The Premier League may just be only 10 weeks old, but indications are already pointing to a two-horse race and the title may even be decided on Sunday when Liverpool welcome Manchester City to Anfield. Both teams needed a last-minute gasp to win their last matches, with The Reds maintaining their six-point lead and a victory over The Citizens, tomorrow may just see Anfield celebrate its first title since the Premier League era. However, it would be game-on in the event of a win or a draw for Pep Guardiola’s side
Liverpool and Manchester City can now turn attention to the Premier League after both teams were involved in the UEFA Champions League where they both top their groups and are in good stead to booking a place to the knockout stage.
Liverpool top the table with 31 points and are closely trailed by Manchester City with 25 points, and will be hoping to reduce the gap to three points with a win, while the host would be looking to further widen the gap with a home victory.
Anfield has not been a good hunting ground for the Citizens and indeed their manager-Pep Guardiola. His best since arriving England is last season goalless draw in which City lost a last minute penalty.
Both managers have started the mind games with Guardiola first kicked off proceedings by labeling Liverpool forward, Sadio Mane as a ‘diver’ following the Reds last minute 2-1 win against Aston Villa last Saturday, in which the Senegalese attacker scored the final goal but was booked for simulation earlier on in the match.
Jurgen Klopp, in turn, rejected the criticism of Mane and questioned how a manager would find time post-match to know about such details and the result of another game.
The German then aimed his own dig at City by claiming he would “not mention tactical fouls” in his response to Guardiola’s comments during a pre-match press conference ahead of Genk.
“I couldn’t really believe it to be honest and then I saw it,” the Liverpool manager said.
“I am not sure if Pep spoke in that moment about Sadio or the team – both is not too nice to be honest. I am not too sure if I want to put oil on the fire. I am not interested in these kind of things. And I promise not to mention tactical fouls. That is maybe already too much.”
Manchester City talisman Sergio Aguero would however not mind putting oil to the fire when he said the club still regard Manchester United as their biggest rivals in the Premier League compared to Liverpool.
“It may be the clasico for television, but for us, the clasico, it’s the match against United,” the Argentina international told France Football.
The defending champions have been plague by injury with Captain David Silva joining Oleksandr Zinchenko, Aymeric Laporte and Leroy Sane on the sidelines
City may have been handed a major injury boost on Tuesday morning ahead of their clash against Liverpool this weekend, with midfielder Rodri spotted at training, although the Spaniard did not partake in the full session.
Rodri has missed the last three games with a hamstring problem, however it now appears as though the midfielder is set to make a return to Pep Guardiola’s side in the coming games. The midfielder did not take part in the full session, however did briefly appear for what was described as a ‘kick about‘ and a brief ‘stretch‘.
Former Arsenal Manager, Arsene Wenger indeed attest to the fact that injury to key players may cost City on Sunday.
Wenger believes the absence of Laporte could hand Liverpool a major advantage in their title clash with City on Sunday. Klopp’s side are currently leading the way as they are six points ahead of City and have not yet lost a game. Meanwhile, Guardiola’s men have suffered two defeats while they are without Laporte for several months after the centre-back required knee surgery in September and Wenger believes the vulnerability in Guardiola’s defence, caused by the absence of Laporte, could give the upper hand to Klopp’s men.
‘Well we have seen in recent years that they are very tight games,’ Wenger told beIN Sports. ‘We know Man City will take the game to Liverpool, and that Liverpool will be very dangerous on the counter-attack. ‘I personally feel they could not afford to lose Laporte.
‘If you look at their results, they still play great football but they are fractionally a bit more vulnerable defensively. ‘And that could be a big handicap against Liverpool.’
Klopp and Guardiola have been greatly influenced by one other.
Guardiola’s short-passing football at Barcelona kick-started a global revolution towards pure possession, peaking with Spain’s 2010 World Cup win, before Klopp’s rock-and-roll gegenpressing at Dortmund shifted the culture back towards verticality.
They are the two most influential coaches in modern football, symbiotically intertwined; Klopp’s Dortmund was a response to Guardiola’s Barcelona, his counter-press a way to catch out defenders locked in sideways passing.
In their 2019 incarnations, both are broadly similar, borrowing heavily from each other’s more dogmatic ideologies from earlier in their careers. Both press high and look to counter-attack in numbers; both dominate possession out of sheer necessity; both are willing to alter the length of their passes to stretch the pitch, and both coaches extraordinarily detailed attacking patterns to etch flowing moves into muscle memory.
The similarities end there. Guardiola remains a manager who generally builds carefully into the final third, maximising use of the half-spaces to get wingers in behind with late runs.
Their playmakers are assisted by inverted full-backs who sit on the corner of the penalty area, creating a link between the wingers and attacking midfielders and helping pen the opposition deep in their own half.
Guardiola’s football is metronomic, with triangles appearing all over the pitch; City wants to pass the ball into an empty net, one-touch football grinding the opponent down. However, this season they have notably swung more crosses into the box, with De Bruyne playing wider to the right.
Liverpool are more vertical and play with a far narrower shape than Guardiola’s team. Klopp’s 4-3-3 prioritizes hard-pressing central midfielders who lack the creative guile of their opposite numbers at City, with a greater focus on overlapping full-backs.
The narrowness of the system opens up gaps on the outside for Alexander Arnold and Andrew Robertson, Liverpool’s most creative players, while Roberto Firmino drifts across the width to link with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah.
These differences are the reason why, in theory, Liverpool v Man City matches are end-to-end; City dominate through the centre and Liverpool exploit the flanks, while their respective 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 systems layer on top of each other with significant gaps.
First, City’s inverted full-backs often vacate space for Liverpool’s flying full-backs, and second, Liverpool’s ultra-narrow front three overload City’s wobbly centre-backs – but also leave too much defensive work in the half-space pockets where De Bruyne and Silva are so dangerous.
However, the tactical battle is unlikely to be so dramatic. The stakes are just too high for Guardiola to open up as he did in January when City was chasing down a seven-point gap; the safety-first, defensive football of the 0-0 draw in October is more likely.
Once again, City will hold their full-backs deep, Liverpool will pack the midfield, and the two best teams in the world will play out a tense, claustrophobic affair where avoiding mistakes is prioritized over creativity.
It should be engrossing and high quality, but short on goalmouth action.
This will be the second season in a row that the two clubs will be involved in a tight contest for the title after Man City narrowly beat Klopp’s men to the league title by a single point last season.