Why Manchester City Must Make Etihad Stadium Advantage Count vs. Liverpool

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Why Manchester City Must Make Etihad Stadium Advantage Count vs. Liverpool
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Manchester City's record at the Etihad Stadium in recent seasons is almost too good to be believed. If City are to repeat as Premier League champions, that incredible level of success must be extended.

Starting right now.

City went an astonishing 17-1-1 at home in league play last season. In a down year (for City) in 2012-13, they won 16 of 19 home dates. That record was good enough to get Roberto Mancini sacked. When City won the league in 2011-12, of course, they won 18 and drew once at home.

Even the dodgier mathematicians in the room will realize City have won 51 of their last 57 Premier League matches at the Etihad.

Ordinarily, that sort of success is just not sustainable. But City are not an ordinary club at home.

It is not for me to say that City and Chelsea are the two darlings of the English books where the Premier League title is concerned. OddsShark.com will tell you that City and Chelsea are essentially even-money propositions to win the league.

City manager Manuel Pellegrini, upon seeing Chelsea's schedule to begin the 2014-15 Premier League season, must have spit up his wine.

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Chelsea have yukked it up at the expense of the Premier League's weak sisters thus far.

Chelsea's entry into the league campaign could hardly have been cushier. The Blues welcomed Burnley back to the top flight at Turf Moor, then rolled out the plush carpets at Stamford Bridge for a second newly promoted side in Leicester City.

That Chelsea took six of six points from those two overmatched sides is no shock.

The next league match for Jose Mourinho's side is set for Goodison Park. Ordinarily, City could count on Everton to make things tough on Chelsea. These days, though, Everton only seem to make things hard on themselves.

Looking over Chelsea's league schedule, the only two matches in 2014 that the Blues will probably not be favored in are at City and Liverpool.

You used to be able to rely on Chelsea's trip to Old Trafford being a fierce battle but no more.

Then you look at City's schedule and wonder if maybe the Premier League's planners did everything in their power to make City's quest to repeat as arduous as possible from the very start.

Three of City's first six matches come against their fellow Champions League qualifiers, starting with Liverpool. That is not great news for City supporters.

City had the hardest league luck against Chelsea last season, losing at home and away to Mourinho's men. City split with Liverpool, but Brendan Rodgers managed two gems against Pellegrini and the Reds were almost surely robbed of a point at the Etihad when Raheem Sterling drew an erroneous offside flag.

Liverpool are not the same side without Luis Suarez, and the Citizens may have caught a break with the timing of Mario Balotelli's signing with the Reds.

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Neither Rodwell nor Balotelli will be at the Etihad for this one.

According to Andy Hunter of The Guardian: "Balotelli will not be eligible to face his former club Manchester City on Monday when the top two in the Premier League last season meet at the Etihad Stadium, although there is a chance he could attend the match."

Those who watched Balotelli as a City man undeniably know that the Italian striker would like nothing better than to score against the club that ran him out of Manchester less than two years back.

With or without Balotelli (or Suarez), Liverpool have a passel of attacking talent that projects to give City's still unsettled back line plenty to worry about.

"Responsibility for leading the line will again fall to another ex-City striker, (Daniel) Sturridge, whose winner on the opening weekend against Southampton took his Liverpool tally to an outstanding 36 goals in 50 appearances," Hunter wrote.

Sterling is another likely beneficiary of the Suarez departure, and as noted above, he has found his way behind City's defense before.

If all of that were not enough to give City fans the heebie-jeebies, Liverpool put one very firm hand on the league title the last time these two teams met. As we know, though, it takes two.

The perfectly balanced Premier League schedule assures that every team has to play every other team, home and away, and the counter to City fretting about their rough start to the schedule is that, theoretically, it will ease up later.

At least they get Liverpool and Chelsea at home early, the theory goes.

That's fine, as long as the gauntlet of villains the Citizens must pass through early in this new campaign does not put them so far behind Chelsea that City's title defense effectively ends before it starts.

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