Liverpool vs. Man City
Venue: Anfield Stadium
Kick off: 5:30PM
The Premier League champions host the leaders in the pick of the fixtures in gameweek 23 as Liverpool welcome title rivals Manchester City to Anfield this afternoon.
Seven points separate the two sides in the table following a poor run of form for the Reds, coupled with a relentless winning streak from Pep Guardiola’s men in recent weeks.
So often in recent seasons this has been the fixture to have the biggest impact on the title race and, while there are more teams also in contention this time around, it could once again be a pivotal showdown.
It is arguably more important to Liverpool than Man City, though, with the visitors’ recent form giving them some margin for error, whereas Liverpool’s untimely slump has left them with a mountain to climb already.
A run of just two wins in their last eight Premier League outings has left Jurgen Klopp’s side seven points adrift of the leaders having played a game more, and should that gap grow to 10 – or even stay at seven – this weekend then it is difficult to see them making up the deficit over the remainder of the season.
Today’s contest may well fall into the must-win category as far as Liverpool’s title hopes are concerned, then, although Klopp has been quick to insist that his side cannot be focused on the title, but rather on their top-four chances.
The latest setback saw Liverpool fall to a limp and lifeless 1-0 defeat at home to Brighton & Hove Albion on Wednesday night – a second consecutive home league defeat, having gone 68 such matches without losing before that.
For fortress Anfield to have crumbled so quickly will be a major concern for Klopp, and you have to go back to September 1963, 57 years ago, for the last time they lost three home league games on the bounce.
On paper that may look like the most likely scenario against a Man City side in such good form, but Liverpool’s recent problems have come against teams that have packed men behind the ball and limited the space – something Guardiola is unlikely to do.
There should therefore be more space for Liverpool to operate in and, given the champions’ poor form against the bottom six so far this season, there is logic to suggest that victory over a team like Man City would actually be more likely than one over Brighton at the moment.
Certainly, the hosts will be confident of carving out more goalscoring chances in an open game, although it is difficult to ignore the fact that they are still yet to find the back of the net at Anfield in 2021 – a run of 348 minutes without a goal.
Liverpool have never before gone four successive home league games without a win but, while they will be expecting more freedom for their strikers, they are also coming up against the best defence in the country by some distance.
Man City have shipped just 13 goals in their 21 Premier League outings so far this season, and the last of those came more than a month ago on January 3.
The leaders have kept six clean sheets on the bounce since then which means that they have now kept more clean sheets than they have conceded goals this season, preventing the opposition from scoring in 14 of their 21 games.
Another one today would see them record seven successive Premier League clean sheets for the first time, but an even more impressive slice of history is also within their grasp as they look to equal the best-ever winning run for an English top-flight club across all competitions.
Guardiola has also had the luxury of being able to rotate his players in recent weeks while maintaining their winning run, meaning that his squad should be relatively fresh for an upcoming difficult spell which sees Man City face Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Everton, Arsenal, West Ham United and Manchester United in their next six Premier League games.
Man City will know from past experience that they cannot allow their gaze to drift any further than Sunday right now, though, as they look to overcome a poor Anfield record which has seen Guardiola fail to win any of his five visits across all competitions.
The Citizens have won four of their last five away games against the reigning Premier League champions, although they are winless in 14 previous meetings with Liverpool while the Reds have held the title.
The balance of power in those 14 games was vastly different to how they find it now, though, and Man City will know that victory at the home of the champions this weekend could be another important marker on their way to regaining the title.
Liverpool possible XI: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Kabak, Fabinho, Robertson, Thiago, Henderson, Wijnaldum, Salah, Firmino, Mane.
Man City possible XI: Ederson, Walker, Stones, Dias, Cancelo, Bernardo, Rodri, Gundogan, Mahrez, Jesus, Sterling.