Mar 19, 2017 at 4.30pm UK at ‚ÄčEtihad Stadium
Attendance: 54,449
Man CityManchester City
1-1
Liverpool
Aguero (69')
Toure (22'), Clichy (50'), Silva (51')
FT(HT: 0-0)
Milner (51' pen.)
Firmino (16'), Matip (43'), Mane (89')

Preview: Manchester City vs. Liverpool

Sports Mole previews Sunday's mouthwatering Premier League clash between top-four rivals Manchester City and Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium.

As the race for Champions League football intensifies, two top-four rivals will round off the final Premier League action before the international break on Sunday when Manchester City entertain Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium.

Just one place and one point separates the two sides in the table heading into the weekend, but victory either way would be a significant boost for one team and a damaging blow to the other.


Man City

Pep Guardiola watches on during the Premier League game between Manchester City and Burnley on January 2, 2017© SilverHub

If, somehow, Pep Guardiola was still not aware how big a challenge it would be to turn Manchester City into a dominant force both at home and abroad then Wednesday's Champions League exit at the hands of AS Monaco would have confirmed it.

The Spaniard walked into star-studded squads at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but his record of reaching at least the semi-finals of Europe's premier club competition in every year as a manager was still a hugely impressive one.

However, that record came to an end this week as Man City became the first team to score five times in the first leg of a Champions League tie and still crash out, with a 3-1 defeat in the second leg at the Stade Louis II sealing an away-goals exit.

Guardiola is still statistically the most successful manager in European football history over his first 100 games, but there is a lot of work to do if he is fulfil the owners' desires to see City reach the pinnacle of the club game.

Merely getting back to the top of English football may prove tough enough for a side who sit 10 points adrift of leaders Chelsea with just 11 games of the season remaining, and the number one goal for the rest of the campaign must be to secure Champions League football next term.

Silverware is still available, with City having reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup last weekend to make it 11 games unbeaten before their European exit, and that competition could prove to be a final hurrah for many players who have contributed a great deal towards helping the club become one of the big boys of English football.

Guardiola has played down reports of a mass overhaul to his squad, but he has already hinted at the future through the likes of Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus and the ageing contingent of City players - Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, Pablo Zabaleta and Bacary Sagna all included - could see their days numbered.

City are still well-placed to finish in the top four - they have a game in hand over Liverpool and any slip-up from Tottenham Hotspur against Southampton in an earlier Sunday kickoff would give them the chance to move into second - but Guardiola will be under no illusions that a more competitive title challenge is required next season.

The Citizens will welcome Liverpool to the Etihad Stadium having lost just one of their 19 home games across all competitions this season - including an ongoing run of nine without defeat - while Chelsea are the only visiting team to have won there in almost exactly a year.

However, City have failed to beat any of their fellow current top-four dwellers in the Premier League this season, picking up just one point from a possible 12 heading into a potentially season-defining three-game sequence against Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea.

Should they come through that spell relatively unscathed then it will be hard to argue with their top-four credentials, but a string of defeats in those matches would leave their season in tatters.

Recent form: DWWWWD
Recent form (all competitions): WWWDWL


Liverpool

Reds boss Jurgen Klopp appears ahead of the Premier League game between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur on February 11, 2017© SilverHub

It is a sign of the confusing and inconsistent nature of Liverpool's recent form that many fans will welcome a trip to the Etihad Stadium with a lot more optimism than a visit to a number of grounds in the darker depths of the Premier League.

Liverpool's record against their top-six rivals has been well documented and, while on its own it is not enough for them to keep up with Chelsea's relentless pace, it has at least allowed them to strengthen their hold on a top-four spot.

The Reds are unbeaten in nine games against fellow top-six opposition this season, amassing 19 points from a possible 27 in that time to establish themselves as clear leaders of that particular mini-league.

Indeed, 11 of Liverpool's last 15 Premier League points have come against their direct Champions League rivals, but defeats to the likes of Swansea City, Hull City and Leicester City - in addition to a draw with Sunderland - in that same time period have left them in the most vulnerable of those top-four places.

Champions League qualification is actually still out of Liverpool's hands considering they only hold a five-point lead over fifth-placed Arsenal despite having played two games more than the Gunners. However, Jurgen Klopp would surely prefer to have the points on the board rather than the games in hand.

