City hosts Liverpool on Thursday January 3rd and it’s the one game I know Pep will want after such a difficult ran in December. A victory for City will cut Liverpool’s lead to 4 and a defeat will leave the defending champions 10 points behind the challengers with 17 games to go. On team news, KDB faces a late fitness test. Ilkay is cleared to play. Mendy and Bravo are still recovering and Delph got a straight red against Leicester so he remains suspended.
If City had Mendy I would have suggested a 3-4-1-2, repeating last year’s system which got City a 5-0 win at the Etihad. Without Mendy, 3 center-backs will not help much, making the team more conservative than necessary. For a game that City needs to win, a 4-3-3 will be ideal; GK-Ederson, RB-Walker, LB-Danilo, RCB-Kompany, LCB-Laporte, CDM-Fernandinho, RM-KDB, LM-D. Silva, LW-Sane, RW-Sterling, CF-Aguero.
Liverpool created a lot of problems for City last season, and they are even better this season so this will be a very difficult game. Klopp now plays Salah on top with Fermino behind in a 4-2-3-1 setup to make room for Shaqiri on the flanks and we saw what that did to Arsenal (Robertson stands out for me as the best LB in the league by the way.) To defeat Liverpool City must do the following;
- Be impeccable with keeping the ball, especially in the defensive half. Liverpool has demonstrated time and again that one bad pass or a bad ball control in the defensive half and you’ll be picking the ball up from your net. City cannot afford to make those Anfield mistakes of last season. I don’t expect Klopp to be aggressive with pressing in the final third like they did last season, as the first meeting at Anfield (which ended 0-0) this season showed. City should be comfortable on the ball and keep possession with zero room for error.
- Sane should stay wide, Sterling should come in, Danilo should invert and Walker must overlap (as shown in the lineup image above). Danilo is comfortable with both feet so playing as an inverted fullback shouldn’t be a problem. My only challenge here is how productive Walker will be in attack if he overlaps; he’s shown that crossing the ball is not one of his qualities, but then if he overlaps, that prevents Robertson from getting forward to send in his good crosses.
- City needs Aguero to continue his scoring form against Liverpool. Aguero hasn’t been sharp after his injury but he managed to get onto Zinchenko’s cross when City played Southampton after failing to score from 6 yards out. Aguero is on a 6-game home scoring run against Liverpool and the city fans need that to continue tomorrow.
- Pep should tell his players to play with courage. Klopp has always been Pep’s greatest challenge and this will present an opportunity to encourage his players to be courageous. The confidence with which he will set up his team will be key; the moment the players feel he’s not sure of anything he’s asking them to do will be the beginning of another defeat. His plan-b will be very key; if he anticipates that Salah will play upfront and he doesn’t, a different system should take care of Salah playing out wide seamlessly.
This is a game City cannot afford to lose if they’re to retain their title this season. I predict a City win, but it will be a closely contested game. City might just keep a clean sheet to everyone’s surprise. My last coin is on City 2-0 Liverpool.