Where once it used to be just another fixture in the calendar for Liverpool―when the opposition were in the top division with them that is―matches against Manchester City are now viewed as one of the most difficult of any season.
It could be easily argued that traditional powers such as the Reds have been the big losers over recent years as City’s enormous wealth has taken hold and taken them to the top of the Premier League, but whatever the issues surrounding any match between the two, the Reds know that they can’t rely on their traditions and their grandeur against City any more.
Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, David Silva and Samir Nasri are just four names on a seemingly endless list of City’s talents, but whilst they and the others simply have to be respected, they certainly can’t be feared.
It was fear which seemed to take hold of Liverpool during their last visit to Manchester when a meek first half performance allowed Manchester United to dominate the fixture last month and help establish a lead that they were never really going to give up.
Liverpool’s pressing game was absent at Old Trafford, but it returned with a vengeance in the draw at Arsenal on Wednesday night―a fixture that the Reds were superb in for an hour but just failed to see out as the Gunners stormed back to take a point.
Brendan Rodgers will now face the task of motivating his side following that result; focusing on the positives rather than on the fact that his team let two points slip away.
The Reds simply have to get into City’s faces if they are to enjoy any form of success at the Etihad Stadium. A failure to do so and Roberto Mancini's squad―still full of the most individual talents in the Premier League―can simply pick them off.
In terms of team selection, Rodgers is likely to plump for the same XI which faced Arsenal but with the returning Jose Enrique in place of the inexperienced Andre Wisdom, as Glen Johnson moves across to the right. A game of this magnitude might have come too soon for Philippe Coutinho, but his impact could well be seen coming off the bench.
And Liverpool can make an impact going forward here, regardless of City’s quality going the other way.
Should, as has been reported (Guardian), an injury keep out home captain Vincent Kompany, then Luis Suarez and former City player Daniel Sturridge will only be given more encouragement to impress upfront. Needless to say, taking chances will be crucial.
City’s mobile forwards, Aguero and Tevez, will of course be key to everything they do, and whilst the recently recalled Jamie Carragher coped well with Arsenal’s crosses into the box on Wednesday, the sight of the Argentinians pulling out wide and looking to burst into the box isn’t likely to fill him or Daniel Agger with joy.
Liverpool’s full-backs will have to be on top of their game at the Etihad, but if the impressive defensive work done by Stewart Downing, and particularly Suarez in front of them at the Emirates, is replicated then the Reds will be just fine.
Set up well defensively and the task to hurt City going forward becomes that much easier.
Jordan Henderson should be again utilised in the most attacking of the midfield positions, charging forward at every single opportunity and towards City players when they have the ball.
This game will be won by the team that feels the most comfortable with that ball, and given that it is taking place in City’s stadium, that they are the reigning champions and that they are 17 points ahead of Liverpool, then it should really be won by them.
Put the right amount of effort in, though, and the Reds can turn the tables.
It is they who are the underdogs in this fixture now, but sometimes underdogs have a pretty fierce bite.