A three horse title race with 5 games to go, it doesn’t get any better than this. Liverpool lead the way, but Sunday’s opponents Manchester City have games in hand. Liverpool have already surpassed expectations and finishing anywhere in the top four (which seems a certainty) would be a bonus for Rodgers’ men as the clubs’ revival under the Northern Irishman is well ahead of schedule; but for Pellegrini’s side, having been knocked out of the Champions League and FA Cup early on, only winning the Premier League will be considered a successful season, despite having won the Capital One Cup.
Liverpool vs Manchester City Tactics
Where can they win the game? The obvious strength of Liverpool lies in that SAS partnership upfront, and no doubt that they will be crucial to deciding which way this game goes. But for the ball to reach that attacking third, there’s a crucial battle that Liverpool will have to play in the middle of the pitch. It’s this battle that could define the tie, and this is why it will be such a close game as the betting odds on Betfair.com suggest
It’s true that a win could prove to be decisive in the title race, a draw does neither of the side any real good but avoiding defeat is primary for both sides. It will be interesting to see whether Rodgers remains his attacking self, or goes for a more cautious approach. Shutting down Toure & Fernandinho has to be primary, which is why I believe Henderson and Lucas could start this game, with Gerrard being the creative figure-head. Henderson and Lucas will be deployed with the intent of keeping City’s dangerous midfield duo quiet, winning possession and then threading balls through to the attacking third.
Where can they lose it? There’s one truth about Liverpool, and it’s that their attackers are capable of out-scoring their opponents. This scenario arises solely because Liverpool’s defence is incapable of keeping a cleansheet, especially not against an attack of City’s stature. With Aguero back, his strike-partner threatening, and the midfielders posing as big an attacking threat, conceding a goal or two seems a given for Liverpool. In the past few weeks they have become more solid but if there was a weak point in the side, for this game especially, it would have to be the defensive third.
It also has to be said that Manchester City are more than likely to win the physical battle, while other key areas could include Jesus Navas down the right who can beat Jon Flanagan pace for pace.
Who could prove to be the key man? Suarez & Sturridge aside, this is the sort of game Steven Gerrard steps up and leads by example. Liverpool need to put in a passionate shift, work hard for the entire 90, as they face their best chance of winning the Premier League title. Steven Gerrard, arguably the best player never to win the Premier League, knows this is his best chance of doing so. And purely for this psychological factor, expect an inspired performance from Liverpool’s captain.
On a tactical front, Gerrard could play the key creative role if Henderson & Lucas (IF they start) can keep Toure & Fernandinho shut, allowing Gerrard to play an unrestricted creative role.
External factors: There’s no need of documenting what winning this match would mean for Liverpool Football Club, but the game also marks the last game at Anfield before the Hillsborough Anniversary, so one can expect a terrific atmosphere from the Anfield faithful to back their team on the field. It must be noted that Liverpool haven’t lost a game before the Hillsborough Anniversary for 9 years since losing in 2005, to Manchester City.
Where can they win the game? City’s greatest strength this season has been their awe inspiring attack, and Pellegrini will look towards his forwards to get him the goals and the 3 points. 84 goals scored in the season so far means that the City attack is one to be taken seriously. And a lot of these goals have been scored without players like Sergio Aguero, who will be back in the squad for this match. The likes of Negredo, and Dzeko have also contributed well to the goals for column in all competitions. Incredibly, four players have scored 20+ goals this season for the Citizens.
Behind the strikers, there is a fearsome bunch of creative players led by the magician David Silva. He hasn’t been touted as a contender, but based on performances and effectiveness, Silva has surely been the key man for Manchester City. In recent weeks, he’s grown in stature, and his performances have gotten better, making him important too. Moreover, the Liverpool defence has been that team’s weakness, and if City can get at them, they will surely do well.
Where can they lose it? City have been very strong going forward but Liverpool have been stronger, if anything. The Anfield team boasts the top 2 scorers in the division, and many have failed to contain SAS this season. Pellegrini will need to come up with a tactic to slow down the duo or he could risk getting out gunned by the Reds, a scenario that would be very entertaining for the neutral, but disastrous for City.
The other thing City need to beware of is the Anfield roar. This match is one of the biggest that this beautiful ground and its dedicated fans will see for a long time, and one can expect the atmosphere to be a little more intimidating than usual. City have players who have been there and done that, but standing up to a bloodthirsty Anfield is a different prospect, and cracking under pressure could cost the Citizens.
Who could prove to be the key man? Rather than one key man, City will probably look to 2 key men who have engineered their success. The midfield partnership of Yaya Toure and Fernandinho has been the catalyst behind City shifting to 2 up front and dominating backlines. The lack of points that City have picked up when this partnership hasn’t been in operation is lost on nobody. If the duo is in action, City can look to the game with confidence.
External factors: A win for either side will put it in the drivers seat for the title race, but a draw will mean that Chelsea are the big winners. This may just mean that we see a more open and attacking game, and this could favour either side. What City will worry about is Toure, who is a bit doubtful coming into the game. If he is missing, it will be a major boost for Liverpool.