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Thiago vs. Kevin De Bruyne and Man City’s surprise weak link vs. Liverpool

Liverpool take on Man City in an all-important Premier League clash on Sunday, with the hosts hopeful their array of talents out wide can make the difference

The Reds face a monumental task this weekend, making the trip to City looking to go two points clear of their Premier League rivals.

It is an occasion that has the potential to be season-defining, with defeat making it hugely difficult for Jurgen Klopp‘s men to record a second league crown in three seasons, let alone an unprecedented quadruple.

Victory would feel huge, however, and Liverpool have every reason to believe following 10 league victories in succession.

Ahead of the biggest game of the season, we spoke to City fan and writer Simon Curtis (@bifana_bifana) to get a balanced view on both sides and how the match could pan out.

 

How do you assess City’s season so far? Near-perfect?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Wednesday, February 9, 2022: Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne (C) celebrates after scoring the second goal during the FA Premier League match between Manchester City FC and Brentford FC at the Etihad Stadium. Manchester City won 2-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It doesn’t feel like it, but the stats say yes. It has been a strange season: falling behind Liverpool, catching up and drawing away, before being caught again.

It feels almost like we are more or less where we started.

The exit from the League Cup is probably the element that is making me think something is missing, following four wins in a row in the competition.

 

Has anything changed tactically compared to past Pep teams?

BRIGHTON & HOVE, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 23, 2021: Manchester City's manager Josep 'Pep' Guardiola during the FA Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Manchester City FC at the AMEX Stadium. Manchester City won 4-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Still pass and move, still press the space, still work the wings, still pass one more time when we should be shooting; still wonder when Pep is going to put a bomb under it with a new and bewildering episode of Overthink.

It is constantly being tweaked: a more dominant role for a confident Rodri, more ball to Riyad Mahrez and a variety of triers in the dreaded false nine.

 

Who have been City’s three best players this season?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Wednesday, February 9, 2022: Manchester City's Bernardo Silva during the FA Premier League match between Manchester City FC and Brentford FC at the Etihad Stadium. Manchester City won 2-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

There are five contenders for me: Rodri, Joao Cancelo, Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Mahrez.

Given excellence is a prerequisite of the latter, and Liverpool fans probably don’t want to hear much about Bernardo, I will go with the first three.

 

Which individuals have struggled?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, February 6, 2019: Manchester City's Aymeric Laporte during the FA Premier League match between Everton FC and Manchester City FC at Goodison Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Curiously, Patrick Barclay had Aymeric Laporte in his list for Player of the Year. He can’t have been watching too closely, because he has had his worst season so far.

Some will say Jack Grealish, but he fits the pattern of players taking time to adjust to Guardiola and his very specific needs.

The signs are there. Several are coming strong at the right moment, including De Bruyne, John Stones and Raheem Sterling.

 

What are your favourite and worst memories of Liverpool-Man City clashes down the years?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Tuesday, April 10, 2018: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring the first goal to equalise and make the score 1-1 during the UEFA Champions League Quarter-Final 2nd Leg match between Manchester City FC and Liverpool FC at the City of Manchester Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I know this isn’t a trick question but, nevertheless, it’s near-impossible to answer, firstly because there have been way too many bad moments to choose one.

The Champions League games were dramatically awful, but the 6-0 and 4-0 back-to-back defeats in 1996 also left me psychologically damaged.

There are just a handful of great memories which, owing to their rarity, all felt ‘good enough’ – the 5-0, the 2-1 with Leroy Sane and the 3-1s at Anfield in 1981 and Maine Road in 1977.

I do also have very fond memories of a Clive Wilson-inspired 1-0 win in 1986 when that was our only shot at goal the whole game and probably one of our only shots at the Liverpool goal in that decade!

 

How highly do you rate these two sides among the best in your lifetime?

Mohamed Salah goal vs Man City, Anfield, 2021 (PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo)

They’re quite good, aren’t they?

Still, if you press me, I think both sides are slightly below the levels attained by their very recent predecessors.

It’s a mark of the incredible quality of both that I say this, though, and I may still be proved wrong if one of the two sides captures three trophies.

These are very fine lines now between each other and previous editions.

 

Go on then: who’s going to win what this season?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, October 3, 2021: Manchester City's manager Josep 'Pep' Guardiola during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I think Man City will win the double and will lose on penalties to Liverpool in Paris.

I very much like the look of the last Premier League game of the season. It’s unthinkable that a match between Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa and Jack Grealish’s City won’t have some bearing on the final outcome.

This was obviously concocted a long time ago for our entertainment by the Gods of Football, who always like a bit of a laugh at our expense.

 

Where do you see the key battles taking place on Sunday?

BRIGHTON AND HOVE, ENGLAND - Saturday, March 12, 2022: Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara during the FA Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the American Express Community Stadium. Liverpool won 2-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

All over the pitch, but City must take control of a Liverpool midfield that might be a little workmanlike and work the ball out to Sterling, Bernardo, Mahrez and Phil Foden in the wide positions.

This is where the damage can be done.

At the same time, the defence will need assistance counteracting Liverpool’s fast direct thrusts. Thiago against De Bruyne should be interesting in the middle, too.

 

Finally, what’s your prediction?

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp (left) and Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola hug after the final whistle during the Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool.

City 2-2 Liverpool, and indigestion.

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