TheBigMatch

Football: City need to solve Reds' problem

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola during the press conference on March 14, 2017.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola during the press conference on March 14, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

They have struggled in recent times against Liverpool, who boast big-game pedigree

The Premier League standings offer an illusion of comfort. Manchester City and Liverpool can look opposites - Pep Guardiola's team beating their inferiors, Jurgen Klopp's reaching their best against the best. But they are neighbours in the table, seemingly safe in the top four.

Except that Liverpool have played two more games than their closest challengers, Arsenal and Manchester United. And that City's next three games pit them against Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea. The losers at the Etihad Stadium tomorrow may feel they are in a precarious position.

In different ways, each has to illustrate that form is temporary and class permanent. City had gone unbeaten for two months before crashing out of the Champions League with defeat by Monaco. Liverpool's record this year is wretched, but their results against top-seven sides are excellent.

Indeed, their four best performances of the calendar year have come against their peers, draws with Manchester United and Chelsea being followed by wins against Tottenham and Arsenal. Yet they were mediocre and stripped of fluency in beating Burnley last week.

Relying on their big-game pedigree is dangerous, especially as their resident big-game player, Philippe Coutinho, was so ineffectual against the Clarets that he was replaced by 17-year-old Ben Woodburn. But the Brazilian has scored five times against City. They tend to be his favourite opponents.

They tend to be Liverpool's, too. City won the League Cup at the Reds' expense last season but Klopp has a hat-trick of league victories to his name and, if his side only won 1-0 on New Year's Eve, the previous triumphs were emphatic.

They conform to a wider trend: Much as Guardiola wants City to press and play at pace, their last seven league meetings with teams managed by Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino have produced a solitary point.

 

They need to show they will not be hassled and harried to distraction and into defeat again by younger, faster opponents.

Guardiola may feel he can profit by fielding his in-form, electric wingers Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling high up the field, looking to exploit the space behind Liverpool's full-backs. After belatedly correcting problems against Monaco by moving Kevin de Bruyne into a deeper role, he must decide to start with two more defensive midfielders, which could involve recalling Yaya Toure, to stop Liverpool swarming around the edge of the penalty area.

For Klopp, much rests on Ragnar Klavan, assuming Dejan Lovren is not passed fit to start. While the Estonian played well against City in December, he can be inconsistent. That could be costly, as Sergio Aguero has found the net in each of his four home league games against Liverpool.

Another goal would help City show there is no psychological blow from their European exit. But, one way or another, someone's Champions League dream will be dented tomorrow.

MANCHESTER CITY V LIVERPOOL

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2017, with the headline 'City need to solve reds problem'. Print Edition | Subscribe