Liverpool do not have fond memories of Manchester City’s last visit to Anfield. The 4-1 defeat in February left the defending champions 10 points off the Premier League summit, allowing Pep Guardiola’s side to seize control in the title race.
This time, it is Liverpool who are looking down from the top – albeit only by a point. Jurgen Klopp’s team are undefeated in the Premier League this season but that record is sure to be tested by a side who have caused them problems like few others in recent years.
In fact, Liverpool have only won one of their last seven games against Manchester City, during which there have been 20 goals scored. This Sunday’s showdown promises to be another thrilling encounter.
From Liverpool’s right flank to the two penalty boxes, there will be potentially pivotal tactical battles taking place all over the pitch.
TAA absent for right-sided duel
Liverpool will be without Trent Alexander-Arnold after the right-back suffered an adductor injury during training earlier this week.
It represents a significant blow to the team given his unique importance to the way in which they attack.
The 22-year-old has already contributed two assists in the Premier League this season and ranks top among all players for chances created, passes into the opposition box and expected assists. No Liverpool player has made more passes into the final third.
Alexander-Arnold’s delivery, both from open play and dead-ball situations, is one of the side’s biggest weapons and Klopp has configured his approach accordingly, ensuring Liverpool direct a high proportion of their attacks down his flank.
Without him, however, the Liverpool manager will need to identify other ways of supplying Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota with the service they need in the attacking third.
Alexander-Arnold’s attacking qualities were apparent during Liverpool’s last meeting with City. In fact, as is so often the case, most of the hosts’ most dangerous moments went through him.
At the other end, though, City were able to expose his defensive frailties.
Raheem Sterling breezed past him to win his penalty, which was blazed over by Ilkay Gundogan in the first half, and he did the same in the build-up to City’s opener early in the second period.
In that sense, it could be argued the more defensively-minded James Milner, although not anything like as effective as Alexander-Arnold going forward, is a useful player to deploy in his absence.
Because while Liverpool direct the highest proportion of their attacks down their right side, City tend to favor their left, where record-signing Jack Grealish and the supporting Joao Cancelo have formed a formidable partnership this season.
Grealish endured a frustrating evening against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League on Tuesday evening but he has been consistently excellent domestically.
Across six Premier League appearances so far, he is way out in front of his Manchester City team-mates in terms of chances created and fouls won, while he has also completed the most dribbles.
Assuming he keeps his place in the side on Sunday, his skill and unpredictability will severely test Milner. Even if the 35-year-old is able to keep him quiet, Canelo will be lurking too.
The Portugal international is one of only three players to have played every minute for City in the Premier League so far this season, along with Ruben Dias and Ederson, and his influence has been immense.
No City player has had more touches, made more passes into the final third or sent in more crosses from open play. Defensively, too, Canelo has impressed. He ranks top for both tackles and duels won.
Perhaps Salah will be able to pin him back and limit his influence but what is certain is that Milner will need support in Liverpool’s defensive third. One way or the other, Sunday’s game is likely to be decided by who wins the battle on Liverpool’s right.
Guardiola’s false nine dilemma
Guardiola’s biggest selection decision concerns who starts in the false nine position.
Ferran Torres impressed there in the early weeks of this season, scoring twice in City’s 5-0 thrashing of Arsenal and earning praise from Guardiola for his “incredible” movement.
But the Spaniard has been curiously absent in recent games.
There was a goal in the 6-1 win over Wycombe Wanderers in the Carabao Cup but he was an unused substitute against Southampton and Chelsea and again against PSG.
Sterling was favored in the position against Southampton and PSG but failed to hit the target with any of his four attempts against Saints and, aside from the first-half header which struck the bar, struggled to make an impact against PSG.
Perhaps Phil Foden’s deployment through the middle against Chelsea hints at what’s to come on Sunday.
The 21-year-old had few scoring opportunities at Stamford Bridge – in fact he did not register a single shot on goal – but was outstanding in the same role at Anfield back in February.
Foden’s performance that day was arguably his best in a Manchester City shirt, his movement between the lines causing Liverpool major problems as he finished the game with a goal, an assist, and the man-of-the-match award.
Guardiola was not entirely satisfied, insisting afterwards the youngster did not always take up the right positions in the first half, but there was no doubt about his importance to the win.
If it is not Foden lining up centrally on Sunday, however, Guardiola has other options. Bernardo Silva, Riyad Mahrez and even Kevin De Bruyne were used in the role last season, while the City boss could even be tempted to move Gabriel Jesus back into the middle.
The biggest challenge for Liverpool could be coping with that level of unpredictability.
Can City stop Salah?
Liverpool are not the only ones facing a stern defensive test, of course. Manchester City are well aware of what they are up against at Anfield and Guardiola will have noted Liverpool’s attack has been the most potent in the Premier League so far this season.
That’s largely down to Salah. The Egypt forward has started the campaign in explosive form, only failing to find the net in one of his eight appearances for Liverpool in all competitions, his total of five goals in the Premier League making him joint-top scorer.
To further underline just how dangerous he has been, Salah also ranks top for shots, expected goals and touches in the opposition box. No player is getting into scoring positions with more frequency, in other words. Salah is at the very top of his game.
Salah has been irrepressible in Liverpool’s last three home wins over City, in the Champions League and domestically during the 2017/18 campaign and more recently in November 2019, when he scored Liverpool’s second goal in a 3-1 win.
But Guardiola blunted his threat rather more successfully in the two meetings between City and Liverpool last season. Salah scored in both games, but each of those goals came from the penalty spot and represented his only shots on target.
In the 1-1 draw at the Etihad Stadium in November, City limited him to only 33 touches of the ball – his second-lowest total in any Premier League game in which he completed 90 minutes last season. During the 4-1 thrashing at Anfield three months later, his touch count was only slightly higher at 39.
Assuming there are no selection surprises in defense, it will fall to Cancelo and left-sided centre-back Aymeric Laporte to keep him quiet again this time around but Alexander-Arnold’s expected absence could help City too.
The England international has developed an excellent understanding with Salah on Liverpool’s right flank.
This season in the Premier League, he has supplied his team-mate with 48 passes – 10 more than anyone else.
Others will need to step up in his absence but City will be wary Salah is not Liverpool’s only source of danger. There is the small matter of keeping Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota at arm’s length too.
It will be fascinating to see how it unfolds.
Premier League preview: Redknapp’s Liverpool vs Man City verdict | Will Arsenal build on derby win? | Leicester’s slow start
Peter Smith is joined by Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp, as well as football writers Gerard Brand and Simeon Gholam, to look ahead to the Premier League weekend…
Part 1 | Jamie Redknapp explains why he thinks Liverpool will edge their big match-up with Man City at Anfield on Sunday. The Sky Sports pundit also discusses the rise of Curtis Jones and City’s threat in attack.
Part 2 | We consider whether Arsenal are now in a position to build on their big derby day win over Tottenham when they go to Brighton. And what constitutes success for the Seagulls this season?
Part 3 | There’s plenty of praise for Conor Gallagher as we discuss Crystal Palace’s improving form and the Chelsea loanee’s future, before we examine a slow start to the season from Leicester.