Following disappointing defeats in Europe, Liverpool and Manchester City will be desperate to return to winning ways in this High Noon kick-off. Michael Cox looks at the tactical battle, while your betting expertise is provided by Alan Thompson…
Liverpool v Manchester City
Sunday 12:00, Sky Sports 1
Match Odds: Liverpool 3.211/5, Manchester City 2.447/5, The Draw 3.613/5
Last season’s corresponding fixture was one of the most exciting Premier League games in recent memory, and while there isn’t so much riding upon the game this time around, expect a very interesting tactical battle in Sunday’s early kick-off.
Brendan Rodgers has found a winning formula with his 3-4-3 formation and Liverpool are currently the Premier League’s form side, while Manuel Pellegrini remains committed to more of a 4-4-2 system with the wide players coming inside, as we saw against Barcelona in midweek. Therefore, this is likely to be a clash between two entirely different systems.
Rodgers’ 3-4-3 is working nicely because Liverpool have so many quick, talented, energetic wide players. Indeed, such is the surplus of players who can play in the wide roles here, Liverpool have often been able to play Raheem Sterling upfront and still pack the flanks with dangerous dribblers, and the emergence of Jordon Ibe has only strengthened Rodgers’ hand in this respect.
Rodgers seems likely to play Daniel Sturridge as his central striker, probably moving Sterling wide. Adam Lallana and Coutinho are options for the front three, but Lazar Markovic could be a more exciting choice if Liverpool are to attack primarily with width. Ibe and Alberto Moreno can play on the flanks.
The reason Liverpool will want to attack down the flanks is because Manchester City are likely to vacate those positions quickly with the wide players coming inside. The shape Pellegrini used against Barca was effectively a 4-2-2-2, with Samir Nasri and David Silva operating in central positions as much as they played out wide, which enables City to dominate the centre of the pitch, yet leaves their full-backs exposed.
Pellegrini could consider changing to a more cautious system, perhaps a 4-2-3-1 with Silva centrally and James Milner shifted wide to provide more defensive balance. He started centrally in midweek but Yaya Toure will return here, and it would surely be foolish not to use Milner in a game that seems perfect for his discipline.
Liverpool are likely to pay close attention to Toure, pressing him as soon as he receives possession, and City might be better off finding Silva more directly – he’s been in superb form recently.
Despite this match taking place at Anfield, I’d be surprised if Liverpool dominated possession. They’ve always been at their best under Rodgers when attacking directly, and they’ll probably attempt to replicate the approach they used against Southampton last weekend, when they sat deep before counter-attacking sporadically. Ibe, Moreno, Sterling, Markovic and Sturridge is a terrifyingly quick quintet.
I can imagine Manchester City’s defensive players being in serious danger of being booked for stopping counter-attacks. Fernando or Fernandinho, whoever anchors the City midfield, will probably be forced into wide areas to cover, while Pablo Zabaleta can really struggled against speed too, and committed a silly late foul in midweek to concede a penalty.
The obvious zone Liverpool will worry about is at the back, where Sergio Aguero – and perhaps Edin Dzeko, but maybe Wilfried Bony – will attempt to get in behind. Liverpool’s defence has rarely looked settled under Rodgers, but the three-man backline seems to work reasonably well, with Emre Can and Mamadou Sakho likely to play either side of Martin Skrtel, who can sit deep.
This is a quick turnaround for Liverpool following extra-time away in Turkey on Thursday evening, and I think this is the biggest barrier to their success. Expect Manchester City to have plenty of possession, and Silva and Aguero will inevitably create chances. But with Simon Mignolet back in form and Liverpool so dangerous on the counter-attack, 3.211/5 looks a decent price to me for a home victory.
Back Liverpool at 3.211/5
The Betfair Trader’s View: Alan Thompson
When Liverpool have faced the top four (home or away) this season all four games have produced a scoreline over 2.5 goals, but Liverpool haven’t won any of them.
In fact, Brendan Rodgers’s side have lost on both visits to Manchester at Old Trafford (0-3) and the Etihad (1-3) and at Anfield, drawn with Arsenal (2-2) and lost to Chelsea (1-2). Both clubs are coming into this game off the back of midweek defeats – Manchester City losing out to Barcelona and Liverpool going out of the Europa League on penalties to Besiktas in Turkey.
Despite their midweek defeats, both sides are in good form. City have put nine goals past Stoke City (1-4) and Newcastle United (5-0) in their previous two league games and have lost once (home to Arsenal 0-2) in their last 17 top flight matches. While Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 10 Premier League fixtures, their last defeat in the league was away at Manchester United on the 14th December.
With Chelsea playing in the cup final this weekend, City will be looking to cut the gap at the top to two points. If City are to lose this then you have to think that Liverpool will have to score twice as Manuel Pellegrini’s men have scored in every away game this campaign. The last five meetings between these clubs have been entertaining affairs, both teams have scored and over 2.5 goals would also have been a winning bet in all five, with four of the five games going over 3.5 goals.
Rather than try to pick a winner here I will go with the goal trend continuing by backing Over 3.5 Goals before kickoff at anything over 3.0 and I will be placing an in-running (keep bet) on Over 2.5 Goals to be matched at 2.3, should it reach that level.