Liverpool will be given a guard of honour at Man City on Thursday, but who will prevail once the action gets underway?
The Reds are the Premier League champions – still sounds incredible, doesn’t it?
Liverpool will still be focused on recording over 100 points this season, however – 101 would be a new Premier League record – and their trip to the Etihad could be a classic.
City will be smarting after having to pass over their crown, not to mention giving a guard of honour, and will no doubt be desperate to prove a point.
Ahead of the game, we spoke to City writer Simon Curtis (@bifana_bifana) to hear his thoughts on the season, and how Thursday’s clash could pan out.
How would you assess Man City’s season as a whole?
Firstly as a very odd experience, just like every other team’s in 2020.
Before the enforced break, the damage had been done, of course. There were way too many sloppy games early in the season.
There have been lots of dropped points that illustrate how difficult it is to maintain levels of consistency, concentration and output on the back of consecutive title seasons that were close to perfect.
Just where do you go after winning four trophies in one season? It’s almost bound to be relatively disappointing.
Having said that, it has been quite a big drop-off. Of course, this strange season is not done with us yet, so let’s see what they can come out of it with by the end of August, or whenever we are supposed to be bringing it all to a close.
What would now represent a genuinely successful campaign?
The owners’ eyes have been fixed on the Champions League for years already. It’s the only thing left to cap this period of great success.
To win it gloriously in a truncated tournament, in an empty stadium in a country that wasn’t the original venue for the final would cap any of the daft things this club has achieved in 120 years of contrariness.
Who have stood out as the best, and worst, performers for City?
Kevin De Bruyne has maintained his standards better than the rest through the relative upheaval of a season that has failed to come up to expectations. That’s a sure sign of absolute class.
He has been consistently the best player in the squad and probably the best player in the Premier League this season.
Plaudits, too, for the growing presence of Phil Foden, who is calmly becoming a ready-made replacement for David Silva, whose own output has sadly dropped this season.
His namesake Bernardo has also dropped way below last season’s levels. The Twitter outrage at his bad taste joke about teammate Benjamin Mendy seemed to floor him.
Collectively, the defence has been absent without leave too often as well. No replacement for Vincent Kompany, both on and off the pitch, has bitten us hard.
Aymeric Laporte is the answer, but he has been injured for long periods, while Mendy continues to defend like a man thinking about his collection of antique bikinis.
Do you expect them to bounce back and reclaim their Premier League crown next season?
I expect a much closer race, with more candidates. No one-horse or two-horse race next season. Liverpool’s campaign has been unique and will not be repeated.
At City, there will be some turnover of staff this summer, too. Significant departures will need to be carefully replaced – not something that has always gone too swimmingly.
Pep Guardiola’s stay is coming to an end soon as well, so that needs gentle direction given to it.
Chelsea and United should also be stronger, so there’s lots of reasons to foresee a very different title race next time around.
Where does this Liverpool side rank among the best you’ve seen?
I go back a fair bit so I have had the ‘pleasure’ of seeing the 1970s side of Bob Paisley, the 1980s version of Joe Fagan and Sir Kenny Dalglish, plus Klopp’s modern-day version.
City have, I’m proud to say, had severe problems with all of them.
It’s hard to split them really, but the 80s side in full flow was probably peak Liverpool. I say that only because they did it year after year.
Another season or two of pot-winning and it will be difficult to say the earlier sides were better than this one. I think one thing missing is taking the domestic cups seriously.
Is there anyone you particularly fear going into Thursday’s game?
There is a confidence and energy about this Liverpool side that means danger lurks everywhere, but the two full-backs can cause a lot of damage and if City’s defence is playing drunken statues again, it might be an avenue Klopp has decided to explore.
The speed coming forward has not just been a problem for City when confronted by Liverpool in the last couple of seasons. It has caught many good teams out.
Fabinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have both had scorching shots find the target against us, so those stinging attacks with a flash of a finish need to be handled differently to recent Anfield maulings.
Apart from the 5-0 at the Etihad that was partly shaped by Sadio Mane‘s red card, City’s 0-0 at Anfield was one of the better results of recent times.
One game featured an avalanche of attacking and the other practically had none at all, so it will be interesting to see how much City go for the jugular.
Presumably, hoping Liverpool are (metaphorically) a touch hungover (better still maybe literally a touch hungover, too), attacking the arse off them might be the best way forward.
Having said that, Guardiola will definitely be looking at more important games to come in the packed schedule to follow.
Where do you see the key battles taking place?
In a match like this, they should be taking place all over the pitch, to be fair.
There are excellent players fronting each other in almost every department. As ever the control of midfield will be key, but who and how Guardiola chooses to man the flanks will decide whether City compete on an even footing or not.
This is probably not a game for Mendy, for example, but it would be ironic if he finally chooses to give the departing Leroy Sane a run out, as he has been a thorn in Liverpool’s side on a regular basis.
It’s the kind of daft story that fits City well: beating the newly-crowned champions thanks to a star performance from a player who is about to leave and hasn’t had a start since the Community Shield…against Liverpool.
Finally, hit us with your prediction…
I will go for a 2-2 draw.