Five Reasons Why Liverpool Need to Defeat Manchester City
In comparative terms, Liverpool are in a much greater and positive position than they were 12 months ago.
Then, under Roy Hodgson, the side was languishing in mid-table mediocrity, and a marvellous miracle was required to challenge for a Top 4 finish.
This season, the gradual progress is evident for all to see. Kenny Dalglish has remodelled the side and things are looking up. Yet the transformation remains far from complete.
With an 11-point deficit to the two Manchester sides, any hopes of a title challenge are already over. But with Chelsea, Arsenal and possibly Tottenham still within reach, there is a definite possibility that Anfield could return to Champions League football.
Tomorrow's fixture against league leaders Manchester City is therefore incredibly crucial for a variety of reasons, of which I will delve into here.
1. Liverpool Need to Keep in Touch with the Top Four
Frustratingly if Liverpool had killed the games against the likes of Norwich, Swansea and Blackburn, they would already be in a solid Top 4 position.
Instead, the vast amount of points dropped—especially at home—has meant that Liverpool are in the position of chasing rather than being chased.
And it may only take one poor result from Liverpool to cause a gap to open between themselves and the leading pack.
With Chelsea and Arsenal both away to bottom-half sides today, there is a chance that a minimum three-point gap will open before kickoff at the Etihad.
A draw in this scenario could be acceptable, with less tricky games against Stoke and Bolton to follow. A win, though, would keep Liverpool on a par with their nearest rivals, especially if either of the London sides fail to acquire all three points in their fixtures.
Newcastle United must also find a way past Manchester United, as failure to do so could afford Liverpool the opportunity to open up a seven-point gap, making the Kop's position in the top six more secure.
2. Hurt City When They Are Down
Last season, Manchester City had title hopes and began the campaign in electrifying fashion. Their credible haul of points allowed them to be considered title contenders. Yet, in the second half they faltered, with a nose dive in form meaning they just barely held on to a Top 4 finish.
This year, in the aftermath of their shocking defeat to Sunderland, City are at risk of repeating this trend. After surrendering a five-point lead over Manchester United, the Liverpool game becomes vastly more important.
Liverpool can ensure that the wheels well and truly fall off for Mancini's mean, leaving them chasing their local rivals United for the title.
After starting the season smashing in goals like there was no tomorrow, City have been massively restrained of late in front of goal. And Liverpool have shown the best defensive record in the Premiership, with Martin Skrtel a main focal point around the perfect lack of opposition goals going in.
Therefore, Liverpool need to pounce. If they ensure City are frustrated in attack—like they did with Demba Ba and Newcastle—then a moment of brilliance from the likes of Gerrard, Bellamy or Suarez could be all the is required to produce a result.
City would be left destroyed, demoralised and with a broadening level of concern, much like when Liverpool won 3-0 in last season's match at Anfield.
3. Set a Precedent for the League Cup Tie
When the final four teams in the league cup were revealed as City, Liverpool, Cardiff and Crystal Palace, one would have felt confident that, providing Liverpool drew one of the Championship sides, they would make it to the final.
As fate would have it however, they were given the toughest challenge of facing City in the semifinals.
From a neutral perspective, it makes for an exciting draw. And in the All-Premiership tie, you consequentially believe it will be the one that decides who will go on to take the trophy.
With the two-legged fixture looming, the corresponding league fixture can become an opportunity for either side to draw first blood.
Mentally, the side that can triumph in the league can move into the cup game with an advantage. They will be a position of control.
If Liverpool were to therefore deal another blow to City's league campaign, the Manchester side will be still licking their wounds and be in disarray when the cup games come into fruition. This would ring especially true if a possible victory could be emphatic.
4. Follow On From the Three Goals Against Newcastle
Whilst Liverpool have emerged as defensive front-runners, their lack of ambition and clinical finishing in front of goal has meant that they have struggled to score more than once in various games this season.
Andy Carroll appears to have constant stage fright, whilst the likes of Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam are not providing enough accuracy to cause damage.
With multiple games portraying the ease with which Liverpool take a stranglehold with possession and shots on target, it has been a massive letdown that the final touch has been lacking in precision.
Luis Suarez, for one, has subsequently become a player who has not been on the score sheet as much as he or any Kop supporter would have liked.
The game at Newcastle—and the return of skipper Steven Gerrard—could therefore be a welcome turning point.
To avoid becoming a one-man team upon his return though, the side must still become a physical and cohesive collective unit that will penetrate the opposition goal on a regular basis.
Gerrard's influence could be vital with Suarez seeking greater delivery into the box.
It is the skipper's influence on players such as Spearing, Henderson and Carroll that also becomes more important, to transform their own abilities with a helping hand from the England regular.
Then we have Craig Bellamy, who upon his return to Anfield has netted some beautiful strikes.
If Liverpool can utilise this against City and net at least a couple of goals, then a precedent can be set for future games where the same can happen.
As in most games where Liverpool's stubborn defence produces a clean sheet, a consistent run of goal-scoring fixtures will allow for easy pickings. Multiple victories and an impressive run of form can certainly be the outcome.
This will avoid games against bottom-half clubs, where a draw emerges due to the lack of either side gaining triumphant strikes in front of goal.
5. Reducing the Deficit at the Top
Liverpool will not be title contenders this season, that much is true. Yet after the rapid start that City made, if you were to say that Liverpool could find themselves only eight points behind with 18 games left, you may have received some perplexed responses.
It was generally agreed that through City's spending, their overall team ability trumped all others. They were expected to run away with the title.
Yet the opportunity for Liverpool to reduce the deficit to single figures is the one they now have. In what would be a two-finger salute for all teams to make, it would show that splashing ridiculous amounts of cash to snatch players from the grasp of competitors does not gift domination.
Liverpool did overspend on the likes of Carroll, Adam, Henderson and Downing, but no team in the league went to the magnitude that City did.
Therefore a victory over City—from a side that includes a lot more home grown talent—would be a welcome occurrence for all teams who were limited in their summer transfer spending.