Pep Guardiola WON’T have a better chance to win at Anfield with Man City… Liverpool must stop Phil Foden and Ilkay Gundogan to keep their slim title hopes alive, so will Jurgen Klopp be tempted to move Jordan Henderson into midfield?
- Liverpool are currently seven points behind Man City, who have a game in hand
- Defeat at Anfield would all but end Jurgen Klopp’s hopes of a title defence
- Phil Foden is rapidly becoming central to Pep Guardiola’s plans with City
- How can Jurgen Klopp halt City’s charge and get his title hopes back on track?
Manchester City are heading to Anfield in pursuit of their first win on Merseyside since Jurgen Klopp became Liverpool manager in October 2015.
As they size up Liverpool’s weary, rusty and in parts, untested, squad they would be forgiven for thinking ‘if not now, then when?’
The significance of victory for City cannot be understated; three points here wouldn’t just confirm City’s shift into breakaway leaders in what has until now been a bunched Premier League table but it would also signal a shift of power back across the M62.
Manchester City have a tremendous opportunity to clinch a rare win at Anfield on Sunday
Confidence is low at Liverpool after they slumped to a 1-0 defeat by Brighton on Wednesday
A first Anfield victory with City for Pep Guardiola would move his side 10 points clear of Liverpool with a game in hand, the death knell for their Premier League title defence in early February.
But Liverpool always show up to these types of matches and they won’t let their very slim chances of a second league glory be stamped out without a whimper on their own patch. So where will the game be won and lost?
For Liverpool, plenty rests on what players they have available and with Fabinho, Alisson Becker and Sadio Mane returning to training on Friday, there is an element of unpredictability for Guardiola to prepare for.
There is also the possibility of Ozan Kabak or Ben Davies being handed their debut against City which, if it coincides with Fabinho proving his fitness, would see captain Jordan Henderson returned to Liverpool’s midfield.
That would unquestionably be a major boost to Liverpool; Henderson has filled in valiantly at the heart of the defence in recent weeks but Klopp’s men are pining for his presence in midfield. Furthermore, the possibility of an orthodox central defender in the team would do a lot for Liverpool’s general shape in possession of the ball.
But in attack, Liverpool are set to come up against one of the sternest defences in the league. The partnership of John Stones and Ruben Dias has elevated City’s game this season and has been a key component of their surge up to top spot.
The potential return of Fabinho would be a huge boost for Liverpool defensively
Ozan Kabak, a deadline day signing from Schalke, is another alternative for central defence
Fabinho and Kabak’s presence may see Jordan Henderson return to Liverpool’s midfield
They will be tasked with curbing Liverpool’s famed front three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, with Diogo Jota still a short while off first team action as he rebuilds his fitness after recovering from injury.
A selection issue for Klopp will also be pondered in midfield. James Milner has started the last four Liverpool games but a week ago against West Ham, came off after 56 minutes because there were concerns over his hamstring. Five starts in two weeks would probably be a step too far.
Curtis Jones is pushing for a place from the start. He replaced Milner in midfield and promptly assisted Salah for the opening goal in Liverpool’s 3-1 win at the London Stadium that day. It was a surprise that he only came on in the 79th minute against Brighton with Liverpool chasing a goal.
It would not be a huge surprise if Klopp opted to keep Jones on the bench, however. If Henderson returns to the midfield three, the experienced Georginio Wijnaldum and Thiago Alcantara will likely be his midfield partners.
In terms of City’s attack, Sunday’s encounter will likely hand Phil Foden a golden chance to outline the stunning rise in form that he has displayed so far this season.
Foden played 700 minutes for City last month, more than any other player and he has been involved in 14 goals across all competitions so far with nine strikes and five assists.
Phil Foden is fast becoming one of the essential City players under Pep Guardiola’s guidance
Klopp will also need to find a way to stop his old Borussia Dortmund man Ilkay Gundogan
Gundogan and Foden have hit top form to help City surge to the top of the Premier League
Only Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne have a better record but with the Belgium international out injured and Sterling often wilting when he returns to his former club, the stage is set for Foden.
And if he inspires City to a landmark Anfield victory, it will truly underline his status as a central figure in Guardiola’s City plan.
A word too must go to one of Klopp’s old players who will be lining up in blue on Sunday in Ilkay Gundogan. The German, a former Borussia Dortmund player, is arguably the Premier League’s most in-form midfielder at present and has scored seven goals in his last 12 appearances.
If Klopp is to mastermind three points to wrestle some form of semblance back for Liverpool’s domestic campaign, shackling Gundogan and Foden will be as vital as finding a route around Stones and Dias for Salah and co.
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