With Manchester City travelling to Liverpool for a New Year’s Eve title clash, here’s what to expect from Pep Guardiola’s side.
Premier League form: W-L-L-W-W-W
League position: 3rd
Last win: 3-0 at Hull City, December 26
Away: Won seven, lost two. The second-best record in the league.
City are dominant, but Guardiola quickly gets frustrated if that possession isn’t turned into meaningful chances in the final third—which at times, it doesn’t.
The base system at the start of the season was 4-1-4-1, with a rotating cast of attacking midfielders, but of late it has been a much more clearly defined central midfield two.
Of course, it’s Guardiola, so three at the back or none up front are equally possible and plausible as means to dominate the opposition.
Either way, the football should be fast and forward-thinking, not unlike that which the home fans are used to seeing from their own side this season.
Lots of movement and rotation of positions from the front three/four/five, not unlike Liverpool’s own approach.
The attacking midfielders can slip into the No. 9 position, the forward can roam wide and there can be two forwards together or none at all depending on the buildup phase.
Stopping City requires a huge amount of concentration as well as work rate and discipline, not to mention clear communication from the centre-backs to the central midfielders.
It’s a big ask to think a clean sheet might be taken against the league’s second-highest scorers…
Liverpool Can Exploit…
…but in turn, City will be thinking it’s a tough ask to take a clean sheet against the league’s highest scorers.
It’s fair to say City’s defence is shambolic at times; against Leicester City in early December the shape and protection was worse than Liverpool’s has been at any point this season.
In particular, a fast start by opponents has troubled City this term, who look to take the tempo out of matches and dictate the game on their own terms.
Go hard and fast from kickoff and they quickly become unsettled for a period—but that won’t last the whole game, so a clinical edge is vital when teams are on top against them.
Depending on how City line up it could be any of a number, but two attackers in particular have shown stellar form this season: Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling.
The former Liverpool man was outstanding in the opening months of the season, back to his old self taking on defenders and surging into gaps in possession, while De Bruyne has been the league’s most prolific assist-maker this term (nine) and is second for key passes (3.8 per 90).
Liverpool and City are reasonably well-matched in styles, with similar offensive strengths and defensive questions at times, so the natural choice to match up De Bruyne’s creative instincts is Adam Lallana for the home team.
His off-the-ball movement between the lines is excellent, he has developed a much more ruthless streak in the final third and he’s a man in form over the Christmas period.
Sergio Aguero has completed his four-game suspension but Ilkay Gundogan is out with a long-term knee injury. Vincent Kompany is out, John Stones might be.
Possible XI: Bravo; Sagna, Otamendi, Stones, Kolarov; Toure, Fernandinho, Silva; De Bruyne, Sterling, Aguero