As Liverpool and Man City prepare for a huge Premier League clash on Sunday afternoon, we get the view from the Etihad.
This is now the biggest fixture in English football, in terms of the impact the result can have on the title race.
Liverpool’s meetings with Man United and Everton may forever be more fierce, but City are the biggest obstacle standing between the Reds clinching back-to-back titles.
Though the Reds certainly edged closer on Tuesday night, neither side has hit top gear yet this season, but this still promises to be a fascinating matchup, both on the pitch and on the touchline.
Ahead of the game, we spoke to City writer Simon Curtis (@bifana_bifana) to hear about Sunday’s game and who could end up being crowned champions next May.
How would you assess City’s start to the season?
Solid, if unspectacular.
City are not carrying the same threat in attack, with Raheem Sterling deputising for Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus, and Leroy Sane doing his stuff in Bavaria instead of Manchester.
At the other end, the era of horizontal defending has gone, however, now that Nicolas Otamendi has taken his unique skills to Benfica.
There has been one weird game at home to Leicester when Michael Oliver awarded them three penalties – first time since the Magna Carta – and two slumbering draws with Leeds and West Ham, but a clean bill of health in all the others.
It’s not been too bad and we are beginning to move up through the gears.
Has anything changed stylistically within the team?
At the back, there is an Aymeric Laporte-Ruben Dias central axis that has given the side more balance and more stability.
Guardiola’s persistence with Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez, plus a stodgy Ilkay Gundogan-Rodri partnership, has led to meandering out wide and little pace coming through the middle, but when Phil Foden and Ferran Torres replace the wide men, things really start moving.
The style remains essentially the same, but there is added solidity and, inevitably because of this, a little less flying panache going forward.
Do you think this will be Guardiola’s final year at City?
The fact that Guardiola is keeping his cards close to his chest leaves doubts, but he has already knocked the Barcelona thing on the head in the last few days, so maybe he will stay on.
A much closer title fight with Liverpool than last season may persuade him to stay, as would a proper showing in the Champions League, where he will want to put to bed his growing reputation of over-thinking crucial games and putting out weird formations unnecessarily.
His legacy is secure and he has stayed longer here than anywhere else, so we can’t fault him for his service.
Who have been City’s three best players so far this season?
Kyle Walker is the outstanding performer so far, while Dias has settled immediately and impressively and Foden’s confident close control and vivacious attacking always make a difference.
I would say these three, but Kevin De Bruyne has to be mentioned too, as his presence galvanises the clever passing that embodies City’s whole approach to the game.
As it stands, who do you see as the title front-runners?
It will come down to City and Liverpool again, in my opinion.
I would love to see some new faces such as Everton – dare I say it – Leicester, Leeds, Wolves and Southampton, but the nature of this grinding season means the big, talented squads will prevail.
City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal are a likely top four as the going gets tough, injuries tot up and form wavers.
Looking ahead to Sunday, who do you fear most?
Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane are always a threat going forward – as soon as they cross that line into the penalty area, fear grips you!
Diogo Jota appears to be the main man on current form – fast, direct and prolific – so the moment he comes off the bench, the greater the threat on City’s goal.
Where do you see the key battles taking place?
I would like to see Foden and Torres take on the full-backs, pin them back and see if Liverpool are able to shake some space for themselves.
Obviously the Reds’ front three, despite Firmino’s toils, will be an interesting battle against Dias and Laporte, while the no-frills, high-energy midfield will look to snuff out De Bruyne’s passing angles.
There has been a 5-0, a 2-1 and a 4-0 in the last three years in this fixture, so City’s most important battle remains with the record books.
Finally, hit us with your prediction…
Man City 3-1 Liverpool.