Liverpool and Manchester City both suffered painful European defeats in midweek, but Kevin Hatchard believes they can recover to put on a show this weekend…
Liverpool v Manchester City
Sunday March 1st, 12:00
Live on Sky Sports 1
When Liverpool won this fixture last season, it seemed that thrilling 3-2 victory would provide the platform for their first top-flight title since 1990. Sadly for the red half of Merseyside, a catastrophic loss of form then saw Brendan Rodgers’ side reeled in by City, who went on to snatch the silverware. This time around, Liverpool’s messy start to the campaign denied them the chance of a title push, but a mid-season renaissance has seen them fix their sights firmly on a place in the top four.
Liverpool’s hugely impressive win at Southampton last weekend left them just two points behind fourth-placed Manchester United, and three behind third-placed Arsenal. On that basis, I’m surprised to see such a disparity in the prices that can be found in the Top 4 Finish market. Liverpool are a chunky 2.962/1, while United are 1.875/6 and Arsenal are incredibly short at 1.282/7. It’s worth considering that Liverpool welcome United to Anfield in just over three weeks.
Liverpool’s European dreams faded to nothing on Thursday, as they went out of the Europa League on penalties to a competitive but hardly stellar Besiktas side in Istanbul. The Reds were made to pay for missing early chances as they lost 1-0, their first defeat in 90 minutes since the turn of the year. Much has been made of the physical impact of playing two hours of football and then arriving back in Liverpool at 4:20 the following morning, but I think the fatigue factor’s being overstated. Philippe Coutinho, Lazar Markovic and Jordan Henderson stayed behind and are set to return, while Mamadou Sakho is making good progress after a hip injury. Skipper Steven Gerrard is still sidelined.
Liverpool have a good recent home record against City. They haven’t lost to them at Anfield since 2003, and have won seven of their last 11 games against the Citizens on Merseyside. In the two home games against City since Brendan Rodgers took charge, Liverpool threw away a lead late on in a 2-2 draw, and beat Manuel Pellegrini’s men 3-2 in last season’s high-pressure showdown.
City’s annual slap in the face from the Champions League took place on Tuesday, as they had their pants pulled down by Barcelona at the Etihad Stadium. Although City deserve some credit for fighting back after half-time and only losing 2-1, the gap between the two sides for big swathes of the first half was jarring. The champions of England shouldn’t really be made to chase the ball like drunks trying to retrieve a five-pound note on the wind.
City must now focus on their domestic title defence, and last weekend’s 5-0 demolition of hapless Newcastle United brought them to within five points of the leaders Chelsea. David Silva shone in that match (he also provided a sublime assist against Barca), and Opta tell us his tally of nine league goals this term represents his best ever Premier League campaign.
Although City’s recent record at Anfield is awful, their general away form this term is very encouraging. The champions have the best away record in the division, with eight wins, four draws and a solitary defeat to West Ham. Intriguingly, only one of those away wins came against sides in the top six – City beat Southampton 3-0 at St Mary’s, but drew away to both Arsenal and Chelsea.
City have no fresh injury worries, and midfield powerhouse Yaya Toure is once again available after he was suspended in midweek. Wilfried Bony could make his first start since joining from Swansea, especially as Edin Dzeko hardly covered himself in glory with a profligate performance against Barcelona. Sergio Aguero is anything but profligate – his goal against Barca means he’s now found the net four times in three games. He is unsurprisingly the 2.01/1 favourite in the To Score market.
It’s unusual to see Liverpool trading at a price like 3.1511/5 for a home match, and despite City’s away form, I think it’s a shade too big. Liverpool have won seven and drawn three of their last 10 Premier League matches, and they haven’t been bested at Anfield since a 2-1 reverse against Chelsea in early November.
The Reds have the squad to cope with the rigours of Thursday’s night’s game against Besiktas, and the return of the sparkling Coutinho could make a huge difference. The Brazilian’s burgeoning confidence was plain to see as he smashed home a long-range effort against Southampton last weekend. If Liverpool can play the kind of high-tempo attacking football they employed against Spurs recently, they can give City real problems.
City have drawn two of their last three away games at Everton and Chelsea, and I think they’re too short at 2.447/5, especially given their shocking record at Anfield. You could lay the visitors, but I’m going to back Liverpool Draw No Bet at 2.226/5, which pays out in the event of a Liverpool win and returns your stake if the match is drawn.
Over/Under 2.5 Goals
Since switching to a three-man rearguard, Rodgers’ men have tightened up defensively, but there tend to still be plenty of goals when they play top sides. Their Premier League home games against Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs and Southampton all featured three goals or more.
Six of City’s last ten Premier League games have all seen an overs bet pay out, and it’s also worth considering that each of the last six meetings between these two sides have featured at least three goals. There’s definitely evidence to back up an overs bet at 1.834/5.
Back Over 2.5 Goals at 1.834/5
Back Liverpool Draw No Bet at 2.226/5