It’s Manchester City vs Liverpool tomorrow as the reigning champions look to put themselves back in pole position and avenge last season’s humiliating 4-0 defeat at the Etihad.
In his pre-match press conference, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp described the titanic clash with City – who have toasted titles in two of their last three campaigns – as “the most difficult game in world football”, despite their recent form.
Pep Guardiola’s men are languishing in 10th and yet to register back-to-back victories in the league all season. A frustrating series of injuries have not helped, leaving City stuck in a curious malaise, but such setbacks have not proved too significant for their opponents, who have stormed to five successive victories since the season-ending injury to their defensive talisman Virgil van Dijk.
That said, although Sergio Aguero is out, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, and Phil Foden – players who ran riot in the 4-0 evisceration back in July – will all be fit and raring to go. Liverpool’s makeshift defence is set to undergo its toughest test yet, and Klopp knows it.
When is Kick Off? Sunday 8 November
What Time is Kick Off? 16:30 (BST)
Where Is it Played? Etihad Stadium
TV Channel/Live Stream? Sky Sports Main Event, Sky Sports PL
Referee? Craig Pawson
Gabriel Jesus is back in contention for City after a lengthy lay-off and a substitute appearance in midweek. Fellow marksman Sergio Aguero remains sidelined, with Guardiola telling the press on Friday: “No, he’s not ready. Not yet.”
Fernandinho and Benjamin Mendy are also ruled out with muscle injuries.
As for Liverpool, Klopp has allayed concerns surrounding the fitness of Diogo Jota, who picked up a minor knock in the 5-0 demolition of Atalanta in midweek. “Nobody mentioned Diogo to me,” he told the press. “Yesterday [Thursday] was second-day recovery, he was involved. So that looked fine.”
Joel Matip is also set to feature after missing the last two games through injury, but Thiago – the summer signing from Bayern Munich – will not, as the Spaniard continues to recover from the Richarlison horror tackle at Goodison Park three weeks ago.
Manchester City: Ederson; Walker, Dias, Laporte, Cancelo; De Bruyne, Rodri, Foden; Mahrez, Jesus, Sterling.
Liverpool: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Gomez, Robertson; Keita, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Salah, Jota, Mane.
In a Premier League table replete with surprises, perhaps the biggest is Manchester City’s name down in 10th.
City won eight of their last 10 games in the league last season, seven of which were secured by a margin of three goals or more, and looked primed for a genuine shot at the Champions League before European minnows Olympique Lyonnais shockingly beat them to progress the semi-finals at their expense.
Reinforcements were made in the summer as Ruben Dias bolstered the defence and Ferran Torres was signed to offer yet another option going forward, but with just 37 days between the start of this season and the end of the last, things haven’t yet clicked for them.
Rumours surrounding the future of Guardiola continue to circulate, and for City’s sake you would hope they are just that – rumours. Few teams can handle the intensity and tempo of the Catalan’s possession-based system when it is at its best, and after an impressive start to their Champions League campaign, perhaps it’s a case of when, not if, they rediscover their domestic groove.
Liverpool have enjoyed a similarly emphatic start on the continent, with Diogo Jota’s hat-trick in the midweek rout over Atalanta helping the Reds to a third win from three in the group stages.
If Liverpool were going to start conceding, then they would have needed someone to start scoring, and that’s what Jota has done. The conceding part, though, has not yet come to pass. The likes of Joe Gomez, Rhys Williams and Nathan Phillips have performed admirably over the past couple of weeks as Klopp has sought to fill the void left by VVD – conceding just two goals in a five-game winning streak.
This, though, will be their toughest test yet.
Manchester City 3-0 Olympiacos (3/11)
Sheffield United 0-1 Manchester City (31/10)
Marseille 0-3 Manchester City (27/10)
West Ham 1-1 Manchester City (24/10)
Manchester City 1-0 Porto (21/10)
Atalanta 0-5 Liverpool (3/11)
Liverpool 2-1 West Ham (31/10)
Liverpool 2-0 Midtjylland (27/10)
Liverpool 2-1 Sheffield United (24/10)
Ajax 0-1 Liverpool (21/10)
Three successive wins perhaps demonstrate that things are beginning to fall into place for City, and here is an opportunity to advertise that on the biggest stage of all, against the reigning champions.
Guardiola will know that picking up a result could kickstart his side’s season, and with Gabriel Jesus returning to the fold, they appear well-equipped to do just that.
Prediction: Manchester City 2-1 Liverpool