Writer: Gavin Kelley-Day
Date:Friday February 1 2013
The Etihad Stadium
Liverpool's developing side face perhaps their stiffest test yet when they travel the 30-odd miles across Lancashire to face reigning Premier League champions Manchester City.
Sunday's encounter will be their third away game in a week and with the transfer window deadline thrown in, it has been a hectic time for everyone at the club.
Last weekend's shock FA Cup defeat against League One side Oldham Athletic was partially repaired by a 2-2 draw at Arsenal on Wednesday night which could easily have been a win.
The result leaves the Reds in 7th; six points behind neighbours Everton who currently occupy the final Champions League qualifying place in 4th. As for City, Roberto Mancini's men lie second but they trail fierce local rivals United by seven points after drawing a blank against lowly Queens Park Rangers on Tuesday night.
Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini speaking at his pre-match press conference on Friday: "This (the seven-point gap to leaders Manchester United) doesn't change [anything]. I think when we arrive at the end of February, the gap will be very, very small.
"In every championship, never one team won a title in January. We should fight until April. If they have seven, eight, nine points (lead) in April, it could be difficult, maybe. But in this moment we have a big chance."
Alongside David Beckham joining Paris Saint-Germain, the departure of maverick Italian Mario Balotelli from Manchester City grabbed much of Thursday's deadline day headlines. The 22-year-old's move to AC Milan for £19m was City's only piece of business worth noting last month and considering the striker was behind Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko in the pecking order, the impact is unlikely to be felt too keenly from a footballing perspective. In-form Bosnian, Dzeko, could return to the starting eleven against Liverpool after beginning the 0-0 draw with QPR on the bench. Away from the attack, Mancini has largely operated a settled side this season but injury to Vincent Kompany and the loss of Yaya Toure to African Cup of Nations duty has seen a recent juggling of resources. Defender Joleon Lescott and midfielder Javier Garcia have been the main beneficiaries and both are likely to continue in the side for the time being. In addition to Kompany, who will be out for upwards of a month with an ongoing calf issue, full-backs Maicon and Micah Richards remain sidelined through knee injuries, although the former has returned to training and has an outside chance of making the bench. Yaya's brother Kolo is also away on international duty with the Ivory Coast who play Nigeria, also on Sunday afternoon.
Hart, Zabaleta, Lescott, Nastasic, Clichy, Milner, Garcia, Barry, Silva, Aguero, Dzeko.
With Yaya Toure missing the onus falls even more than usual on the diminutive Spaniard to be the big-game spark for City. One of the stars of the Premier League, Silva has belied those who said he would struggle to adapt to the physical demands of English football. The 27-year-old, who joined from Valencia in 2010 for a reported £25m, is brilliant at drifting into the space between an opponent's defence and midfield and is therefore a nightmare for players to pick up. In addition to his intelligent positional play, Silva possesses great technique, awareness, control and the ability to pick out a pass. There is however still a justifiable argument that the 69-cap star should score more goals for a man of such talent and his current tally for the season of three would suggest they have a case.
For 60 minutes against Arsenal, Liverpool performed brilliantly with some quick, incisive passing allied to resolute defending. However, not for the first time this season, once the defence had conceded once they looked vulnerable to almost every attack. Despite this, it is highly probable the same defensive unit will continue against City with Jamie Carragher again preferred to Martin Skrtel at centre-back. One change that may happen is fit-again Jose Enrque returning for Andre Wisdom which would allow Glen Johnson to move back to his favoured right-back role. Alternatively, as he did as a substitute against the Gunners, Enrique may be deployed in a more advance role, presumably at the expensive of Stewart Downing or Daniel Sturridge. Kop boss Rodgers will be hopeful of fielding the calming influence of Lucas Leiva for a second time in four days but his recent injury problems may lead to caution and a return for Joe Allen. New signing Philippe Coutinho will not be considered for selection until his fitness can be fully assessed next week. Defenders Martin Kelly and Jon Flanagan are the only other confirmed absentees (both due to knee injuries).
Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Enrique, Lucas, Henderson, Gerrard, Downing, Suarez, Sturridge.
The much maligned midfielder has started, and shone, in both of Liverpool's last two league fixtures. With a goal in each game, in addition to his usual endeavour and commitment, it seems that the 22-year-old might just have a future at the club after all. Henderson's re-emergence has come at the right time for Rodgers given the alarming dip in form of £15m summer signing Joe Allen. It will clearly take many more impressive showings before everyone is won over by the ex-Sunderland man but hopefully the burden of his near £20m transfer is finally beginning to ease.
Liverpool and Manchester City have met a total of 166 times in their respective histories. The Reds hold the upper hand overall with 81 wins to City's 42; there have also been 43 draws between the two teams. Liverpool have scored a combined total of 292 goals in the fixtures compared to 214 by City.
Reds star Steven Gerrard is the only midfielder or forward to play every minute of every Premier League game this season. The England skipper will no doubt have contributed heavily to the fact his side are currently the league's most accurate long passers (69%).
Luis Suarez now has 17 Premier League goals this season. He is only the 10th Liverpool player to reach the mark in a single season since the Premier League was formed in 1992.
The Uruguayan's goals have contributed to Liverpool scoring in their last 11 Premier League games (14 in all comps), only Man Utd (12) are on a longer current run. Each of the last nine of those matches has ended with over 2.5 goals scored.
That free-scoring record will be severely tested by City though who have kept six clean sheets in succession (all comps) for the first time since August 1999. The hosts have lost just once in their last 41 home Premier League fixtures.
Manchester based referee Anthony Taylor has been appointed to oversee this contest. The 34-year-old has so far shown 53 yellow and 5 red cards in his 24 games of officiating this term. Liverpool last encountered Taylor at the end of December when they defeated Queens Park Rangers 3-0 at Loftus Road. City meanwhile have not played in a match controlled by Taylor, who earlier this year became FIFA listed and can therefore take charge of European and international games, since October 2011.
There remains a perception from last season that Liverpool are a 'Jekyll and Hyde' side capable of raising their game against the bigger teams. The idea is offset however by the fact that the Reds remain without a win over anyone in the top half of the table this season; 11th placed Sunderland are their highest victims in the 24 games played. Despite their midweek draw, The Citizens have been in good form of late and having won the preceding six matches in a row they will start Sunday's encounter as firm favourites. That said, without the influential presence of both Yaya Toure and Kompany, Liverpool's visit may just come at the right time. Vital Liverpool predicts a 2-1 defeat for LFC.
Manchester City - Premier League v Southampton at St Mary's on Saturday 9th February 2013, kick off 5.30pm.
Liverpool - Premier League West Bromwich Albion at Anfield on Monday 11th February 2013, kick off 8.00pm.
So that's what we think, how about you? Let us know your thoughts and predictions for the game below or vote in our poll to the right...
Click here to read former Red Mark Lawrenson's prediction
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Date:Friday February 1 2013
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