other goal-scoring season, Sterling has become a vitally important player in the side. Having won City a number of points, at times with moments of individual brilliance, Sterling goes into Sunday’s game at his old stomping ground in the form of his life.
So, how is he fared in previous meetings with Liverpool? The truth is – not particularly well. Sterling was suspended for this season’s home meeting with Liverpool, but in the years gone by, things haven’t really worked out for him when facing his former club. You could argue that his biggest struggle against his former side came in the Carling Cup final of 2016. City won the game on penalties, but Sterling missed a couple of huge opportunities to put the game to bed for City before the eventual need for spot-kicks. In the form that Sterling is in though, who’d bet against Sunday being his chance to finally impact a game against his former club and show everyone at Anfield what they’ve been missing? Obviously, he’ll be booed from start to finish, but for perhaps the first time in a Blue shirt, you’d back Sterling to deal with that at Anfield. If he does, with the way that he’s playing this year, he might just be the difference-maker in a gargantuan game on the City calendar.
Will Liverpool’s approach be a positive thing for City?
At times this season, City have been forced into playing games of attack vs defence. Many a side have attempted to make a wall of 11 players and simply said to City: ‘break us down’. For the most part though, City have succeeded. Our league blips have come against Everton and a Crystal Palace, and both were different games for a variety of reasons. At home to Everton, City were given a dubious looking red card. Still, in the second half, Everton placed 10 men behind the ball at times and demanded City play through them. Despite not winning the game, City did eventually find a breakthrough and secure a point. Away at Crystal Palace, the Eagles tried to press City a little bit more than most, and perhaps forced Pep’s men into more mistakes than usual. But for a 91st minute penalty save, City would’ve lost the game – a rare bad day at the office.
When sides have gone at City this year, it hasn’t usually ended well for them either. Both Tottenham and Arsenal tried to play slightly more expansive games against the Blues earlier in the season, losing 4-1 and 3-1 respectively. However, the one side who did come to the Etihad to play their own attacking football were Liverpool. City took the lead through a first-half Sergio Aguero goal, but in honesty, Liverpool were pushing and looked good value for at least one goal on the day. But for Sadio Mane’s red card, it would’ve been incredibly interesting to see the remainder of that game and how things would’ve ended up; Sunday might just be the answer some of that curiosity. Ordinarily, we’ve felt confident against open, attacking teams this season. However, with Liverpool in great form, it’s difficult to predict whether or not their attacking style of play will set City on the back foot, or play into Guardiola’s hands. If Liverpool press well, it could be a difficult afternoon for City. If there is any laziness in their defensive approach though, we could see City carve the red side of Merseyside open. For the neutral, the game must look mouth-watering on paper, and it’d be surprising if it didn’t turn out that way on grass too.
Make no mistake about it, Phillipe Coutinho’s departure from Anfield is a good thing for City’s chances on Sunday. The Brazilian has been fantastic against us over the years; in honesty it’s a bit of a relief to not have to see him in Liverpool’s starting XI. The Red men still have a number of threats going forward though. Egyptian winger Mo Salah is enjoying the season of his life, and has been declared fit for the visit of City. The likes of Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane aren’t exactly slouches either, and City will have to be at their best defensively if they are to get anything from the game.
I’m anticipating an open game that’ll live up to all of the expectations. I think we’ll see goals galore and plenty of excitement; however I do think that the sides will be well matched and end with a point each. 2-2, Aguero and Sterling to score for City.