How Manchester City Will Line Up Against Liverpool

Mark JonesFeatured ColumnistDecember 24, 2013

How Manchester City Will Line Up Against Liverpool

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    For all that they've achieved in the Premier League so far this season, Manchester City still haven't faced anyone like Luis Suarez yet.

    All eyes will be on the division's most lethal marksman and Liverpool's probable captain when the two highest scoring teams in the top-flight meet at the Etihad Stadium on Boxing Day, and with Liverpool coming into the game off the back of four straight wins in which Suarez scored a staggering 10 goals, City will be wise to be wary of the Reds.

    But their hosts have won eight of their last nine in all competitions, and boss Manuel Pellegrini will be urging them to simply play their own game against a team who have quite unexpectedly become one of their title rivals.

    Still without the injured Sergio Aguero and Pablo Zabaleta, but with the luxury of a squad strong enough to leave the likes of Jesus Navas and James Milner on the bench at Fulham last time out―with both coming on to score―City will hope that a stellar home record of eight wins of eight and 35 goals scored will be enough to see off the Reds.

    Here is the team that Pellegrini might select:

Goalkeeper: Joe Hart

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    The stopper enjoyed his first return to the Premier League fold for two months in the 4-2 win at Fulham, where neither of the hosts' goals could be put down to him.

    Pellegrini was quick to praise England's No. 1 after the game, and the Chilean confirmed that the goalkeeper will start this clash against the second most free-scoring team in the division after City themselves.

    Liverpool's Suarez has spent much of this season making goalkeepers look foolish, and so Hart knows that he'll need to be on his game to shut out one of the form players in world football right now, but one thing the 'keeper has never lacked is confidence.

    Nervous energy could come into play here as well though, and with Liverpool perhaps seeking to expose that as a way to punish City, Hart will need to be at his once reliable best.

Defence: Gael Clichy, Vincent Kompany, Martin Demichelis, Aleksandar Kolarov

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    Injuries to Pablo Zabaleta and Micah Richards led to Pellegrini playing Gael Clichy at right-back at Fulham instead of the less experienced Dedryck Boyata, and that could continue here.

    With Clichy on the right then the path is clear for Aleksandar Kolarov to continue at left-back, with Vincent Kompany and Martin Demichelis continuing their partnership in the centre.

    After his eventful time against Fulham―where he put City 2-0 up only to later score the hosts' equaliser with a freak own goal―captain Kompany will be heading City's attempts to deal with Suarez, who will thrive on any space given to him by the home back line.

    Perhaps sensing that he won't get much change out of Kompany―who has handled him well before―Suarez might even be seen drifting onto his fellow South American Demichelis, whose lack of pace could cost him in the matchup.

    Positioning will be key for City then, with the full-backs required to get forward as often as possible to help support the attack.

    Kolarov, as the only one of the pair playing on his natural side, will take on an increased importance here. 

     

     

Midfield: Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri, David Silva

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    Both Navas and Milner helped turn the game for City when they came on at Fulham, but their manager might be wise to stick with the same midfield that started the game at Craven Cottage.

    Fernandinho will seek to control things in a central area which is likely to feature his compatriot Lucas Leiva, whilst Yaya Toure―who has scored against Liverpool in each of the last two seasons―will hope that his physical power can help overcome the likes of Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson, who have been impressive for the Reds in recent weeks.

    When Liverpool lost 2-0 at Arsenal earlier this season, it was the movement of the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil which overwhelmed them in midfield, and so David Silva and Samir Nasri will be key players for City as they seek to achieve a similar result, although a 2-0 home win is a little low-scoring by City's standards.

    Nasri and Silva were both substituted before the end of the Fulham win, but both should feature throughout this contest in which they, along with the striding pace and power of Toure, arguably hold the key.

     

     

     

Attack: Edin Dzeko, Alvaro Negredo

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    Edin Dzeko opened the scoring in this fixture last season, and whilst that alone isn't enough to make a case for him to start again, Pellegrini should keep faith with the Bosnian despite hauling him off less than an hour into the Fulham game.

    The reason for his inclusion is of course down to the injury suffered by Sergio Aguero―the scorer of City's equaliser as this match finished 2-2 last season―and whilst his movement and freescoring ability would be missed by any side (except perhaps a Suarez-led Liverpool) the front two can still work in his absence.

    Without him, Dzeko and partner Alvaro Negredo must be constantly looking to move and get in behind the visiting defence, as simply playing a physical game against Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho is likely to play straight into the Liverpool pair's hands.

    Had he been fully fit then perhaps this would have been a perfect game for Stevan Jovetic―who once scored twice against the Reds in the Champions League when at Fiorentina―but Negredo is always looking to get on the shoulder of the last defender, and if he can do that then the onus will be on his teammates to find him.

How They'll Line Up

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    So despite the impacts from the bench of Navas and Milner last weekend, it should be "as you were" for City when they take on the Reds on Boxing Day.

    This clash already has the feeling of a titanic tussle to it, but City have been no respecters of reputations at home this season.

    Pellegrini and his players will be confident of delivering another emphatic win on their home turf, with the midfield axis of Fernandinho and Toure feeling particularly important to their hopes of doing that again here.

    Liverpool might target Clichy in his unfamiliar position of right-back, where he is likely to come up against Philippe Coutinho, whilst in Suarez they of course have a player gifted enough to shoot down even the strongest of opposition.

    Handle him well, and there is every chance that this City side could be well on the way to one of their more significant victories of the season though.