With the race for Champions League football for next season as tight and as important as it’s ever been, Liverpool have no choice but to come up with a result when they square off with Manchester City on Sunday.
An immaculate header from Georginio Wijnaldum was the difference when these two sides met back in December, but there hasn’t been much for the Reds to celebrate as of late with a horrendous January leading in to a dire February that saw the Anfield outfit drop out of both domestic cups and fall out of the race for the title. Stringing together their first back to back Premier League victories of the calendar year with wins over Arsenal and Burnley FC, Liverpool climbed back in to top four, but a quick glance at the table reveals their spot is anything but assured. With both the Gunners and bitter rivals Manchester United hot on their heels and holding a pair of matches in hand, things could shift dramatically by the time the international break kicks-off next week.
To complicate matters, the Reds could be without attacking duo Roberto Firmino, who is still struggling with the thigh problem that saw him sidelined against the Clarets, and Divock Origi as the Belgian battles a virus. They’ll be able to welcome defender Dejan Lovren back in to the fold after the Croatian came through an outing with the U-23 side without incident earlier in the week, but it comes as no surprise that the trip to Manchester will come too soon for both club captain Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge — two players that really could have made a difference.
“These games are always important. Actually, I can’t remember a not important game in the Premier League, to be honest,” said Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp, flashing his trademark smile. “Yes, we know that we can be difficult to play in games like this, that’s true, but we have to be at our best to get anything there because they are strong, they are good, and if you get a little bit passive, they play you around and that’s it,” explained the German manager in his pre-match press conference, emphasizing the quality City have in their squad. “I’m really looking forward to it because it’s a real challenge on the tactical side of the game and two good sides face each other.”
Stats courtesy of Kickoff.co.uk
Like I said, it’s tight at the top; while Liverpool are trying to keep Arsenal and United from nipping their heels, both City and Tottenham Hotspur are doing the same with the Reds. They’ve both got a game in hand on us as well, but dropping points to a top four rival will do nothing to boost their chances of staying in the race. This is a big game under normal circumstances and after blowing a first leg lead to drop out of the Champions League at the hands of Ligue 1 side Monaco earlier in the week, the volume is being amped right up for Guardiola. If this is being billed as a must win for Klopp, it’s certainly the same for his Spanish counter-part.
Now, whether dropping out of Europe proves to be a motivator or a nagging hindrance isn’t really all that important — City are always a danger. Sergio Aguero, who has yet to score against a team in the top seven this season, loves to score against the Reds and Raheem Sterling, who left Merseyside for Manchester last summer, is still trying to make a point against his old side, but after bagging one against Monaco on Wednesday, German youngster Leroy Sane could be the biggest threat to the visitors keeping a clean sheet.
Which, let’s face it, no one really expects them to do. Wijanldum’s header was the difference between these two sides last time and though it was a low scoring affair, it was nothing if not entertaining — encounters between these two football purists always are. With that being said, I’ll take a no shots on target and a deflected winner in the 90th minute if it means we hang on to a Champions League spot. Entertainment is one thing, winning the must wins is a complete other….