After comfortable midweek wins in the Champions League, title rivals Manchester City and Liverpool face off on Sunday in a heavyweight Premier League clash.
While both sides have made perfect starts in Europe’s premier club competition, Man City and Liverpool’s domestic form is more contrasting.
Jurgen Klopp’s side travel to the Etihad Stadium this weekend a point clear at the top of the Premier League, with 16 points from their opening seven matches.
The defending champions are five points better off than Pep Guardiola’s team, who currently sit 10th on 11 points, albeit having played a game fewer.
Given the recent rivalry between the two sides, who between them have won the last three league titles, and their current league positions, Sunday’s contest is well poised.
1. Jesus’ return eases Aguero absence
Things appear to be falling into place for Guardiola, who comes into this game on the back of a positive run of form and with a bigger pool of players to choose from.
Sergio Aguero’s hamstring injury means he is likely to be one of few absentees, with Guardiola taking a cautious approach ahead of the international break.
“We don’t want to make a step back again [by rushing him] but he’s getting better,” he said before Man City’s 3-0 win over Olympiakos, as quoted by the Guardian. “He’s getting better – I don’t know about Liverpool.”
The loss of their all-time top goalscorer is undoubtedly a blow, but the return of Gabriel Jesus to full fitness is a timely boost. The Brazilian striker came off the bench to thump in Man City’s second on Tuesday and his impact means Ferran Torres and Raheem Sterling will probably not be pressed into service as in a withdrawn No.9 role.
Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte will return after being rested against the Greek side, while Bernardo Silva and Rodri will be fresh, having only been used from the bench in midweek.
Phil Foden, Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez, who all started against Olympiakos, will provide competition for places.
Predicted Man City line-up: Ederson; Walker, Dias, Laporte, Cancelo; Rodri, Silva, De Bruyne; Torres, Sterling, Jesus.
2. Jota’s form gives Klopp happy headache
Like Man City, Klopp’s Liverpool come into the match full of positivity following a 5-0 victory over Atalanta in the Champions League on Wednesday.
That huge away win featured a hat-trick for Diogo Jota, who has now scored seven goals for his new club at an average one of every 71 minutes, to give Klopp a selection dilemma.
The Portuguese forward, who joined in a £41m move from Wolves in the summer, was bought to provide back-up to the fabled front three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, but his form is simply too good to ignore.
After eviscerating Atalanta, Klopp will surely be tempted to pick Jota, who has six goals in his last four games, ahead of Firmino, who has scored just one goal in 11 appearances this season.
The next big question mark comes over central defence, where Klopp now has Joel Matip back in contention following injury. The Cameroon international was on the bench on Wednesday and could come in to replace 19-year-old Rhys Williams, who has excelled in the Champions League this season.
Thiago Alcantara could return following a spell on the sidelines to replace Curtis Jones, while Naby Keita and James Milner are other options in central midfield.
Predicted Liverpool line-up: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Gomez, Robertson; Thiago, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Salah, Mane, Jota.
3. Man City’s defence toughens up
Man City looked a shadow of their former selves on 27 September, as Leicester City ran riot to win 5-2 at the Etihad.
However, since then, Guardiola has begun to get his defence more organised and settled. The return of Laporte from injury and the arrival of Dias from Benfica, plus their subsequent gelling as a partnership, has made a big difference.
Since that Jamie Vardy hat-trick, Man City have conceded just three goals in eight games. The 3-0 win over Olympiakos meant they have now kept a clean sheet in three consecutive matches in all competitions for the first time since September 2019.
Liverpool’s rotating front three is as dangerous as Premier League attacks come, but Man City will be confident they won’t be blown away.
Man City vs Liverpool betting odds:
- Man City to win: EVS
- Draw: 29/10
- Liverpool to win: 12/5
4. Leaky Liverpool
Liverpool may be top of the table, but it’s been far from plain sailing so far in their title defence.
Klopp’s side have conceded 15 goals, and although seven of those came in a 7-2 capitulation against Aston Villa, their other games show they have a leaky back line.
The Reds have kept just one clean sheet in the league this season with the loss of Virgil van Dijk clearly affecting them, particularly in the air. Liverpool have won just 40.4% of their aerial duels – the lowest in the league, and down from their tally of 52.9% in 2019/20.
Liverpool have faced just 28 shots on target in the Premier League this season, but have only saved 14 of them. Man City’s average of 15.8 shots per match is primed to test them at the very least.
Man City have an array of weapons in attack, and although they took time to get going against Olympiakos, they now have Jesus as a focal point to call upon.
5. Reds on the road again
Logic would suggest that a Premier League game after an away trip in the Champions League is a recipe for disaster.
However, Liverpool have coped with them well in recent years, winning their last four league games which have come straight after a European trip.
Last September they beat Chelsea 2-1 in the league, while the 2018/19 season saw victories over Fulham, Cardiff and Newcastle under the same circumstances.
Liverpool appear to be at a disadvantage given that they must play away again, having travelled back from Italy in midweek, but Klopp’s side have the quality to overcome such obstacles – and doing so this weekend would represent a significant statement.
Victory at the Etihad would also see Klopp become the first manager to ever beat Guardiola on 10 separate occasions (all competitions).