Football Features

Manchester City v Liverpool: Four key battlegrounds to decide the Premier League title

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 16:00, 8 April 2022 | Updated: 15:54, 10 April 2022

The fate of the 2021/22 Premier League title will be decided this weekend when Manchester City host Liverpool.

Not literally, of course. Both teams will still have seven games to play after Sunday’s match and anything could happen between now and season’s end. But this match at the Etihad feels climactic, in that the winner will go top of the league (City by four points, Liverpool by two) and hold a huge psychological advantage heading into the final two months of football.

Momentum in a title race is a genuine thing, and the victor of Sunday’s showdown will have pretty much all of it while having dealt a major blow to the confidence of the vanquished. The winner will have fate in their own hands: win seven games in a row (and both teams have posted 10+ winning streaks this season), and you’re Premier League champions.


Manchester City v Liverpool betting odds from William Hill

  • Result (90 minutes): Man City 21/20 | Draw 13/5 | Liverpool 12/5
  • Enhanced odds: Mohamed Salah to score first 6/1 (was 5/1)
  • Enhanced odds: Kevin de Bruyne to score first 7/1 (was 5/1)

Odds correct at time of publication (12:00, 08/04/2022). You have to be 18+ to gamble. For more information, visit begambleaware.org.


Given the stakes are so high, winning this game will be essential for both sides. With that in mind, we’ve had a look and come up with the four key battlegrounds that will probably decide Manchester City vs Liverpool, and thus likely decide the destination of the Premier League.

1. The midfield battle

Manchester City’s midfield is one of the most dominant forces in modern football. Rodri and Kevin De Bruyne are the mainstays, and the third spot is usually occupied by Ilkay Gundogan. To complete the dominance, Bernardo Silva usually drops in from false nine and Joao Cancelo and Kyle Walker push up from full-back.

The end result is a midfield trio that usually consists of three guys, only one of whom is fixed (Rodri), and occasionally turns into a diamond via the false nine. The rest is fluid and depends on where the ball is. It’s a tremendous harmony made possible by great players following the precise instructions of a tactical genius while complementing the system with their own moments of improvisation.

Manchester City’s pass map from their 2-2 draw with Liverpool earlier this season

Containing the City midfield is almost impossible, but Liverpool have a world-class trio of their own. Fabinho is a rock-solid anchor with the kind of mobility that makes him hard to expose. Jordan Henderson may not seem an exceptional talent, but he is a hard-worker and the intangible quality brought by his leadership is palpable (as seen in the inconsistent display against Benfica).

Thiago is the interesting component, as he used to play for Guardiola at both Barcelona and Bayern Munich. A student of the Pep way, he offers something different to Liverpool’s midfield, some control, some pausa, and through that Liverpool have been able to field a more goal-focused centre-forward like Diogo Jota without sacrificing too much playmaking potential.

Against Benfica, though, Liverpool’s midfield was more radical. Klopp fielded a never-before-seen Fabinho-Keita-Thiago midfield and dominated the first half, establishing a two-goal lead before the break. However, Benfica’s pressure early in the second half resulted in a Darwin Nunez goal to reduce the deficit. Klopp reacted to end his experiment with a triple substitution.

It would be one of the boldest tactical choices of his Liverpool career were Klopp to play the Fabinho-Keita-Thiago midfield this Sunday. Or might he even bring in James Milner and opt for a more straightforward “contain” strategy to handle the Guardiola carousel?

Most likely is that he will revert to his usual combination of Henderson and Fabinho, plus one of his other more progressive options. But if he does stick with Thiago, can his side match wits with Pep’s men? They couldn’t at Anfield last year.

  • Liverpool’s most common Premier League XI this season (4-3-3): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Fabinho, Thiago; Salah, Jota, Mane

2. City’s left vs. Liverpool’s right

Speaking of City’s last visit to Anfield, this game’s second major battleground will be one we saw in sharp focus during that game. Pep’s men dominated at Anfield to an almost absurd degree, but only came away with a 2-2 draw because Liverpool’s right flank killed them.

Specifically, Mohamed Salah ripped Joao Cancelo apart on two occasions. Cancelo actually played superbly, running the show from a quasi-midfield position, but Salah kept probing and in the two moments of defensive weakness he pounced, assisting Sadio Mané’s opener before scoring a supreme slalom strike himself.

But equally, City’s left caused Liverpool untold number of problems with Phil Foden’s runs. The Englishman plays multiple positions for City but is perhaps most devastating in that Leroy Sané-esque wide left role. Foden scored once and essentially created City’s other goal, too, and could have scored more and perhaps even had a penalty.

This isn’t to say that City’s right and Liverpool’s left isn’t an important flank: Andy Robertson and Kyle Walker are both world-class full-backs and Mané and Riyad Mahrez are sublime forwards, too. But the balance of play for both teams is on the other side.

Trent Alexander-Arnold missed the game at Anfield, so his return to the team should add a massive amount of offensive prowess to the Liverpool right, demanding more defensive solidity from the City left at they try to stop one of the game’s best passers from applying his ‘Beckham-esque’ skill set.

