Liverpool vs. Manchester City
Venue: Anfield Stadium
Kick off: 5:30PM
The biggest game of the Premier League season so far takes place at Anfield this afternoon when leaders Liverpool welcome champions and closest title challengers Manchester City to Merseyside.
Six points separate the two sides at the top of the table after 11 games, with Liverpool having dropped only two from a possible 33 so far this term and Man City struggling to keep pace.
Even with six months of the season still to play, this feels like a pivotal match.
Both sides have played down the suggestion that this could be a title decider in November, but there is no doubt that the result will have a huge impact on the table – either Liverpool move nine points clear, their lead stays at six points or Man City cut the gap to three.
The difference between recovering a nine-point deficit or a three-point one is huge, both realistically and psychologically, so for City this contest is verging on the realm of “must-not-lose” territory – as was the case when they welcomed Liverpool to the Etihad Stadium in January.
Victory on that occasion spurred them on to overhaul a seven-point gap and win the title by one solitary point in the highest-quality race the Premier League has ever seen, but since then the balance of power has shifted in Liverpool’s favour.
The Reds have won 16 of their 18 matches across all competitions this season and 10 of their opening 11 in the Premier League, with their only dropped points so far coming away to City’s local rivals Manchester United last month.
Another win today would see them equal the English top-flight record for the best-ever start to a league season – a record they themselves achieved the last time they won the title in 1990 and one which Man City have also equalled on two previous occasions.
Much of the intrigue surrounding this game relates to the suggestion that Liverpool have not even been at their best in recent weeks, despite such a dominant run of results.
Whereas Manchester City regularly look capable of running riot and have already hit eight goals past an opponent this season, Liverpool’s recent victories have been as much about character and spirit as they have their undoubted quality.
Jurgen Klopp’s side have been trailing at half time in each of their last three league games – the first time that has happened since 2012 – but they have picked up seven points from those games and, over the course of the campaign so far, have rescued an unrivalled 10 points from losing positions.
Only one of their last nine games across all competitions has been decided by more than one goal, and from their last five domestic outings they have scored in the 95th, 85th, 75th, 87th and 94th (twice) minutes to get results – a clear example of their never-say-die attitude but also a position they will not want to find themselves in so often.
Of course, Klopp would take a repeat on Sunday if it meant his side came away with all three points, but he and his players will know that they cannot always rely on a late saviour and, such is the quality of these two title chasers, that any dropped points could prove crucial come May.
The first step towards solving that issue is to tighten up defensively; Liverpool boasted the best defence in the league last season and only two teams have conceded fewer so far this term too, but they have only kept three clean sheets in 18 games across all competitions and are remarkably still waiting for their first at Anfield.
The Reds have conceded in each of their last eight games in front of their own fans, including five league outings, and that will be a particular concern as they welcome the division’s leading goalscorers.
It is a record that certainly needs improving – Liverpool kept clean sheets in eight of their final 10 home games last season, for example – but pointing it out does also have an element of nit-picking about it given their overall form at Anfield.
Klopp’s side are 45 home games without defeat in the league – the second-longest run in Premier League history – and have only lost one of their 22 home league games against other members of the ‘big six’ since the German took charge of the club.
Not since 2007 have Liverpool been beaten by the reigning Premier League champions at Anfield either, while home and away their top-flight unbeaten run now stands at 28, with 19 wins from their last 20.
Indeed, the solitary defeat in their last 50 league matches came against Man City in January, which only places more emphasis on the need for Pep Guardiola’s to take points off them themselves given how rarely the Reds drop points against the other 18 teams in the division.
Liverpool have been setting standards which Man City demanded of the rest of the league en route to their back-to-back titles, with their tally of 198 points over the course of those two campaigns putting them firmly into the conversation of the Premier League’s greatest ever teams.
Liverpool possible XI: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson, Henderson, Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Salah, Firmino, Mane.
Man City possible XI: Bravo, Walker, Otamendi, Fernandinho, Mendy, De Bruyne, Gundogan, Bernardo, Mahrez, Aguero, Sterling.