We’ve got the big one this Thursday. City’s title hopes are on the line and Liverpool basically have the chance to seal the title before February, an unprecedented achievement. It’s arguably (not really that arguable to be honest) the game of the season so far and will likely be the most-watched league game in the world this season outside of El Clasico.
But first, let’s get into this matchweek which occurred Tuesday and Wednesday. I did not preview them because there’s this thing called New Year’s and this match on Thursday has mostly dominated my brain. So here is a quick brief on the matches.
- Wolves played an absolute stinker at home and somehow lost to Palace 2-0.
- West Ham came back from down 2-0 to steal a point at home.
- Chelsea come up short in a match where they should easily win, but credit to Southampton for the big result.
- Bournemouth and Watford played a stunner of a match with 6 goals in the first half (yeah, yeah, yeah none in the second half). At one point there was a 13 minute span with 4 goals,
Thursday, January 3rd
3:00 pm EST, NBCSN
Liverpool @ Manchester City
Let’s go through the matchups at each position, starting with manager.
Coach: Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp have battled fourteen times in their careers, with Klopp having the edge with 7 wins to 5 and two draws each. In the Premier League Klopp also has the edge with a 2-2-1 record (W-D-L) over Guardiola’s City. But the two styles vary greatly and clash when their sides play each other.
Pep plays a style which greatly relies on passing (including from the back), controlling possession and overall fluid football. More specifically at Man City, he has found success in suffocating the opponent in the attacking third by moving the ball around the box and switching fields, in turn stretching out the defense to create holes in the middle. The reason why Pep has found trouble against Klopp is due to Klopp’s contrasting style, more specifically his press.
Klopp presses in a unique fashion, picking his times to exploit the opposition and specific players he thinks he can take advantage of. Although Pep plays out the back, Klopp picks when to press which doesn’t allow the ball to go from City’s backline to the attacking third. This results in turnovers by Klopp’s opponents, often in Liverpool’s half, which creates goal-scoring opportunities and allows their front three to strike in the blink of an eye.
Although I think Pep is the better coach overall, I think Klopp has his number when they face off. I think Klopp’s style also fits this match, allowing Liverpool to press and put pressure on Man City early to throw off the flow of the game. It’s very very close but I give the slight edge to Klopp here.
Defense: Man City will likely start Walker, Laporte, Stones and Danilo at the back while Liverpool will likely start Robertson,Van Dijk, Lovren and Alexander-Arnold. Both are really solid defenses, ranking first and second in the league in goals conceded, but Liverpool have had the clear edge this season. They have yet to have a match in the league where they conceded more than one goal and have only conceded three in the last two months. All season, they’ve conceded only eight. They’ve been superb as a unit
led by their star defender Van Dijk has been world class. In his first full season at the club he has shown why he should be ranked among the best center backs in the world.
Last season City’s defense was the best in the league but they’ve had trouble gelling all season long and seem to be giving up some uncharacteristic goals. They’ve gone ten straight in all competitions and seven straight in the league without having a clean sheet. That is very worrying for City or for any club really.
Midfield: This one is even more clear than the last one. Man City’s midfield is arguably the best in the world right now and even more so when healthy. They move the ball with such ease while each one also poses a threat on all sides of the ball. With Kevin De Bruyne’s likely return from muscle soreness as well as the return of Fernandinho, they will most likely be at full force. I expect them to start Fernandinho, De Bruyne and David Silva, with Bernardo getting the nod if De Bruyne can’t go. Liverpool meawhile will be without key player and captain James Milner for the big game, limiting their midfield options. They will likely start Fabinho, Wijnaldum and Keita in the middle of the park, but the loss of Milner may force Klopp’s hand to tinker with something new.
Even if De Bruyne can’t go I still favor City’s midfield to dominate the park. They can all pass, they can dribble, they can shoot but most importantly when they can click with their front three, they’re the most dangerous in the world.
Edge: Man City.
Attack: This is where things are closer than the other two positions, but one team has the slight edge and it might not be who you think. Man City have had a dangerous front three for years now with a combination of Aguero, Sterling, Sane, Jesus. City has scored a league-high 54 goals this season with 27 of which coming from the usual suspects (Aguero, Sane, Sterling and Jesus) along with 20 assists. That is a total of 47 points generated from their front three options.
If you compare that to Liverpool’s usual suspects, Mane, Salah, Firmino and Shaqiri things get pretty tight. Those four have combined for 34 goals and just 13 assists, also adding up to 47. So you may be asking why I choose City in this one especially when the reigning player of the season, Mo Salah, is on Liverpool.
Not only have City scored 6 more goals than Liverpool this season, but their midfield puts them in better scoring positions constantly throughout the match. In addition, Pep’s football philosophy of moving the ball around and utilizing wing play puts them in great position to assist as well, making their front three more well-rounded than Liverpool’s. I will take City’s front three in this match, especially at home where they will need goals.
Edge: Man City.
So as you’ve probably noticed this one seems pretty damn even across the board with the coaching battle and the front three being almost toss-ups. City will be home in this match though giving them a huge edge in a must-win for them. If they win, they cut the gap to 4 points but if they lose it means a 10 point gap all but clinches the title for Liverpool barring a collapse. But I do like City to win as they know their entire season may be defined by this match, and they can’t give up that opportunity at home. Manchester City (-0.5, +105).