TIA Preview Panel: Man City (h)

Welcome to a new feature here on This Is Anfield. Ahead of each match the TIA Team will provide their thoughts on the fixture, hopes for team selection, men to watch and their result prediction.

Liverpool vs Man City
Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

Broomy: With 13 league games left, plus the last 16 Champions League tie with Real Madrid, our schedule is set to grow in intensity. We have reached a stage in the title race when only wins will do. Every game is a “cup final” now but City will provide a very stern test on Sunday.

Starting up front, I’d like to see Benayoun move into the central area just behind Torres. Benayoun is more comfortable in the middle and it is here where he has been more effective of late. He commits defenders and uses the ball well. If Benayoun is moved in behind Torres, Fernando will play a vital role against Richard Dunne where he’ll have the ability to come off Dunne or get in behind. Kuyt should start out on the right with Riera starting on the left.

The suspension of Wright Philips is a welcome boost for Liverpool. In the centre mid I’d prefer Lucas and Mascherano. The main emphasis on Benitez’s tactics will be controlling Robinho but Craig Bellamy and Stephen Ireland will be the real dangers. City are very strong upfront at the moment and are capable of good quick balls into feet and are capable of some dangerous interplay which will mean Mascherano and Lucas will play a pivotal role on Sunday. It’s clear Benitez believes in Lucas, just think back to last season when he displaced Alonso as the first choice holding midfield at home and away against Inter Milan…. You don’t play in those games without earning the trust of the manager. Criticism, be it collective or individual, is an occupational hazard for a footballer. Admittedly, Lucas hasnt reached his full potential yet but his recent mistakes will have provided him with a steep learning curve so its vital the young Brazilian bounces back for the remainder of the season and believes in himself to fulfil his undoubted promise….

At the back, Aurelio should keep his place ahead of Dossena and Insua for this game, but who will partner Carragher in the center? With Alonso out, I’d like to see Agger start to create that extra creativity and spark from the back.

Player to watch: Robinho – He’s currently joint 2nd top scorer in the League with 11 this season. He’s only scored twice away from home but he has the ability to create a flash of inspiration or brilliance and can win a game on his own.

Key head to head: Carragher v Bellamy – Carragher is the bedrock of the Liverpool defence and will have to keep a close eye on Ballamy as he returns to Anfield. Bellamy can score goals and create them for others, he’ll bring bundles of pace and skill and an unerring eye for goal.

Prediction: 1-1 Liverpool go into this match aiming to register their 5th consecutive League win over City at Anfield. I could take the easy option and predict a Liverpool victory here, however, City’s chequebook was brandished in January and with De Jong, Bridge, Bellamy and Given recruited, we’re facing a much tougher side than we did last October. Combine these players with the return of Dunne from suspension, Ireland, Robinho, and Elano and on paper City will be a very stern test…

Matt: Mark Hughes could follow in the footsteps of Tony Adams and Phil Scolari if we can manage to give the money rich Mancunians a good defeat on Sunday. After a much needed two week break we should have plenty of fresh legs and I hope Insua can return to fit back in at left back. With Alonso and Gerrard out I fear another Lucas-Mascherano partnership which fails to provide enough support going forward (namely Fulham at home, Stoke away) and hope players – and manager – don’t have one eye on the trip to Madrid.

Player to Watch: Stephen Ireland – City’s player of the year and a major goalscoring threat from midfield. Got another good goal last night.

Key Head to Head: Arbeloa vs Robinho – Hopefully the Samba star doesn’t turn it on at Anfield.

Score Prediction: 2-1 home win

Max: A win is an absolute must and that is that. Anything less and I would even go as far as saying our title aspirations are all but dead, should the Mancs beat Blackburn on Saturday. Hope Rafa isn’t afraid to bring Gerrard on, if needed. Every game’s a Cup Final from now in.

Opposition Player to Watch: I’d agree with comments Dirk Kuyt made this week regarding the threat of ex-Red Craig Bellamy. He has a knack of scoring against his former clubs, and has had a bright start to his career at City.

Key head to head: Arbeloa vs Robinho. It’s a must win game, which means we’ll be attacking and pushing forward en mass. Deadly Robinho must be stopped from inflicting damage on the counter.

Score Prediction: It’s going to be tight and I wouldn’t rule out another late show. I’m going for 1-0 to the Reds, keeping the title race open.

Tetteh:This weekend’s match promises to be an exciting one. City will be returning from their UEFA Cup tie with Copenhagen, aware that a few more dropped points could see them involved in a relegation battle, while they are only two or three wins away from a UEFA Cup spot! Hopefully we won’t see the drama we saw in the away match at Eastlands where we came back from two goals down to win the match at the death. With United playing on Saturday, we could be 8 points adrift by kick-off time and will need a win to keep the pressure on them. So (as always), this is a must-win match if we are to keep our title ambitions alive.

Rafa has suggested Gerrard may make the bench, however with one eye on the trip to Madrid next week and the United match that may prove crucial to our title challenge this season also lurking right around the corner, it’s unlikely that Gerrard’s recovery will be risked ‘“ especially after the lessons learned from Torres’ similar injury earlier in the season.

This should provide a chance for either Benayoun or Babel to impress. My money is on Rafa giving Yossi a chance from his favoured position ‘in the hole’ behind Torres. We saw first hand how dangerous Yossi can be from that position when he led a spirited West Ham against us in the F.A. Cup Final a couple of years ago, hopefully he will seize this chance.

We’re likely to revert to his favoured 4231, with Riera and Kuyt returning having both been rested at Pompey. In the centre, I expect to see Mascherano and Lucas returning. However, with Insua’s return from national duty and Aurelio’s impressive goalscoring display in the middle, I’m still clinging to a feint hope for a repeat with Mascherano and Aurelio commanding the midfield, and Insua returning to the side at LB.

The only other question mark regarding team selection will be which pair of centre backs make it. Rafa has to choose between Agger, Skrtel and Carra, who all started our last match. It’s hard to see Carra being dropped for such an important match, and I’m expecting Rafa to select Skrtel alongside him, with Agger asked to be patient in his quest for first team action. There isn’t too much doubt who will be at right back, with Arbeloa guaranteed to start.

But regardless of the team selection and the formation Rafa chooses, this is a match we really must win.