3️⃣ questions ahead of Manchester City's showdown with Liverpool | OneFootball

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Dan Burke·31 March 2023

3️⃣ questions ahead of Manchester City's showdown with Liverpool

Article image:3️⃣ questions ahead of Manchester City's showdown with Liverpool

Manchester City and Liverpool lock horns at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday in the latest instalment of what has become one of the Premier League’s great rivalries in recent years.

Here are our three biggest questions ahead of the match.

Is this a ‘free hit’ for Liverpool?

Just under a year ago, these two sides met at the Etihad with the Premier League title on the line.

City went into the game with a slender one-point lead at the top of the table, and an absorbing 2-2 draw in which Liverpool twice came from behind ultimately took the title race to the final day of the season.

Pep Guardiola’s side of course went on to win the league by a solitary point, and heading into the 2022/23 season, it was widely expected to be another tussle between Manchester and Merseyside for the trophy.

But, while City approach Saturday’s encounter still with hopes of retaining their crown, Liverpool have been out of the race for quite some time and the best they can wish for in the final weeks of the season is a late assault on the top four.

City are eight points behind Arsenal (albeit with a game in hand) as things stand, meaning all 11 of their remaining games of the season feel like must-wins, and a first league victory over Liverpool since February 2021 is essential this weekend if they are to keep the pressure on the league leaders.

This match will kick off an intense couple of months for the reigning champions, whereas Liverpool’s league position means they can afford to be a little more carefree in their approach to games. Jürgen Klopp’s side have plenty to play for, but as they will surely attest, the pressure of trying to finish fourth is nowhere near as nerve-wracking as being in a title race.

In short, the pressure is all on the hosts on Saturday and that could suit the visitors down to the ground.

Who will win the midfield battle?

Liverpool’s failure to adequately refresh and strengthen their ageing midfield has been the Anfield faithful’s biggest bone of contention this season and perhaps the main reason the Reds have been unable to keep pace in the title race.

City have no such issues, however. The hugely influential Rodri continues to be one of the most dominant players in the league, while the trio of Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and İlkay Gündoğan have all hit excellent patches of form in recent weeks.

If this match is going to be won and lost in the middle of the park, City should be considered strong favourites. Injury issues dictate that Klopp is likely to have no choice but to pick a midfield three of Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Harvey Elliott, and it will be interesting to see how well they are able to shield their back four from City’s waves of attacks.

What Liverpool do have, however, is a formidable frontline and some dangerous attacking options on the bench. Their game-plan will likely be a case of sitting back and trying to absorb pressure before quickly getting the ball to Mohamed Salah, Darwin Núñez and Cody Gakpo, who can all do serious damage on the break.

City will dominate possession and try to put Liverpool’s defence under intense scrutiny, but as is usually the case when these teams meet, this has the potential to be an open, end-to-end game with plenty of goals.

Can City win without Haaland?

The biggest question from City’s perspective heading into this game centres around how they will cope without their biggest source of goals this season.

Despite noticeable teething troubles at times this season, Erling Haaland has scored 42 goals in 37 games for the club so far and brings a guaranteed goal threat to the table every game.

But a groin injury picked up before the international break meant he missed Norway’s two Euro 2024 qualifiers and is a major doubt for Saturday’s match.

City do have World Cup winner Julián Álvarez to fall back on, but the 23-year-old has played mostly as secondary striker this season, and leading the line against Virgil van Dijk and Joël Matip is an incredibly tough physical assignment for any player.

The champions won the last two titles without a recognised striker and became very adept at using a false nine, but Phil Foden’s bout of appendicitis gives Guardiola one fewer option in attack, not to mention that Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling are both no longer at the club.

City undoubtedly will still have plenty of attacking threat this weekend, but if Haaland is absent, it can only be looked at as a huge positive from Liverpool’s point of view.