While you can’t win the Premier League in November, you can certainly go a long way towards losing it with the wrong result.
Two-time champions Manchester City, already facing a six-point deficit to unbeaten leaders Liverpool and without their injured top goalkeeper, look to find a way to get a result at Anfield, which has been a house of horrors for more than six decades running.
Pep Guardiola’s team overcame a larger deficit before in a shorter amount of time last term to pip Jurgen Klopp’s Merserysiders, overturning a seven-point deficit starting with a 2-1 victory Jan. 3 that was also Liverpool’s first defeat of that season in the 21st league match.
That is also Liverpool’s last loss in league play, with Klopp’s club 23-5-0 since that defeat at the Etihad.
The Reds (10-1-0) have also shown the ability to win all types of matches this term, whether they be goal-scoring binges at home or grind-out results on their road. Their lone blemish was a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford against Manchester United on Oct. 20, and Liverpool have since posted back-to-back 2-1 victories.
Manchester City (8-1-2) had a five-match winning streak in all competitions snapped with a 1-1 draw at Italian side Atalanta on Wednesday. Ederson was forced off at halftime with a thigh injury, which Guardiola confirmed would rule him out of this match, and backup Claudio Bravo was sent off in the 81st minute for a poor challenge on Josip Ilicic outside the penalty area.
Right back Kyle Walker was drafted to be between the sticks and preserved the point by stopping a low free kick in the 88th minute taken by Ruslan Malinovskyi. City need only a draw from their next match to progress to the knockout round, but it can be argued they were profligate in front of goal offensively as both Gabriel Jesus spurned one gilt-edged chance and also dragged a penalty wide.
Most of the post-match talk and Friday’s press conference ahead of this clash centered around Bravo, whom Guardiola brought to City from Barcelona before realising he was not the keeper who could land a Premier League title. The Chile international has been a capable deputy to Ederson and helped the Cityzens claim a domestic treble last season, and despite his occasional moments of manic play, Guardiola staunchly defended his No. 2.
“We have another keeper. Claudio Bravo and he can do it, too. I have every confidence in him,” Guardiola said Friday. “We won the Carabao Cup thanks to Claudio. He is an exceptional keeper and has won a lot of international games and tournaments with Chile. I have no doubts.
“Why shouldn’t I be confident with my players? Just because he doesn’t play regularly I would not like to be a player if my manager has doubts about me. I know how good a keeper he is.
Bravo’s presence in goal likely means Guardiola will field his best offensive XI. That means Sergio Aguero replaces Jesus to lead the line, though it is possible Guardiola may deploy a 4-2-3-1 as opposed to his usual 4-3-3 since central midfielder Rodri does not appear fully recovered from a hamstring injury suffered in the home win over Atalanta and David Silva is unlikely to feature with a muscle injury of his own. It is possible Guardiola can drop Bernardo Silva into a central midfield tandem with Ilkay Gundogan and pushing Phil Foden or Riyad Mahrez forward with Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne underneath Aguero.
City are already without centre back Aymeric Laporte and left back Aleksander Zinchenko as long-term injury absentees, with Laporte’s absence resulting in Fernandinho partnering with John Stones in central defence.
All this shifting and scrambling makes getting a result challenging – a win more so. Manchester City have endured little but misery at Anfield for generations, they have just two wins in their last 51 visits in all competitions (2-14-35) since winning a fifth-round replay in the 1956 FA Cup. Both were league victories, one coming on Boxing Day in 1981 and the other a 2-1 victory in May 2003 on a late brace by Nicolas Anelka.
Adding to the daunting challenge is Liverpool carrying a 45-match home unbeaten streak (35-10-0) in league play into this match dating to a 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace on April 23, 2017. The Reds are also 9-2-0 in their last 11 matches in all competitions after fending off Belgian side Genk 2-1 in Champions League play Tuesday.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s goal on 53 minutes separated the sides and kept Liverpool atop Group E with two matches remaining. The reigning European Champions need two points to secure passage to the knockout round, but anything regarding the top club competition has quickly been tuned out to focus attention on the task that has consumed Klopp for two-plus seasons running – to win a first Premier League title for Liverpool.
“For me, it’s a 100 per cent want-to-win game, 100 per cent with all I have. ‘Must win’, I never understood because that doesn’t change the chances,” Klopp said, refusing to buy into the fever pitch this match brings, at his Friday press conference. “For us, as a team, to prepare a game like this, you have to do the right things again and again and again. So knowing everything in the game, being brave, playing football, defending for your lives, all that stuff.
“We want to win and we try everything to make that happen, which is difficult enough. Then after that we will see how the situation is and use that situation. If it’s more positive than now or less positive than now, that’s how it is. The season will not stop after this.
“But we know that it’s a big one. The whole world is watching the game, I would 100 per cent, everybody I know will, so it’s a massive one. I’m really looking forward to it, but the discussions around I’m not part of.”
Klopp will have almost all hands on deck for this match, with Jordan Henderson sufficiently recovered from an illness that forced him to miss Tuesday’s win. The lone spot of contention to Liverpool’s first XI is in central defence, where Klopp must choose between Dejan Lovren and Joe Gomez to partner with Virgil Van Dijk as Joel Matip remains out through injury.
Liverpool’s big three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino have combined for 19 goals in all competitions, including 14 in league play. It is Mane who has the best haul domestically with six goals. There is a strong element of partnership in Liverpool’s offence, with 17 assists recorded on the 25 league goals – including three apiece by wide backs Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
The teams played out a turgid 0-0 draw at Anfield last term, with neither set of wide backs pushing forward all that often out of fear of having their defences opened up. That suited Guardiola just fine, and City even had a chance to steal all three points late, but Mahrez skied a penalty into the stands in the 85th minute after Van Dijk hauled down Leroy Sane.