Liverpool vs. Manchester City: Complete Player-by-Player Breakdown

Rob Pollard@@RobPollard_Featured ColumnistMarch 1, 2016

Liverpool vs. Manchester City: Complete Player-by-Player Breakdown

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    Just three days after their energy-sapping League Cup final at Wembley, Liverpool and Manchester City meet again, this time at Anfield in the Premier League.

    Liverpool will want revenge after City’s penalty shoot-out win on Sunday saw them lift the season’s first trophy. City, who have been horribly inconsistent for much of the campaign, are hoping to finally go on a run of positive results in the Premier League.

    Manuel Pellegrini's side sit fourth in the table, nine points off leaders Leicester City with a game in hand. They have 12 games remaining to make up the deficit—not an impossible task, but chasing three sides, rather than one, as they have done in the past, is far from easy.

    Anfield is City’s bogey ground. They haven’t won their since 2003 and it’s the only Premier League ground they have won at since the takeover in 2008. If they can end that hoodoo just in the same week they have beaten Dynamo Kiev and won the League Cup, a run of improved form looks on the cards.

    For Liverpool, they’re undoubtedly in transition, and only when Jurgen Klopp, a superb manager, has had a summer transfer window to begin shaping the squad in his own image, will we see them develop properly.

    He's doing what he can with a squad of players left by Brendan Rodgers that lacks quality. But Klopp's brilliance and force of personality means Liverpool's future is surely bright.

    It'll be a fascinating game. City need the points to keep themselves in the title hunt. Liverpool, who are ninth in the table, need to start moving upwards towards the European places.

    Here we take a look a closer look at the 22 players likely to start on Wednesday.

Goalkeeeper: Simon Mignolet

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    Liverpool ‘keeper Simon Mignolet has his critics. He’s clearly talented, but he doesn’t command his area well enough and is liable to an error.

    Take the League Cup final as an example. He made some superb stops, including a one-handed save to push Sergio Aguero’s first-half curler onto the post, yet allowed Fernandinho’s shot slip under his body for City’s opener. The Brazilian struck the ball hard and early, but Mignolet should have done much better.

    That game was a microcosm of his time as a Liverpool player—some excellent moments undone by a lack of quality.

    He was given a new contract recently, much to the surprise of the Liverpool fans who feel they need a stronger option if they are to fulfill their ambitions.

    He's a weakness.

Right-Back: Nathaniel Clyne

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    Tim Ireland/Associated Press

    Liverpool's 24-year-old right-back Nathaniel Clyne has done well since his move from Southampton, making the role his own.

    He gets froward to good effect, with his stamina and energy meaning he's always on hand to contribute to attacks, but he needs to work on his deliveries.

    He's an excellent tackler who can play neat, short passes, but there are plenty of improvements he can make to his game.

    Under Klopp, a manager whose attention to detail means players very often develop under his tutelage, he should see his game improve.

    He'll be up against Raheem Sterling on Wednesday. The former Liverpool wideman may have missed a couple of chances in the final, but he also gave Clyne plenty to think about.

    It'll be a key battle again on Wednesday.

Centre-Back: Lucas Leiva

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    Playing in an unfamiliar role at centre-back is Lucas Leiva, one of Liverpool's longest-serving players.

    He's a defensive midfielder by trade, but injuries mean he is likely to be asked to play in defence again.

    Lucas lacks pace, but he reads the game well and is capable of operating at centre-half in emergencies. It isn't ideal, but he can do a job.

    But a lack of mobility plays into Sergio Aguero's hands. The Argentine striker has pace to burn and his low centre of gravity allows him to turn swiftly. It'll be a problem for Lucas.

    The Brazilian is also ill-disciplined. He recklessly fouled Aguero in the final, somehow escaping a yellow card. He'll need to keep his composure in this one.

    He's has been a good servant to Liverpool, but his best days are behind him, and playing at the heart of the defence means City can target him.

Centre-Back: Kolo Toure

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    With Mamadou Sakho unlikely to be risked after coming off early in the League Cup final, Kolo Toure, the former City man, is set to deputise.

    There's a rashness to Toure's game that imply won't go away. He makes daft decisions and is pulled out of position far too easily. At some point in the 90 minutes, he gives the opposition a chance with an error or a loss of concentration. It feels inevitable.

    Yet he is a player who possesses natural athleticism. He's quick, strong and has a superb leap. There have been periods on his career where he's looked genuinely top class.

