Mario Balotelli Must Play If Manchester City Are to Win
After a poor performance in their 2-1 defeat to SSC Napoli in the UEFA Champions League, Manchester City will need to win at Liverpool on Sunday if they are to keep up their Premier League title-winning form.
With an almost full-strength team out against Napoli, besides Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri, City failed to show their sparkling league form, and paid for it with a damaging result which sees them needing a win against Bayern Munich to secure a place in the Champions League knockout rounds.
Here are five things Manchester City must do if they are to beat Liverpool on Sunday.
Mario Balotelli is finally showing why City decided to pay Inter Milan £24 million for his services, with the Italy striker being the team's in-form man at the moment.
The 21-year-old has been one of the most consistent goal scorers in the Premier League, scoring in five of his last seven outings, as well as in eight of his 12 appearances in all competitions this term.
Overall, he's got nine goals in 12 games, is City's most consistent goal scorer this season and goes into the Liverpool match in better form than any other City player.
Not only that, but tactically he's a perfect fit to exploit the weaknesses in the Reds defence.
While Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel and Jamie Carragher are high-quality centre-backs, they're not the most intelligent defenders and struggle with man-marking, as proven by Javier Hernandez's goal at Anfield for Manchester United.
And one thing Balotelli does better than every other Premier League player besides Hernandez is create openings in even the most congested penalty area, peeling off and drifting into gaps where he can tuck the ball home—his first goal against United at Old Trafford is a good example.
As one of the best for ditching his defenders, up against one of the worst for keeping track of strikers, Balotelli must play if City are to win at Liverpool.
The main threat to Manchester City against Liverpool is obviously Luis Suarez. Not only does the Uruguay international score goals, he sets them up, creates them and pressures defences into making them.
Suarez may have only scored four league goals this season, but the 24-year-old has on average 4.5 shots per game, makes 1.8 key passes per match, completes 2.3 dribbles per game, hits an accurate long ball per match and an accurate through-ball, and sprays around 33 passes per match.
He may technically be a forward, but Suarez's movement across the pitch makes him a typical centre-forward on the end of chances, a vital Wesley Sneijder-esque playmaker, a flashy winger and, with his 1.6 tackles won per game, a playmaking holding midfielder.
As his past performances have shown, he tends to raise his game for the big occasions, meaning he'll be at a peak athletically and mentally for this game.
Therefore, City will need to keep him quiet if they are to stop him from scoring, making an assist or starting off an eventual goal—and thus winning the game.
And the only way they can do that is have a holding midfielder be a permanent man-marker on him, as opposed to zonal marking.
So if City are to win, the likes of Nigel De Jong or Gareth Barry will have to mark Suarez out of the game.
One thing Manchester City fail to do adequately enough currently is protect their lead.
For example, in the one league game they've drawn this season, away at Fulham, they were 2-0 up thanks to Sergio Aguero, but let the lead slip and drew 2-2.
They also squandered their lead at Loftus Road against Queens Park Rangers, and often tend to soften up defensively and concede goals when they take a lead.
Against Liverpool with players like Luis Suarez, Charlie Adam, Dirk Kuyt and Steven Gerrard, who raise their game for the big occasion, if City take the lead it is vital they tighten up at the back and protect it.
And it's especially important at Anfield, because allowing the Reds back into the game, with the backing from the Kop as well, will put all the momentum in Liverpool's favour and give City a huge psychological mountain to climb.
Against a team like Liverpool who play a lot of their football on the wings, it'll be vital for Manchester City that their wingers track back.
This is something they don't do enough of at the moment, with City's wingers on average winning fewer than one tackle per game, much fewer than Liverpool's and fewer than the league average.
The likes of Adam Johnson, James Milner, Samir Nasri and David Silva don't track back as much as they should, which is alright against teams who don't have good wingers or play on the flanks, but isn't great when up against top-level opposition.
Whilst Micah Richards, Gael Clichy and Aleksandar Kolarov know how to put in a good tackle, they'll need more help from their wingers than in previous occasions if they are to score more than the opposition and stop the likes of Stewart Downing, Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez scoring or making an assist.
Whilst Manchester City have had more shots on goal than any other Premier League team, against the top sides they fail to convert their possession into shots on target.
Against Napoli midweek they had a staggering 70 percent of possession, but only managed eight shots on target, less than 50 percent of their total shots on goal.
City tend to have more possession away from home, which is one of the reasons why they've done so well this campaign, dominating in their opponents' backyard, destroying them psychologically.
However, whilst they may beat Liverpool at Anfield in terms of possession, if they are to do it in terms of the scoreline, they need to make quite a few good goal-scoring chances out of their FC Barcelona, keep-ball playing style.
Especially considering—as proved against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge—the Reds know how to take their chances, beating the Londoners 2-1 with just three shots on target.
So if Manchester City don't take their opportunities when they come, chances are Liverpool will take theirs.