Liverpool's ugly 2-1 win over Burnley last weekend would have been a thing of beauty in the eyes of most at the club as it is exactly the type of game that they have not been winning this season, and it could prove to be every bit as valuable as recent victories over Spurs and Arsenal.

If the Reds have indeed turned their form against the so-called lesser opposition around then it has come at a good time - after back-to-back games against Man City and Everton either side of the international break, Liverpool do not face another team currently in the top seven this season.

On paper, it is the easiest run-in of any of the top-six contenders and if Liverpool can also maintain their enviable record in these big games then they will be well-placed for a return to the grandest European stage next season.

That begins with Sunday's visit to the Etihad, and Liverpool have enjoyed themselves against Man City in recent years, while Klopp also boasts the record of having beaten Guardiola more times than any other manager in world football - doing so five times across all competitions.

However, Liverpool's only away win in six attempts since the turn of the year came against League Two side Plymouth Argyle at Home Park, and defeat on Sunday would see them fall to three on the bounce away from home in the league for the first time since April 2012.

Recent form: DLWLWW


Team News

Roberto Firmino in action during the Premier League game between Everton and Liverpool on December 19, 2016© SilverHub

Liverpool are hopeful of having Roberto Firmino back available after the Brazilian returned to training on Friday having sat out the win over Burnley last weekend.

Divock Origi led the line in his absence, but the Belgian is a doubt this weekend having missed training on Thursday.

Daniel Sturridge (hip) and captain Jordan Henderson (foot) remain sidelined, but defender Dejan Lovren is ready to return after five games out with a knee injury.

Philippe Coutinho has scored more goals against Man City than he has managed against any other team in the Premier League (4), while Sadio Mane struck a hat-trick against Sunday's hosts for Southampton last season.

City have no new injury concerns of their own, with long-term absentees Gabriel Jesus and Ilkay Gundogan missing out once again.

Kompany could return to the squad following a recent knee injury but is unlikely to be risked from the start, with Nicolas Otamendi expected to return to the starting XI.

Sergio Aguero has scored in all four of his previous Premier League home games against Liverpool, but is yet to find the back of the net against a team currently in the top seven this season.

Man City possible starting lineup:
Caballero; Sagna, Otamendi, Stones, Kolarov; Toure, Fernandinho, Sterling, De Bruyne, Sane; Aguero

Liverpool possible starting lineup:
Mignolet; Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner; Wijnaldum, Can, Lallana; Mane, Firmino, Coutinho


Head To Head

Liverpool have dominated this fixture in recent seasons, winning five of the last six in the Premier League including an ongoing run of four in a row for the first time since 1981.

City have failed to keep a clean sheet in each of their last 12 games against Liverpool across all competitions, winning just two of those and shipping 23 goals in the process.

The reverse fixture on New Year's Eve was a surprisingly cagey affair decided by Georginio Wijnaldum's eighth-minute header, while the corresponding match last season saw Liverpool put in one of their standout performances of the Klopp era as they raced into a 3-0 lead inside little over half an hour en route to a 4-1 triumph.


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We say: Man City 2-2 Liverpool

With the exception of the reverse meeting this season, Man City vs. Liverpool always seems to provide goals. Both defences have been criticised and both attacks lauded this season, so it would not be a surprise to see the attacking showpiece many expected at Anfield on New Year's Eve. We're going for a high-scoring draw.


Who will win Sunday's Premier League clash between Manchester City and Liverpool?

Man City
Draw
Liverpool
Man City
31.0%
Draw
19.7%
Liverpool
49.3%
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp watches on during his side's Premier League clash with Manchester United at Old Trafford on January 15, 2017
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Tables
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
1Manchester CityMan City87102942522
2Manchester UnitedMan Utd86202121920
3Tottenham HotspurSpurs85211551017
4Watford84311313015
5Chelsea8413138513
6Arsenal84131210213
7Burnley834186213
8Liverpool83411312113
9Newcastle UnitedNewcastle832398111
10Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton9324910-111
11West Bromwich AlbionWest Brom824279-210
12Southampton823379-29
13Huddersfield TownHuddersfield823359-49
14Swansea CitySwansea822458-38
15Everton8224513-88
16Stoke CityStoke8224918-98
17West Ham UnitedWest Ham9225817-98
18Leicester CityLeicester81341013-36
19Bournemouth8116412-84
20Crystal Palace8107218-163
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