“Look, it doesn’t need words,” said Joe Cole after Liverpool’s win over Benfica.

“It’s Beckham-like but I think he’s actually a better passer than Beckham, a better crosser than Beckham.

“That’s saying something because Becks was the best of my generation.”

Ferdinand echoed the sentiment, saying: “Trent is as good a passer as anyone on the planet right now, I don’t care.

“When I saw one of his passes yesterday, I was screaming. And it’s not usually passes that do that to me. It’s out or order the way he passes the ball. It’s not only the execution, it’s the vision.”

Trent Alexander-Arnold’s key passes and assists from the 2021/22 season

However as Arsenal have recently shown; if you keep running at Trent and put him on the back foot, then he can’t get forward to attack.

Whether it’s Foden, Jack Grealish or Raheem Sterling, expect City’s left winger to  drive forward with and without the ball in an attempt to slow down the greatest chance-creation machine in the Premier League (even so, Trent’s set-pieces will make Liverpool a dangerous prospect even if he is stifled in open play).

3. The magic number (in attack)

While City’s midfield is their star attraction, in Liverpool when all eyes aren’t on golden lad Trent Alexander-Arnold or the immaculate Virgil van Dijk, they’re looking at the Liverpool front three. The most devastating front three in football today.

But who is actually going to line up for Liverpool in Manchester? Well, former Reds striker Michael Owen has a theory. When asked if Luis Diaz’s good performance in Lisbon, where he bagged a goal and an assist, could see him start at the weekend, Owen’s answer was clear.

“The way Jurgen Klopp managed his substitutions would suggest maybe not,” the striker said on BT Sport; “bringing Mohamed Salah off, bringing Sadio Mane off, you would think Jota would have to play – he has been playing very well and he didn’t start today.”

That does seem the likely trio. Sadio Mané is coming into the game on a high after his recent successes with Senegal and then, of course, he scored against Benfica and bagged a goal in the City game at Anfield. Diogo Jota has three goals in his last four games for Liverpool and his ability to find space and score headers (he has the most this season with four) could be so deadly to catching City sleeping.


Manchester City v Liverpool: End of season odds

  • Manchester City trophy odds (to win outright): Premier League 1/2 | Champions League 7/4 | FA Cup 6/4
  • Liverpool trophy odds (to win outright): Premier League 6/4 | Champions League 15/8 | FA Cup 15/8

Odds correct at time of publication (12:00, 08/04/2022). You have to be 18+ to gamble. For more information, visit begambleaware.org.


Then there’s Salah, who is having a miraculous season. The Egyptian has 20 goals and 10 assists in the Premier League and has produced countless moments of genius, including against City at Anfield.

That is likely to be the three, but Roberto Firmino may have something to say about that. The Brazilian has scored some clutch goals for Liverpool lately against Arsenal and Inter, and don’t rule out him making a game-changing cameo off the bench, even if he doesn’t start. Klopp picking the right front three, and that front three delivering the goods, is going to be massive for Liverpool’s hopes.

4. PHIL FODEN!

As much as Salah was the star of the show when these two teams met at Anfield, Phil Foden was just as brilliant and just as dynamic.

Few players (if any) can be more justifiably confident of beating Liverpool than Foden. He has started three games against them, winning two of three with an aggregate score of 10-3 overall and never failing to score himself. Only against Brighton (4) does he have more goals. He also has two assists against the Reds, making that five goal involvements in three starts.

And more recently against Atlético Madrid in midweek, he was once again the superstar even though he didn’t start the game. Foden came off the bench with the score at 0-0 and within 90 seconds had created the game-winning goal with a stunningly deft bit of play. Foden’s close control and ability to manipulate the ball at speed allows him to damage even the most talented and organised opponent. Moreover if he can’t break through with the pass, he’ll do it with the dribble as did to Atleti on numerous occasions.

Foden gets his own section because he is going to be the X-factor in the game regardless of where he plays. Sure, it would make the most sense for City to play him wide-left in an effort to curtail Alexander-Arnold’s attacking forays, but as he showed against Atleti he can kill teams from whatever position Pep Guardiola chooses to deploy him.

Phil Foden’s passing compass against the big six in the Premier League this season.

As Owen Hargreaves said after City’s win over Atleti: “[Foden] could play at a world-class level in four or five different positions,” before adding, “Phil’s one of one. He’s the most unique player around.”

Rio Ferdinand was in full agreement, pointing out Foden’s ability to see things clearly no matter how hectic the match is: “Phil Foden in this situation; he doesn’t get hazy. The picture stays clear, HD, 4K, whatever you like. He can see it clearly.”

Joleon Lescott went even further than his colleagues, declaring that: “If [Foden] continues as the rate that he’s developing, and [Manchester City] are developing, then he goes down as arguably the best English player, the most decorated ever.”

That hype may seem extreme, but given Foden’s proven ability to dominate and decide big games, he simply cannot be discounted as a key battleground in this game. How Liverpool cope with Phil Foden could well decide what their chances are of emerging from the Etihad with the result they need to reclaim their Premier League title.

If they can’t get to grips with Foden, then City are likely to go four points clear and put one hand on retaining their title.

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