Preview: Liverpool v Manchester City
Never mind Wembley and United, tonight sees City take on a Liverpool side unbeaten at home in the League since Kenny Dalglish returned as manager. With the other top five teams all winning at the weekend, City need three points to maintain their cushion above fifth placed Tottenham and keep up the challenge for a top three finish.
One bit of good news for City last week was the likely end of Spurs’ Champions League campaign. If Spurs had won the Champions League and finished fifth in the Premier League then they would have qualified for next season’s competition ahead of the fourth placed team. Barring a miracle from Liverpool, Roberto Mancini knows that if he finishes above Spurs we will be in the Champions League for the first time, and his job ought to be secure.
All of which makes tonight’s fixture a huge one. Mancini won plaudits for his attacking line-up against a Sunderland side on a dreadful run, but a trip to Anfield is a different proposition. Barry is likely to return and provide an additional shield, preventing Liverpool’s midfield playing the ball through to Suarez on the ground.
Pablo Zabaleta is also likely to return and attempt to stop the supply line to Carroll from the flanks. It may be harsh to drop Boyata or Kolarov, but the Argentine needs to get a game under his belt before Wembley. His defensive skills will definitely be needed against the likes of Nani, Valencia and Giggs.
The return of Barry would mean either Balotelli or Johnson dropping to the bench, possibly both if Mancini opts for a more cautious approach and plays Milner on the wing. Mancini may go for Adam Johnson’s greater defensive dilligence ahead of Balotelli. The England winger is also more dangerous on the break, though Balotelli’s acceleration could cause real problems to Liverpool’s less agile defenders.
Liverpool may be forced to play centre-backs across the defence with Kyrgiakos in particular much stronger in the air than on the ground. Therefore it makes sense for City to attack on the ground through Tevez and Silva. Balotelli would again be preferable to Dzeko in this set-up.
Liverpool will also be missing Gerrard, but still pose a threat through Suarez, Carroll and Meireles. Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott will again have to be at their best. Kolarov needs to be alert to the tireless harrying of Dirk Kuyt.
Victory at Anfield has been a rarity for City in recent decades and one tonight would be a mark of how the club has improved under the new owners. To put it in a historical context, our last league double over the reds was in 1936/37!
A point wouldn’t be a disaster as we would maintain an advantage over Spurs. However it would leave us looking over our shoulders rather than ahead to the possibility of overtaking the sides above us.
Blue Days line-up (4-2-3-1):
Zabaleta – Kompany – Lescott – Kolarov
de Jong – Barry
Silva – Y Toure – Balotelli
Prediction: 2-0 to City.