Liverpool have no fond memories of Manchester City’s last visit to Anfield. The 4-1 loss in February left the defending champions 10 points behind the Premier League summit, allowing Pep Guardiola’s side to take control in the title race.
This time, it is Liverpool who are looking down from the top, albeit only by one point. Jurgen Klopp’s side are undefeated in the Premier League this season, but that record is sure to be proven by a team that has caused them problems like few others in recent years.
In fact, Liverpool have only won one of their last seven games against Manchester City, during which 20 goals have been scored. This Sunday’s showdown promises to be another exciting encounter.
From Liverpool’s right flank to the two penalty areas, there will be potentially crucial tactical battles taking place across the field.
TAA absent due to duel on the right wing
Liverpool will be without Trent Alexander-Arnold after the right-back sustained an adductor injury during training earlier this week.
It represents a significant blow to the team given its singular importance in the way it attacks.
The 22-year-old has already contributed two assists in the Premier League this season and ranks first among all players for opportunities created, passes to the opponent’s area and expected assists. No Liverpool player has made more passes to the last third.
Alexander-Arnold’s delivery, both from open play and in dead ball situations, is one of the team’s greatest weapons and Klopp has shaped his approach accordingly, ensuring Liverpool direct a high proportion of their attacks down their flank. .
Without him, however, the Liverpool manager will have to identify other ways to provide Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota with the service they need in the attacking third.
Alexander-Arnold’s attacking qualities were evident during Liverpool’s last meeting with City. In fact, as is often the case, most of the hosts’ most dangerous moments went through him.
At the other extreme, however, City was able to expose its defensive weaknesses.
Raheem Sterling swiftly passed him to earn his penalty, which was passed by Ilkay Gundogan in the first half, and did the same in preparation for City’s opener early in the second period.
In that sense, it could be argued that James Milner, with a more defensive mindset, while not as effective as Alexander-Arnold going forward, is a useful player to deploy in his absence.
Because while Liverpool direct the largest proportion of their attacks on the right side, City tend to favor their left, where record-breaking Jack Grealish and supporter Joao Cancelo have formed a formidable partnership this season.
Grealish endured a frustrating evening against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League on Tuesday night, but has been consistently excellent domestically.
In six Premier League appearances so far, he is far ahead of his Manchester City teammates in terms of chances created and fouls won, while also completing the most dribbles.
Assuming he maintains his place on the team on Sunday, his skill and unpredictability will test Milner severely. Even if the 35-year-old is able to keep it quiet, Cancelo will also be on the prowl.
The Portugal international is one of only three players to have played every minute for City in the Premier League so far this season, alongside Ruben Dias and Ederson, and his influence has been immense.
No City player has had more touches, made more passes in the final third or sent more crosses since open play. Also on the defensive, Cancelo has impressed. He ranks first in both tackles and game wins.
Perhaps Salah can stop him and limit his influence, but the truth is that Milner will need support in Liverpool’s defensive third. One way or another, Sunday’s game is likely to be decided by who wins the battle to Liverpool’s right.
Guardiola’s false dilemma of the nine
Guardiola’s biggest selection decision concerns who starts at the false nine position.
Ferran Torres impressed there in the opening weeks of this season, scoring two goals in City’s 5-0 win at Arsenal and earning praise from Guardiola for his “incredible” move.
But the Spaniard has been curiously absent in recent games.
There was a goal in the 6-1 win over Wycombe Wanderers in the Carabao Cup, but he was an unused substitute against Southampton and Chelsea and again against PSG.
Sterling was favored in position against Southampton and PSG, but failed to hit home with any of his four attempts against the Saints and, aside from the first-half header that hit the crossbar, he struggled to hit PSG.
Perhaps Phil Foden’s display down the middle against Chelsea hints at what’s to come on Sunday.
The 21-year-old had little chance to score at Stamford Bridge, in fact he didn’t register a single shot on goal, but he was outstanding in the same role at Anfield in February.
Foden’s performance that day was arguably his best in a Manchester City jersey, his movement between the lines causing major problems for Liverpool as he finished the game with a goal, an assist and the man of the match award.
Guardiola was not entirely satisfied, insisting afterwards that the young man did not always occupy the right positions in the first half, but there was no doubt about his importance for the victory.
If it’s not Foden lining up centrally on Sunday, however, Guardiola has other options. Bernardo Silva, Riyad Mahrez and even Kevin De Bruyne were used in the role last season, while the City boss might even be tempted to move Gabriel Jesus to the middle.
The biggest challenge for Liverpool could be dealing with that level of unpredictability.
Can the city stop evil?
Liverpool are not alone in facing a tough defensive test, of course. Manchester City are well aware of what they are up against at Anfield and Guardiola will have noticed that Liverpool’s attack has been the strongest in the Premier League so far this season.
That is largely due to Salah. The Egyptian striker has started the campaign explosively, only without finding the net in one of his eight appearances for Liverpool in all competitions, his total of five Premier League goals make him the joint top scorer.
To further underline how dangerous he has been, Salah also ranks first in shots, expected goals and touches in the opponent’s area. No player is getting into scoring positions more often, in other words. Salah is at the top of his game.
Salah has been unstoppable in Liverpool’s last three home victories over City, in the Champions League and domestically during the 2017/18 campaign and most recently in November 2019 when he scored Liverpool’s second goal in the 3-1 win.
But Guardiola mitigated his threat with far more success in the two meetings between City and Liverpool last season. Salah scored in both games, but each of those goals came from the penalty spot and accounted for his only shots on goal.
In a 1-1 draw at Etihad Stadium in November, City limited him to just 33 ball touches, his second-lowest total in any Premier League game in which he completed 90 minutes last season. During the 4-1 win at Anfield three months later, his hit count was only slightly higher at 39.
Assuming there are no selection surprises on defense, it will be up to Cancelo and left center back Aymeric Laporte to keep him quiet again this time, but the expected absence of Alexander-Arnold could also help City.
The English international has developed an excellent understanding with Salah on Liverpool’s right flank.
This season in the Premier League, he has provided his teammate with 48 passes, 10 more than anyone else.
Others will have to step up in his absence, but City will be cautious. Salah is not Liverpool’s only source of danger. There’s also the little matter of keeping Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota at a distance.
It will be fascinating to see how it unfolds.
Premier League Preview: Redknapp’s Liverpool vs Man City verdict | Will Arsenal build on the derby win? | Leicester’s slow start
Peter Smith Joins Sky sports expert Jamie Redknapp, as well as football writers Gerard Brand and Simeon Gholam, to look ahead to the Premier League weekend …
PART 1 | Jamie Redknapp explains why he thinks Liverpool will improve on their big showdown with Man City at Anfield on Sunday. The Sky Sports expert also looks at Curtis Jones’ rise and City’s threat in attack.
PART 2 | We consider whether Arsenal are now in a position to build on their big derby day win over Tottenham when they go to Brighton. And what constitutes the success of the Seagulls this season?
PART 3 | There is much praise for Conor Gallagher as we discuss Crystal Palace’s improved form and the future of the Chelsea borrower, before examining a slow start to the season from Leicester.