It’s a bit early in the season to be discussing potential title deciders, but when the points are tallied up in May, it’s the meetings with the likes of Manchester City that can have a real impact on where you end up in the race for the title.
While finishing top spot may not be our prime objective for the season, it certainly remains in the back of everyone’s mind following Liverpool’s miraculous run to the summit last year; that’s a conversation for another time though. No one has ever won the title after only two matches and as much as the hype machine would like to convince you that the Premier League crown could very well hang in the balance, Monday’s meeting isn’t quite that important quite yet.
After watching these two sides play out a pair of attacking master-classes last season, seeing them meet this early in the fixture list — before either of them have even considered getting out of first gear — could very well end up being a bit of a disappointment. The rust that’s left on the Reds was evident last weekend as they ground out a 2-1 win over Southampton on Sunday and even the supremely polished Citizens looked laboured at points as they saw off the challenge of Newcastle United. Of course, I could be entirely wrong.
Both sides have brought in enough new faces this summer to throw up more than a fair bit of intrigue heading into the work week. Mario Ballotelli’s imminent arrival at Anfield won’t make a lick of difference come Monday, but the availability of winger Lazar Markovic and fullback Alberto Moreno for the Merseysiders leaves more than one question mark hanging over boss Brendan Rodgers starting eleven. Likewise, Manchester City’s capture of Malaga goalkeeper Willy Caballero means Joe Hart is no longer guaranteed to start between the sticks, but Sergio Aguero won’t be ready to challenge for a spot in the starting eleven, meaning the hosts are likely to stay the course with Edin Dzeko and Edin Dzeko in attack — a daunting prospect for the Reds improving back-line.
The arrival of Dejan Lovren from Southampton earlier in the window seems to have gone quite a ways towards calming Liverpool’s volatile defence down, but Monday will be the real litmus test for the big Croatian. Controlling runs through the midfield and keeping possession will be as important as ever as the Reds look to control the influence of Yaya Toure. Usually this job would fall to Lucas, but after his poor showing last weekend, Joe Allen could come in to help Steven Gerrard shield the back four and shuttle the ball forward. Throw into the mix the relative unknowns that come along with new-boys Javier Manquillo and Alberto Moreno and City could very well be wringing their hands at the prospect of bombarding the youngsters down the flanks. That is, if they’re not too busy defending themselves.
While the aforementioned rust certainly caused a spot or two of worry in the win over the Saint’s, Liverpool remain a creative force up top with Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho working a number of really good chances and playing some attractive football over 90-minutes. Markovic could very well make his league bow after being passed fit, though Monday’s trip to the Etihad Stadium comes too early for another Southampton transplant with Adam Lallana still not fit enough to make the squad. Regardless, City should have their hands full throughout even without Luis Suarez there to cause them all kinds of problems.
As we’ve come to see, that’s just the way Rodgers plays football. We were buoyed by a good start to last season and we’ll be looking for the same this time out. It might be far too early to starting talking about championships and European qualification, but it’s never too early to put one over on a rival vying for the exact same.