Liverpool face Manchester City at Anfield on Sunday in what is being viewed as this seasons title deciding fixture. Ben Twelves looks ahead at how Brendan Rodgers could shape his team for the clubs’ biggest league game of the Premier League era.
A hard fought and battling 2-1 win at the Boelyn Ground last Sunday saw Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool pick up yet another three points, their ninth maximum in a row, on their quest for Premier League glory. Liverpool stood up to the challenge of being able to compete with anti-football Allardyce and proved once again that they can win ugly, cementing top spot in the process thanks to two well taken penalties from the ever excellent Captain Fantastic.
This Sunday proposes a completely contrasting fixture for Liverpool, one that has been branded a ‘winner takes all’ clash, with whoever emerges victorious come the final whistle seemingly sure to be nailed on for the crown of the Premier League title. It isn’t quite as clear cut as that with Chelsea lurking in the background, but a win for either side could go a huge distance in determining where the trophy ends up.
The constant questioning of whether Liverpool can deal with ‘the pressure’ of the title race continues to be discussed but for Rodgers’ men, the task if very simple; keep doing what you’re doing. The manager has previously spoken about the importance of relieving pressure from his players, meaning for Liverpool, absolutely nothing at all needs to change. The season has been far beyond anyone’s wildest expectations and the ‘pressure’ that’s so often mentioned heading into the clash is all on City’s shoulders.
Rodgers revealed in his pre-match interview against West Ham that Joe Allen was set to be recalled to the starting team, but a late niggle meant the Welshman had to make do with a place on the bench. Allen’s return to the side would likely have resulted in a return to a diamond shaped midfield but his injury meant that Liverpool started with a 4-3-3 formation, with Philippe Coutinho in the midfield and Raheem Sterling, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge forming a the three man attack.
The match in the East End also saw Mamadou Sakho slot in at centre half, replacing the injured Daniel Agger and the French international produced an excellent performance meaning it is extremely likely that he will keep his place alongside a rejuvenated Martin Skrtel at the heart of defence. Lucas Leiva, who played the decisive through ball that allowed Jon Flanagan to win what turned out to be the match-winning penalty, produced a solid second half performance and could have played himself into contention for a starting berth on Sunday afternoon.
The question for the manager going into this fixture is similar to that of the Tottenham game just two weeks ago. Should Rodgers set up his team to take the game to City from the very first whistle, with the same midfield and forward line that have done it so well on a number of occasions this season or would a team with more stability in the middle of the park against a very powerful City midfield be a better option with so much at stake?
Midfield solidity would ideally see the ball retention and pressing skills of Joe Allen come into the side, but his inclusion could be dependent on recovering from his minor injury. If the Welsh midfielder does struggle to recover for the match, Rodgers still would have the solid midfield option at his disposal with Lucas available, but the Brazilian’s immobility against a fluid City side could create problems, meaning an attacking line up from the off and Coutinho in his central midfield role would be a more favourable alternative than including his Brazilian teammate.
Sticking with the ‘go and get them’ attacking approach as Liverpool go in search of a huge tenth straight win would see the Reds line up looking like this:
If the more conservative option is preferred, with the ability to change the game as and when needed through one of Sterling or Coutinho and depending on Allen’s fitness, Liverpool could start the match like this:
A diamond midfield could be revisited although likely to be resting on Allen’s availability and that could see Liverpool shape up for the mammoth clash looking something like along these lines:
Regardless of the outcome on Sunday, it is essential not to forget just how far we have progressed and how well Brendan Rodgers and the team have done to even have the club in this position at this late stage of the season. Calls that the title is in Liverpool’s hands are premature, even though there is only five games to play, but come Sunday evening and the possibility of a tenth straight win, that could all have changed in the Anfield clubs’ favour with just four to play.