Writer: Gavin Kelley-Day
Date:Friday April 11 2014
Barclays Premier League
What many people are dubbing 'the title decider' is upon us as Liverpool and Manchester City face-off at Anfield on Sunday afternoon.
In all likelihood there will be further twists and turns in this most unpredictable of seasons but there is no doubting the victor will gain a significant, and potentially decisive, advantage.
At this stage of a sporting competition there is always debate over whether it's best to have points on the board or games in hand. Usually the answer varies depending on which of the situations you are in!
Liverpool currently sit four points above City but they have played two games more. Brendan Rodgers' side also still have to face Chelsea, who are by no means out of contention, as part of arguably a tougher run-in.
One things is for sure; these two are the league's big entertainers with a phenomenal 90 and 84 goals scored respectively.
Both are also in great form. Liverpool remain undefeated in the league during 2014 (P13 W11 D2) while Manuel Pellerini's men have lost just once (P12 W9 D2 L1).
The atmosphere will no doubt be electric, particularly with the match taking place just two days before the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster.
To mark the occasion, all professional matches at the weekend will poignantly start seven minutes later than originally scheduled to recall the point when Liverpool's game with Nottingham Forest in 1989 was stopped because of the unfolding disaster.
Rodgers: "The beauty for us is that this game is at Anfield - it's a special place to play football. We will unleash the supporters this weekend on the opponent and it's a very, very difficult place now for people to come and play.
"I sense a real nostalgia about the place at the moment. There's a real feel of the old Liverpool and I'll always respect that, but it's important that it helps drive us forward in the future as a motivation rather than a hindrance."
Lucas Leiva's performance as a second half substitute in last weekend's 2-1 win against West Ham United will have given Rodgers plenty of food for thought. The Northern Irishman was already juggling his midfield to try and accommodate two from Philippe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling and Joe Allen. Getting the right combination to counteract the likes of Yaya Toure, Fernandinho and David Silva could easily be a key factor in the outcome of this contest. Vice captain Daniel Agger is expected to be available again after a minor knee injury sustained in training last week but may struggle to get his place back from fellow centre-back Mamadou Sakho. Agger's return means left-back Jose Enrique (knee) is once again the only notable absentee.
Mignolet, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Flanagan, Gerrard, Allen, Henderson, Sterling, Suarez, Sturridge.
The big occasions call for inspirational leaders to stand up and lead the way and, from a Reds perspective at least, Gerrard is up there with anyone in the club's illustrious history. Whenever you think of big Liverpool victories in the past 15 years, the 33-year-old is almost always at the heart of them and supporters will be hopeful he can deliver once more on Sunday. Gerrard is enjoying a fantastic period after growing into his deeper midfield role and has scored eight goals in his last nine appearances, including seven from the spot. The England captain is also having a stellar season from a creative perspective and leads the league for assists from dead ball situations with 12.
Argentine international Sergio Aguero is set to return after a period on the sidelines with a hamstring injury. The talented 25-year-old striker has managed just 73 minutes of Premier League action this year but could go straight into the starting eleven. Whether that will be in partnership with Edin Dzeko or Alvaro Negrado, or as a loan front man, will depend on how positive Pellegrini decides to be. A point will hand them the initiative and therefore the Chilean could stick with Jesus Navas as an additional attack-minded midfielder and play with just one recognised forward. Similar to the hosts, City have just one major injury to contend with as Matija Nastasic continues to battle his own knee problem.
Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichellis, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Toure, Nasri, Silva, Aguero, Dzeko.
The dynamic midfielder is City's driving force in much the same way as Gerrard is Liverpool's. The Ivorian, younger brother of Reds defender Kolo Toure, has enjoyed a fantastic season and trails only Luis Suarez (29) and Daniel Sturridge (20) in the Premier League scoring charts with 18. The 30-year-old is now in his fourth season at the Etihad after joining from Barcelona for £24million in July 2010. Toure possesses the perfect combination of physical power and technique.
• Liverpool and City have met 161 times in their respective histories and the Merseysiders hold the upper hand overall with 80 wins to 40 and 41 draws. The Reds have scored a total of 290 goals compared to a tally of 210 by the Citizens.
• Despite winning the reverse fixture at home in December 2-1, City have won only one of their previous 16 Premier League games at Anfield (D5 L10).
• Southampton are the only away side to win at L4 so far this season and the Reds have won all four of their home games with fellow members of the top seven, scoring 14 and conceding just once.
• City are currently in excellent form on the road however and are unbeaten in their last 10 Premier League away games (W7 D3).
• The two clubs have scored a whopping 92 first-half goals between them (Liverpool 55, City 37). The next highest is Chelsea with 28.
• The hosts have failed to score in just two of their 33 Premier League games this season. Pellegrini's men have drawn a blank on four occasions.
Mark Clattenburg is the official appointed to oversee this contest. The County Durham based whistle blower has taken charge of 36 games so far this season, showing 119 yellow cards and two red. Previously the 39-year-old has overseen three games involving Liverpool; the 1-0 win over Aston Villa back in August, September's League Cup exit to Manchester United and last month's famous 3-0 league victory at Old Trafford. Clattenburg has been a part of the Select Group of Referees who oversee Premier League fixtures since 2004 and joined FIFA's list for international and European games in 2006.
It's finally here! This match has stood out from the fixture list for some time and with the destination of the championship still so evenly poised it looks like being even more pivotal than predicted. The way things stand, a draw suits City and given they are unbeaten in the last five meetings (W2 L3) in all competitions they should fancy their chances of at least getting such a result. However, there is just something about the run this Liverpool side are on that means they will probably start as marginal favourites. Personally I'm not someone who believes in fate or destiny, but against the backdrop of the 25th anniversary of Hillsborough, a Liverpool win, and subsequent title triumph, would truly be the thing of fairytales. It will be an amazing atmosphere on Sunday and hopefully the game can do it justice and live up to the hype. My heart says we will do it but my head is thinking draw...
Vital Liverpool predicts a 2-2 draw
Liverpool - Premier League vs. Norwich City at Carrow Road on Sunday 20th April 2014, kick off 12.00pm BST.
Manchester City - Premier League vs. Sunderland at the Etihad on Wednesday 16th April 2014, kick off 7.45pm BST.
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Date:Friday April 11 2014
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