Liverpool and Manchester City clash at Anfield on Sunday in what could be a season-defining fixture, writes Stephen Tudor.
Liverpool and Man City top the pile for passes this season, putting together a combined 7054 so far. They have also committed the most shots in the Premier League, with 256 fired off between them before September was even out.
Not unrelated to the stats above, Jurgen Klopp’s mighty Reds and Pep Guardiola’s brilliant Blues have been the best two teams in the top-flight to date, a claim that would not have been wholly accurate until last weekend when Chelsea failed to land a glove on a title rival and had their attacking limitations exposed.
Indeed, these two extraordinary creations have dominated the English footballing landscape for several years now with a magnificent season-long scrap in 2018/19 that went to the final day still fresh in the memory.
Following that tremendous and sustained tussle, City took some time out to be merely very good, with Liverpool doing likewise a season later, but all the signs are there that both teams have sufficiently rebooted themselves this term to potentially put on a repeat showing from three years ago. It has been a blistering opening stretch to their respective campaigns and it’s not inconceivable that recent history is beginning to repeat itself.
If so, we should all strap in and enjoy the ride, starting with the reigning champions heading to Anfield on Sunday for what will surely be one of the defining fixtures of 2021/22.
Whether at Anfield or the Etihad it is a fixture that usually produces goals. In their last 10 meetings we’ve been served up 3.3 per game so over 2.5 total goals at -143 is a decent inclusion in any bet builder.
Are Liverpool's front three the most deadly trio ever in the Premier League history?
Salah – 102 ⚽ 36 🎯
Firmino – 67 ⚽ 42 🎯
Mane – 98 ⚽ 36 🎯
— TEAMtalk (@TEAMtalk) September 26, 2021
It was during Liverpool’s sabbatical from excellence last season that City ended their 18-year Anfield hex, comprehensively winning 4-1, and it feels somewhat unfair to point out that the hosts’ monstrous mentality had recently been made ordinary from defeats to Brighton, Burnley and others because Guardiola’s side were superb that afternoon.
Still, this wasn’t the ravenous Reds who had deconstructed City in previous seasons and pertinently too, it was a game played out in an empty stadium with the fiery environs of Anfield often proving pivotal in meetings past. They will be back at the weekend though; those fifty-plus thousand fans, relentlessly urging their formidable front-line to string together another attacking blitz that has plenty of prior for shaking City to their foundations.
If we are to believe this season might mirror 2018/19 then referring to the scoreline from that year seems logical. Liverpool are +1800 win out 3-1 this weekend.
Again though, this feels more than a touch unjust, especially when it’s acknowledged that the present-day City rearguard is made of significantly more substance than their 2018/19 counterparts. That year, the quadruple-winning Blues conceded a meagre 23 goals in the league and kept clean sheets in 20 of their games, both of which are figures that greatly impress. Yet for all that parsimony, it was felt at the time and felt in hindsight that such figures largely derived from City’s dominance; it was felt they could be ‘got at’, even crumble under duress.
That is no longer the case, not with Ruben Dias at the helm, a player and leader who has accrued staggering individual numbers since making his debut just shy of 12 months ago. In the 38 Premier League games the Portuguese centre-back has been involved in, City have conceded just 22 times, while last term they kept clean sheets in 52% of their contests across all competitions. This season they have restricted Chelsea, Southampton, Leicester, Arsenal and Norwich to just three shots on target combined and, as evidenced in their defensive masterclass at Stamford Bridge last week, this is not a backline that relies on last-ditch tackles and panicked clearances: they are a highly-organised unit that cuts danger off at source.
All of which presents us with a fascinating proposition because this will be the first occasion when a peak City defence has encountered a Liverpool offensive at their best. And make no mistake about it, Salah and co are back to their best.
14 – Liverpool
13 – Man City, Chelsea, Man Utd, Everton
One point separates the top five in the Premier League. 🍿 pic.twitter.com/PtxKJ8mI9D
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) September 25, 2021
Between them, Sadio Mane and Mo Salah have taken on 50 shots this term in the league alone, and the latter’s prolificacy is beginning to have echoes of his amazing debut campaign in the north-west, when the Egyptian scored 44 in 52 appearances. Only Burnley so far have escaped his deadly aim and his 71% shot accuracy is bettered only by Romelu Lukaku and Watford’s Ismaila Sarr among his contemporaries. He boasts a one-in-two strike-rate from the 12 occasions he has faced City.
The 29-year-old is +155 to score anytime against Guardiola’s men.
As encouraging for Klopp as witnessing his front-three firing on all cylinders once again is that goals are now arriving from midfield. Already Naby Keita, Fabinho and Curtis Jones have chipped in with strikes and a lack of auxiliary goals was particularly costly to the Merseysiders last term. If that issue has been addressed it augments the belief they can sustain a title challenge come May.
By way of comparison meanwhile, City have no such concerns. Minus their arch-poacher Sergio Aguero, this is a team that have learned – and learned well – to share around the glory, with 14 different players getting on the scoresheet even at this early juncture.
Should the visitors again emerge victorious from a ground they used to fear it will be quite a statement. Should Liverpool put them to the sword however, it will strengthen the hope that this engaging and entertaining duopoly is back up and running.
Just don’t expect an early onslaught from either side. City will almost certainly look to keep things tight and exert more control as the game progresses. As for Liverpool they have only converted once inside 20 minutes in their opening six games.
Klopp’s revived Reds are +205 to win the second half of this autumnal six-pointer.