Liverpool v Manchester City Preview: 6 Key Battles to Watch at Anfield
After a 2-1 win over West Ham United last week, Liverpool head into this fixture on the back of a nine-win streak. Brendan Rodgers’ side came away from the Etihad Stadium with a controversial 1-2 loss in the reverse fixture in December.
City, on the other hand, will travel to Merseyside having notched a morale-boosting 4-1 home win over Southampton last week. The latest news, however, suggests that captain Vincent Kompany may be ruled out of the clash due to injury, which would be a real blow to the visitors (per the Mirror).
Let’s look ahead at six key battles set to take place on the Anfield pitch that will likely have a major say in where the points go.
Martin Skrtel v Sergio Aguero
First up, in the Liverpool defence, the central defensive partnership—Martin Skrtel and either Mamadou Sakho or the fit-again Daniel Agger—will have their hands full with the imminent return of Sergio Aguero.
Since his prolific goalscoring record in the first half of the season was cruelly cut short by injury, Aguero has fallen behind Yaya Toure in the City scoring charts—who knows where City would be now if it weren’t for his injury?
His opposite number, Martin Skrtel, has been enjoying a recent run of excellent form, and is the league’s joint-highest-scoring defender.
Jon Flanagan v Jesus Navas
One of the most interesting battles that will take place on Sunday is that between Jon Flanagan and Manuel Pellegrini’s choice of right-winger: Samir Nasri has been a Pellegrini favourite this season, but Jesus Navas’ pace and direct running may yet be favoured on the day.
The reason? Flanagan isn’t exactly known as the fastest full-back on the block, and Navas could have a field day running at his opposite number and putting crosses in for his strikers and onrushing midfielders.
Flanagan himself has been a picture of model professionalism and commitment to the Reds’ cause, but a testy performance at Upton Park last Sunday will mean that he will relish a return to Anfield to play in front of his local supporters.
He’ll be eager to launch into a trademark full-blooded tackle on Navas—but Nasri’s silky dribbling and tendency to drift inside will present a whole different challenge.
Steven Gerrard v Yaya Toure
In the middle of the pitch, two of the Premier League’s highest-scoring midfielders will come up against each other. Indeed, Sunday will also feature a battle between one of Europe’s erstwhile best box-to-box midfielders and arguably his finest successor.
Now that Steven Gerrard has moved back into a deep-lying holding midfielder role, we’ll have to see him influence the match with his metronomic passing and composure in the midfield, rather than his blockbuster runs into the opposing penalty box.
That job will be left to Yaya Toure, who has scored a career-best 18 league goals this season, and Gerrard’s job will be to track him and make sure he doesn't get his way.
With a Premier League title on the line, don’t be surprised if Gerrard takes the game by the reins.
Jordan Henderson v Fernandinho
Alongside the star midfielders Gerrard and Toure are two other midfield stalwarts whose unselfish and crucial contributions often go unnoticed by outsiders.
But Liverpool fans have been singing the praises of Jordan Henderson, and Brendan Rodgers, who seemed to have written off Henderson’s career at Anfield upon his arrival, will tell us that his No. 14 has been one of his best players this season.
Likewise, Fernandinho has been recognized as their most important and impressive player this season by many a City fan. His patrolling and dominance of the midfield area in support of Toure’s forward forays will be an important component of the City setup.
Luis Suarez v Pablo Zabaleta
Whether Liverpool opt for a 4-4-2 diamond or a 4-3-3, Luis Suarez’s tendency to drift in from deep and from the left means that encounters with Pablo Zabaleta will be inevitable, though he won’t be a direct opponent in terms of starting position.
As Navas or Nasri will likely be the biggest threat to the Liverpool defence by position, so Suarez will be the danger man from City’s point of view. His phenomenal goalscoring record and work rate have both won immense plaudits this season, and the City defence will have been preparing all week to minimize his threat.
Zabaleta has been one of the league’s best full-backs this season, but he’ll likely have to focus more on his defensive duties than on supporting his team going forward.
Daniel Sturridge v Martin Demichelis
Regardless of Vincent Kompany’s injury status, the free-scoring Liverpool forward line was always going to pose a significant threat to the Manchester City defence, especially to Martin Demichelis, who has been criticized for his unconvincing and inconsistent performances this season.
Having gone two successive games without a goal, Daniel Sturridge will be eager to get on the scoresheet again—having scored in the same fixture last season, he might once again prove that the old adage of players scoring against their old clubs still holds true.
Demichelis, whose importance will be even greater if Kompany does miss out, will have two of the best strikers in the Premier League to contend with. It’ll be a tough 90 minutes.