Manchester City vs. Liverpool: The Key Battles

Philippe Coutinho (via Wikimedia Commons).
Philippe Coutinho (via Wikimedia Commons). /

Manchester City welcome Liverpool to the Etihad Stadium on Saturday afternoon as Manuel Pellegrini’s men look to take another step forward in their burgeoning Premier League title challenge.

The Citizens currently sit 1st  in the table, with a superior goal difference keeping them ahead of Arsenal, with both clubs on 26 points after 12 matches. In light of Sergio Aguero’s absence for the past few weeks Manchester City have endured slightly mixed form domestically, having accrued 11 points from a possible 18 available.

However, Man City’s form in Europe has been eye-catching; their victory away to Sevilla at the Pizjuan Stadium was illustrative of a team playing near their attacking best, despite the absence of their best player. Liverpool however are still without their captain Jordan Henderson, while although Daniel Sturridge has returned to full training this week is unlikely to play a part in Saturday’s match.

Having suffered their first defeat under the tutelage of Jurgen Klopp against Crystal Palace prior to the international break the Liverpool players will be keen to put on a good showing against the 2013/14 Premier League champions. The Reds have not won away at Manchester City in the league since the 2008/09 season when they won in a spectacular 3-2 game as they raced toward another ultimately failed title race under Rafa Benitez.

Here, Kevin Kelly picks out the key battles ahead of Saturday’s exciting match. 

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"Dreadful" Liverpool defender was shunned for being "miles off" vs Wolves /

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  • Kevin De Bruyne and Lucas Leiva

    When Kevin De Bruyne signed for Manchester City for a fee of around $54m in the summer from Wolfsburg there was many an eyebrow raised. Indeed, the Belgian had left Chelsea 18 months earlier, having been deemed surplus to requirement by Jose Mourinho. Surely Jose Mourinho, one of the best judges of a player’s ability, wouldn’t have let him leave for just £18 million if he felt he had the capability to go on be one of the most expensive players in the world?

    If any doubts lingered, then they quickly evaporated as the Belgian has been in flying form for City, showing a level of consistency which belies his tender years. De Bruyne has carried on his goal-scoring form from Wolfsburg to Man City, having this season already scored six goals in all competitions for the Citizens.

    Furthermore, he has managed four assists too, all coming in the Premier League. On average De Bruyne has managed a direct contribution to a goal in the Premier League every 92 minutes. In the absence of Silva and Aguero De Bruyne has largely lead City to victory after victory, with the likes of Yaya Toure and Sterling playing second-fiddle to the Belgian.

    What, or who to be specific, stands in De Bruyne’s path this weekend is the Brazilian Lucas Leiva. Lucas is excelling under the management of Klopp. Lucas’s career at Liverpool has been a rollercoaster of ups and downs, with this current run undoubtedly one of his high points. The defensive midfielder is showing the type of form he put in right before his knee ligament injury suffered in 2011 – often regarded as his best form of his career.

    His passing is crisp and cool, while his defensive duties are equally impressive. Lucas is averaging 5.5 tackles per game, along with two interceptions, 0.8 clearances, 1.3 dribbles and 0.3 blocks. Klopp is the fifth manager Lucas has played under at Liverpool; he is the longest-serving player in the current squad, too, having joined the Reds in the summer of 2007 as a box-to-box midfielder. He had just won the Bola de Ouro (Golden Ball) in his last season at Gremio, an annual award given to the best player in the Brazilian league, so expectations were understandably high on the Kop when Rafa Benitez signed him for £6 million.

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    Philippe Coutinho and Fernandinho

    Manchester City will be very wary of Philippe Coutinho ahead of Saturday’s match. While Coutinho is not known to score many goals, he has a history of scoring against the Citizens. Indeed, Coutinho of course scored the famous winning goal in the 3-2 at Anfield in the spring of 2014, while he scored the opener in the Etihad in December 2013. Not only that, Coutinho scored the winner against City in Anfield last season too.

    While the most goals Coutinho has scored in a league season remains at a relatively paltry seven, he has four already this season, having scored twice against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge earlier this month, the Reds’ last goal as they lost 2-1 to Crystal Palace.

    A man of quality rather than quality, but also one for the big occasion rather than your normal match, Coutinho is a dead cert to be one of the stars of the show this weekend. Coutinho will need to take on his fellow countryman Fernandinho this weekend, which goes without saying is no easy task. Fernandinho is in the best form of his Manchester City career, balancing his defensive qualities with a propensity to often get forward and support the attack.

    The former Shaktar Donetsk man is averaging 3.6 tackles, 1.8 interceptions, 1.4 clearances and 0.1 blocks per game, along with 1.1 key passes too. This week it was reported  in the Manchester Evening News that Fernandinho will be offered a lucrative new Manchester City deal after his brilliant start to the season. The Blues will open talks with the Brazilian ace’s representatives even though his current deal does not expire until 2017. In such confident form Fernandinho will surely relish the opportunity to keep Coutinho quiet this weekend.

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    Raheem Sterling and Nathaniel Clyne

    Once a great partner of the magician Philippe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling now often plays the role of supplier rather than side-star at Manchester City. It has been a mixed time for Sterling since his £50m to the blue half of Manchester, but his supreme quality remains not in doubt.

    Despite his propensity to careen between mesmerising and invisible, Sterling has – in general – played well despite the absence of Man City’s best players Sergio Aguero and David Silva in the past few weeks. Indeed, it was against Bournemouth last month when the England international took lead role for City as he scored the first hat-trick of his career as City won 5-1 on the day.

    While he once again had some fallow weeks, he was sensational in the Champions League as Man City beat Sevilla 3-1, as he scored the opening goal of the game and received a 9.91 rating from Sterling will be buoyed facing his former club this weekend, and is likely be play a key role in City winning the game: if that is, he can get the best of Nathaniel Clyne.

    Signing from Southampton in the Summer for Liverpool Clyne has been undoubtedly a fine addition to the Reds though. Focused in defence, with pace to allow for recoveries, the former Saints man has everything in his locker to play in the Liverpool backline for the next decade.

    Perhaps the issue for Clyne is actually a peculiar one – he has basically no cover at right-back, and has been expected to play nearly all of Liverpool’s games in the Capital One Cup and the Europa League. However, he has in general been superb for Liverpool, especially when the have reverted to a traditional back four. His recovery speed has been key to his success so far. He could improve offensively, but has still offered an outlet in attack at times. He will need to be at his best to keep Sterling quiet this weekend, and very much has the ability to do so.