Manchester City v Liverpool
Sunday 16:30, Sky Sports 1.
Match Odds: Manchester City [2.04], Liverpool [4.0], The Draw [3.8].
At the start of the season, Manchester City and Liverpool would have hoped this match would be crucial in the title fight - instead, it's only crucial in the battle for the Champions League places. The two clubs started the weekend one point apart, with the former in third, and the latter in fourth. This could be a crucial contest.
City will be looking to bounce back immediately from their hugely disappointing defeat to Monaco in midweek, although Pep Guardiola is unlikely to make major changes. Yaya Toure and Nicolas Otamendi may hope to return to beef up the side, but Guardiola will probably stick with roughly the same XI here.
David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne were fielded as central midfielders in Monaco and should play the same roles here, although De Bruyne was brought back into a holding midfield position to give City control and might find himself deployed in a similar role with Silva as more of a number 10. Liverpool haven't looked secure between the lines in recent weeks, especially because of Jordan Henderson's injury, and Silva might find plenty of space here.
Guardiola may seek to rotate one of his full-backs, too. Pablo Zabaleta should replace Bacary Sagna, although Gael Clichy may continue with Aleksandar Kolarov still, peculiarly, favoured in the centre of defence.
Jurgen Klopp will be praying that Henderson and Roberto Firmino are fit to return here - it could change the balance of his side dramatically. Henderson has anchored the midfield effectively this season, while Emre Can hasn't quite looked good enough in that role as his replacement. Can did score the winner against Burnley last weekend, though, and Klopp might want his physicality against City's dangerous midfielders, so he may be shifted forward slightly, rather than dropped, even if Henderson is fit to return.
Firmino would play the false nine role and help to press City's centre-backs. His replacement last weekend, Divock Origi, made some good movements but lacks Firmino's link up play, and makes Liverpool play slightly more obvious passes in the final third. Firmino's guile in deeper positions is especially crucial considering Coutinho's underwhelming form since his return from injury.
It feels like Guardiola will have some kind of surprise up his sleeve here - as ever, guessing the surprise is very tricky. At Monaco he returned to his system of the full-backs drifting infield in the first half, although again this didn't seem particularly effective and City were much improved after the break, when they stopped playing that way. Stretching the pitch against this Liverpool side is probably vital, to make their pressing more difficult, and to play around their midfield block.
Indeed, it feels like Manchester City might get some joy when attacking directly down the flanks. Raheem Sterling will be determined to make an impact against his old side, while Leroy Sane has been in good form recently. James Milner's form has dipped slightly after a positive opening to his left-back career, while Nathaniel Clyne is speedy might but struggle to keep up with the electric Sane.
Sergio Aguero's form has been mixed, but against Liverpool centre-backs who can be suspect in a positional sense, will look to work the channels regularly. Through-balls between full-backs and centre-backs have caused Liverpool lots of problems this season.
Both these sides are better going forward then keeping the opposition out, and therefore backing Over 2.5 goals seems an obvious shout, even at the unusually low [1.72] currently trading on the exchange.
The Betfair Trader - Alan Thompson
The Citizens put in a poor performance against Monaco and limped out of the Champions League midweek. But they can’t afford to have any hangover as they welcome top four rivals Liverpool to the Etihad. The Reds have had all week to prepare and while they have been very inconsistent of late, they are still undefeated home or away against any of the sides in the top half of the league.
Anything but a win for City would see their already feint chances of the title completely disappear and leave the club just the FA Cup aside from a top four finish to play for. Jurgen Klopp’s men are yet to win on the road this year, recording two defeats and two draws but they have won the last four league meetings against City.
City have only lost once at the Etihad this campaign and that was a 3-1 defeat to Chelsea. The only time they have failed to score was in their last game against Stoke City (0-0). When they faced other top four contenders at the Etihad - Arsenal (2-2), Chelsea (1-3) and Tottenham (2-1) - both teams scored and all three games were over 2.5 goals. Similarly, when Liverpool have travelled to the better sides - Arsenal (4-3), Tottenham (1-1), Man Utd (1-1) and Chelsea (2-1) - both teams have scored.
I think we'll see goals here and it’s no surprise that both teams to score is trading at around [1.6]. However, I will be splitting my stake backing over 3.5 goals at around [2.7] and backing over 2.5 goals at [2.0] by selecting the keep option to hopefully get matched in play.