    But as he has got older, the cracks in his game have become all too obvious. He's an excellent pro, dedicated and hard working, but there are holes in his game that can be exploited.

Left-Back: Alberto Moreno

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    Another Liverpool defender who lacks defensive nous, Alberto Moreno should be targeted.

    Clearly, he is a talented footballer, comfortable in possession and gifted going forward.

    Yet, too often, his positional ill-discipline undermines his quality. He drifts forward, seemingly unaware of what's behind him. He leaves space that decent players can exploit.

    Jesus Navas could play against him on Wednesday, a player whose pace and energy in behind will cause Moreno problems.

    Moreno is much better going forward when he doesn't have to worry about what's going on towards his own goal. Unfortunately, a left-back needs to be able to defend.

    He is too easy to play against.

Defensive Midfied: Emre Can

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    Emre Can is nowhere near the finished article just yet. He's a very good player, but this is a man with the ability to be one of the most complete midfielders around.

    He plays a deep-lying position, yet he isn't restricted to a Makalele-style role. He can play, moves well and looks to influence the game in myriad ways.

    He needs close attention. 

Defensive Midfield: Jordan Henderson

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    Jordan Henderson is a hugely influential player in this Liverpool side.

    He struggled initially after moving to Anfield from Sunderland in 2011.

    The 25-year-old has really grown since his switch, adding extra elements to his. He can pass, tackle and influence things in the final third. His cureler into the top corner against City last season was a case in point.

    "A world-class gem..!"

    Will @LFC reproduce more of this when Man City visit Anfield? #LIVMCIhttps://t.co/31p1UmzIWx

    — Premier League (@premierleague) March 1, 2016

    His best season came when Liverpool finished second in 2014, but he remains a vital player. 

Attacking Midfield: James Milner

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    James Milner left City this summer to join Liverpool on a free transfer. The plan was to play central-midfield regularly, the position he sees as his best. So far, the move hasn't worled out in the way he would have liked.

    Rodgers played in centrally, but Klopp has deployed him far more often in wide areas. It must be frustrating for Milner, who was wanted at City, a place where trophies and Champions League football were on offer.

    The Liverpool supporters are yet to take to him in the way the City fans did. He was adored at the Etihad for his positional flexibility and sheer hard work.

    It is perhaps his lack of technical quality that Reds fans see as his most obvious limitation. He possesses quality but lack finesses, and, so far, he's yet to find his best form.

    He is an excellent player, though, and in time he is likely to show just how valuable he can be.

Attacking Midfield: Roberto Firmino

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    Jon Super/Associated Press

    There have been flashes of real quality, but, as yet, Roberto Firmino hasn't been at his best since his summer move from Hoffenheim.

    He's struggled for goals, scoring just six in 17 league games and hasn't nailed down a definite role in the side.

    Occasionally he's been brilliant, but mostly he's underwhelmed. New imports often take some time to settle. Perhaps Firmino will show his best next season. 

    City need to be aware of his quality, though. 

Attacking Midfielder: Philippe Coutinho

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    Liverpool's best player and biggest threat at present is Philippe Coutinho, a creative midfielder whose artistry has been the undoing of plenty of sides this season. 

    He has a wonderful touch and feel for the game, and his vision allows him to pick passes others can't see. 

    He scored against City at Wembley, his seventh of the season in all competitions, and he is the main dangerman in Klopp's side. 

    Stopping him is difficult. Like David Silva in the City side, he floats around the pitch, occupying spaces between the lines that makes life hard for defenders. 

    Keep him quiet, though, and Liverpool's main supply line is nulified. 

Striker: Daniel Sturridge

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    Injuries have held Daniel Sturridge back again this season, but this a player with a huge amount of talent. 

    He needs to stay fit and play regularly if he wants to find his best form, but his quick feet, his touch and his goalscoring ability are a huge danger.

    He may not be at his sharpest, and playing two games in three days is a big ask, but Sturridge is a nightmare to play against. 

Goalkeeper: Joe Hart

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    Joe Hart has been arguably City's most consistent performer this season.

    His superiority over Willy Caballero is clear, and despite the Argentine's heroics at Wembley, Hart will quite rightly return to the starting line up now that the Premier League has resumed.

    His distribution remains an issue, but his shot stopping and command of his area are better than they've ever been.

    Poor form in the past raised question mark sover his ability, but he's shown over a sustained period that he is now one of the top 'keepers in Europe.

    City's longest-serving player and one with a genuine connection to the fans and club, he's firmly established as once the Blues' most vital performers.

