The Big Match

City may go wide, hit long balls

Manchester City's Yaya Toure celebrates scoring their first goal.
Manchester City's Yaya Toure celebrates scoring their first goal.PHOTO: REUTERS

A cracker expected as Klopp's pressing game and Guardiola's possession provide contrast

"Unique… unstoppable… like a steamroller," Pep Guardiola was full of compliments for Jurgen Klopp's side.

Not Liverpool, however. He was speaking in 2013, admiring the German's Borussia Dortmund team.

Yet Guardiola's predecessor at Manchester City may echo those comments. Manuel Pellegrini was unable to halt Klopp's hard-running Liverpool. City were stream- rollered: not once, but twice. Klopp made them look old and tired.

Liverpool won last season's league meetings by an aggregate score of 7-1. They were too fast, too relentless. While City triumphed on penalties when they met in the League Cup final, they nevertheless go to Anfield needing to demonstrate they can counter Liverpool's pressing and pressure.

But Guardiola was victorious on four of the eight occasions when his Bayern Munich faced Klopp's Dortmund.

One ploy was to play direct football to bypass the Dortmund press. Given City's propensity to cause themselves problems by trying to play out from the back, the Spaniard may be advised to attempt that again.

He was at Anfield on Tuesday to see Stoke initially trouble Liverpool with direct football but his side have no such target men. An unorthodox thinker has decisions to make.

With Sergio Aguero available again and Kelechi Iheanacho scoring at Hull, he should at least start with a specialist striker, which he has not done in the last three games.

Yaya Toure performed the role of the deep-lying playmaker brilliantly in the 3-0 win at Hull, but Guardiola must determine if the Ivorian is too immobile to operate where the quicksilver Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino roam. Fernandinho is better equipped to shield the defence.

Liverpool's urgency and City's prioritisation of possession is one reason there is a clash of styles. Tactics will differ, even if each manager ostensibly goes for a 4-1-4-1 formation.

Klopp, who will be without the scourge of City, Philippe Coutinho, fields a narrow front three, primed to interchange in the middle.

In contrast, Guardiola likes to stretch the game. His wingers are charged with hugging the touchlines. That, in turn, may stop Liverpool's full-backs from offering the width they usually provide.

And, while each has only conceded one goal in three games, defences will be under the microscope. Four of the top six have plausible title-winning goalkeepers. The others are Liverpool, with Simon Mignolet, and City, with Claudio Bravo.

Chelsea's defensive record is almost twice as good as either Liverpool's or City's. Each has to refute the theory they have a soft underbelly.

With Liverpool's Joel Matip a major doubt and City still missing Vincent Kompany, they could both be without their best defender. Porousness could come at a cost with the loser up to nine points behind Chelsea but entertainment should be guaranteed as the top scorers clash.

The last Premier League game of 2016 (British time) has the potential to be among the best.

LIVERPOOL V MAN CITY
Singtel TV Ch102 & StarHub Ch227, tomorrow, 1.30am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 31, 2016, with the headline 'City may go wide, hit long balls'. Print Edition | Subscribe