MX23RW : Tuesday, March 19 06:43:27

Preview: Manchester City vs. Liverpool - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Thursday's Premier League showdown between champions Manchester City and unbeaten leaders Liverpool, including predictions, team news and lineups.

The New Year will get underway with a bang when Manchester City host Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday in the biggest game of the Premier League season so far.

Seven points separate the two sides heading into the mouth-watering showdown, with the champions sitting in third place and Liverpool still unbeaten in first.

Man City

Pep Guardiola gives orders during the Premier League game between Manchester City and Watford on December 4, 2018© Reuters

It was a 5-0 win in the corresponding fixture last season which really gave the first glimpse of how dominant City would prove to be in 2017-18, but they find themselves in the unfamiliar position of playing catch-up now.

Three defeats in the space of five Premier League games - including shock ones at the hands of Crystal Palace and Leicester City either side of Christmas - have been ruthlessly punished by Liverpool to leave the champions seven points adrift of Thursday's visitors.

Another loss in this match would leave them 10 points off the pace, which would be approaching the realms of unassailable even for this Man City team considering the form Liverpool have shown so far this season.

Pep Guardiola's side are not even Liverpool's closest challengers going into Thursday's match, with Tottenham Hotspur's victory over Cardiff City on New Year's Day lifting them back above City into second place.

Only a draw is needed to regain second from Spurs, although Guardiola will know that nothing less than a victory - which would close the gap to four points - will do in terms of their title aspirations.

City wins have been all but assured for much of the last 16 months or so, but that is far from the case in this match, with Guardiola having been beaten seven times by Jurgen Klopp teams down the years - his most against any manager.

Liverpool have been something of a bogey team for City in recent years too, and should the league leaders emerge victorious again then it would be back-to-back home defeats for City for the first time since February 2016 - and for the first time in Guardiola's managerial career.

The Spaniard is chasing his 100th win in charge of City, having chalked up number 99 with a much-needed triumph over Southampton at St Mary's on Sunday.

The return to winning ways was not entirely perfect, though, with Southampton drawing level at one stage, leaving City without a clean sheet in their last 10 outings across all competitions - their longest run since February 2015.

It may be a case of trying to outscore Liverpool rather than keep them at bay on Thursday, but regardless of how Guardiola tries to mastermind victory over a team he regards as the best in the world on current form, he knows that it could be a make-or-break contest if City are to ensure that 2019 is as spectacular as 2018 was.

Recent Premier League form: WLWLLW
Recent form (all competitions): WWWLLW


Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp on December 29, 2018© Reuters

Liverpool trailed Man City by a full 20 points after 20 games of last season, so the significance of going 10 points clear of the champions with victory on Thursday will not be lost on Klopp and his players.

The Reds are so far proving every bit as dominant as City were last term and are on course to surpass even their record 100-point haul, having dropped just six from the 60 on offer so far this term.

Man City are one of only three teams to have taken points off Liverpool so far - and things may have been different had Riyad Mahrez not blazed a late penalty over the bar in the goalless draw at Anfield in October - but the leaders have won every game since early November.

Victory in this match would be their 10th in a row in the league, and they are beginning to find their shooting boots too having netted three or more goals in six of their last eight outings.

It is the defensive record which has been most impressive, though, with Liverpool equalling the record for fewest goals conceded after 20 games of a top-flight season in England having shipped just eight.

There are a number of other record-breaking statistics which have been achieved by the Reds en route to their seven-point lead at the turn of the year, and no team has ever failed to win the title having enjoyed such an advantage at this stage.

Tottenham's win over Cardiff means that the lead will be six when they kick off at the Etihad, but Liverpool go into the match with the safety net of knowing that there is room for one slip-up, while a draw would also be a much better result for them than it would be for City.

That could be crucial considering Liverpool have only won one of their last 10 Premier League away games against other members of the top six, although their overall record on the road this season has been good.

Liverpool are just the ninth team to have reached the 20-game mark of a top-flight campaign unbeaten, and just one of those - Sheffield United in 1899-1900 - has failed to go on and win the title.

The omens are good for Klopp's side, then, but they need only look at Thursday's hosts for evidence of how quickly an all-conquering side can fall away with a couple of bad results in a row.

It is therefore crucial to avoid the January dip which has hampered them in recent years, with Liverpool having won just five of their last 17 matches in the month across all competitions.

The Reds have so far passed every test put in front of them this season, but Thursday will be their biggest one of the domestic campaign and victory would be the strongest statement yet of their title credentials.

Recent Premier League form: WWWWWW
Recent form (all competitions): WWWWWW

Team News

Kevin De Bruyne in action during the EFL Cup quarter-final game between Leicester City and Manchester City on December 18, 2018© Reuters

Kevin De Bruyne is a doubt for this match after picking up a muscle problem which ruled him out of the win over Southampton on Sunday.

Ilkay Gundogan should be fit to return from an injury issue of his own, but Guardiola may opt to stick with the midfield trio of David Silva, Bernardo Silva and Fernandinho, the latter of whom made a welcome return to the side at St Mary's.

Fabian Delph remains suspended, but the likes of Kyle Walker, John Stones and Leroy Sane are pushing for recalls after missing out against Southampton.

Sergio Aguero is expected to lead the line once more as he looks to maintain his record of scoring in all six home league games against Liverpool, and should he manage that then he would chalk up his 250th career league goal.

Liverpool are still without Joel Matip and Joe Gomez, but James Milner could be fit to return from a slight hamstring injury.

Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita are among the players hoping for a recall to the starting XI, although the form of Georginio Wijnaldum and Fabinho leaves Klopp spoilt for choice in midfield.

Roberto Firmino is fresh from scoring a hat-trick against Arsenal, while Mohamed Salah is also in fine form having both scored and assisted in each of his last three league games.

The Egyptian has a good record against City too, having scored three and assisted two more in his last four meetings.

Man City possible starting lineup:
Ederson; Walker, Stones, Laporte, Zinchenko; Bernardo, Fernandinho, Silva; Sterling, Aguero, Sane

Liverpool possible starting lineup:
Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson; Wijnaldum, Henderson; Mane, Firmino, Keita; Salah

Head To Head

Man City have won just one of their last eight meetings with Liverpool across all competitions, although that did come in the corresponding fixture last season.

However, Liverpool won on their most recent visit to the Etihad Stadium in the quarter-finals of the Champions League last season and have only lost one of their last four away games against City.

Man City did manage to break a streak of three successive defeats in this competition with the goalless draw at Anfield in October, although they missed a late penalty which would have secured all three points in that match.

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We say: Man City 1-1 Liverpool

Liverpool - more than any other team in recent years - have proved that they are capable of winning at the Etihad Stadium, so this is a match which really could go either way. It promises to be a mouth-watering contest, and we cannot separate the two sides.

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Who will win Thursday's Premier League clash between Man City and Liverpool?

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Man City
Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk celebrates scoring against Wolverhampton Wanderers on December 21, 2018
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2Manchester CityMan City30242479215874
3Tottenham HotspurSpurs30201957322561
5Manchester UnitedMan Utd30177658401858
7Wolverhampton WanderersWolves30128103836244
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