Right-Back: Pablo Zabaleta

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    Full-back is a role that expends plenty of enrergy, and Pellegrini likes to rotate to ensure freshness throughout the season.

    Bacary Sagna looks to be first-choice at present, but given he has started City's last two games, Pablo Zabaleta is expected to play at Anfield.

    At 31, his best days are behind him. He's struggled at times this season. It's been injury-affected and difficult. 

    But he remains a player capable of performing well. He gets forward superbly when he's well rested, and defensively he's always been solid. 

    He won't let anyone down. 

Centre-Back: Vincent Kompany

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    How can one player make such a difference? Vincent Kompany's return to the side has given City a far stronger, more assured look.

    The Belgian is the leader of this City team whose presence makes everyone else more confident.

    Since returning to the side in recent weeks having been absent since Boxing Day, he's looked right back to his very best.

    Composed, strong and athletic, Kompany is the complete defender. His leadership and organisation is also key. 

    Keep him fit, and City's title chances increase daramatically. 

Centre-Back: Nicolas Otamendi

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    With Kompany alongside him, many of Nicolas Otamendi's excesses are curbed.

    He can be reckless and overeager, but playing with the Belgian brings the best out of him. He's looked more measured and accomplished in recent games. 

    His display in Kiev was up their with his best for the club. City, for once, look stable at the back. 

    It's a partnership with real potential. 

Left-Back: Aleksandar Kolarov

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    Gale Clichy is the man in form and possession of the left-back spot, but given he played at Wembley, Aleksandar Kolarov could well be drafted in for this one. 

    He is less mobile and less comfortable on the ball than Clichy, but he brings quality deliveries to the table. Few players in the league can whip a ball in like Kolarov.

    Where he will survive into the Guardiola era is in doubt. He is a limited full-back whose best days are behind him. 

    Defensively, he is weak, and Liverpool will definitely look to target him. 

Defensive Midfield: Fernando

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    Fernando is a limited player, who struggles to move well. However, in a squad that has a dearth of out-and-out defensive midfielder, he's emerging as a key player. 

    His protection is vital. When he plays, he screens the back four, rarely venturing forward. It gives other, more dynamic players the freedom to express themselves. 

    Technically, he has limitations and he isn't the most invetive player, but he plays an important role in the side. 

Defensive Midfield: Fernandinho

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    Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

    Fernandinho has played the last two games on the right, but he will return to the centre for this game at Anfield. 

    He's been one of City's top players throughout the campaign, a box-to-box midfielder who brings energy and quality to proceedings. 

    He attacks and defends and has an engine few in the City squad can match. 

    He's vital and undroppable. 

Attacking-Midfield: Jesus Navas

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    Jesus Navas has his critics, but he's winning them over this season with some excellent displays. 

    He brings pace and directness to the City side, and has therefore become their go-to player from the bench when Plan A is failing. 

    However, with Toure a doubt, he could come in on the right and give Moreno a headache. 

    His crossing holds him back, but his pace and energy have consistently caused sides problems this season. 

Attacking-Midfield: David Silva

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    It's been David Silva's most difficult run of form, but the last seven days suggest he's emerging from the downturn. 

    For a couple of months, he's been struggling, barely impacting games and certainly not running them like he normally does. 

    But City's two victories last week saw him play superbly. He wanted the ball and made things happen, orchestrating City's attacks. 

    That will be a huge relief to Pellegrini who needs his best player performing well. 

Attacking-Midfield: Raheem Sterling

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    Pellegrini took the rare step in his press conference on Tuesday of confirming one player who will be in the starting line up. 

    PELLEGRINI: “I don’t know what will be the staring XI. One player who I’m sure will start is Raheem Sterling.” #mcfc

    — Manchester City FC (@MCFC) March 1, 2016

    Raheem Sterling can expect a difficult reception. He was booed incessantly on Sunday. This, at Anfield, will be worse. 

    But he can handle it. This is a focused player who wants to become the best.

    The signs are he can manage it. He's not been perfect since moving to City, but he has shown more than enough to suggest he will go to become a great player for the club. 

Striker: Sergio Aguero

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    Sergio Aguero guaranetess goals. He has 17 in 24 matches this season, despite suffering numerous injuries. 

    Right now, he's fully fit and flying. He looks sharp and hungry for goals. Keeping him quiet is proving difficult for defenders. 

    Given Liverpool's problems at back, the last thing they want is to have to face the Premier League's best striker. 

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