Manchester City v Liverpool: Reds to avoid defeat at the Etihad

The rivalry between Manchester City and Liverpool is turning their battles into modern classics. Kevin Hatchard thinks Liverpool can stymie their old foes this weekend...

Manchester City v Liverpool
Sunday 08 November, 16:30
Live on Sky Sports

Guardiola anticipates acid test

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola knows better than most that taking on Liverpool is a Herculean task, whether it's over a 38-game season or a two-legged European tie. The Reds took away City's Premier League crown in fine style last term, having pushed them all the way in the previous campaign. Jurgen Klopp's side also dumped City out of the Champions League in 2018, beating them home and away. Over the Catalan coach's career, he has lost nine times against Klopp's teams.

There remains speculation about Guardiola's future. His contract expires at the end of the campaign, and although he retains the total trust of the club, it remains to be seen whether his intense and demanding methods will leave him needing a break soon. He left Barcelona an exhausted husk in need of a recharge, and by the end of this season he will have spent five years chasing perfection at the Etihad, longer than he spent at the helm of either Barcelona or Bayern Munich.

City have been flawless in their Champions League group (admittedly against modest opposition), and they are only five points behind Liverpool in the title race with a game in hand. However, there have been changes to their pattern of play. The Infogol Expected Goals figures show they have created an average Expected Goals tally of 1.6 across the last six games in all competitions, a significant drop from last season's average of 2.7. However, at the other end they conceded just two goals across those six matches, and they have only leaked three goals in eight matches since they were hammered 5-2 at home by Leicester.

Part of that drop in offensive production can be explained by the injuries City have suffered in attack. The club's record scorer Sergio Aguero is still sidelined, and Gabriel Jesus has only just returned from injury, scoring against Olympiakos in only his second appearance of the campaign. Ferran Torres has been deputising as a false nine, and has scored in all three UCL games. Fernandinho and Bernard Mendy will both miss out because of injury.

Jota the signpost to Reds' evolution

Liverpool's holy trinity of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have been the envy of clubs all over the world for several seasons, but there was always going to come a point when the Reds had to provide cover and competition. Players like Divock Origi have made historic contributions, without truly becoming genuine first-team options when everyone was 100% fit. If you look at the last three seasons, Salah has missed just six PL games, Mane has been left out of 14, and Firmino has played all but five. That kind of durability is remarkable, but surely unsustainable, especially in the times we currently live in.

Diogo Jota might just be the man they needed. Some baulked at the transfer fee Liverpool paid for a man who wasn't a nailed-on starter at Wolves, but the Portuguese international is already making a tangible and consistent difference. He scored the winner against West Ham last weekend, secured an extraordinary Champions League hat-trick against Atalanta in a 5-0 win in Bergamo, and has already scored 10 goals for club and country.

Liverpool haven't lost since their 7-2 mauling at Aston Villa, an event so bizarre that it still feels like some kind of mirage, a glitch in the matrix. Perhaps more importantly, the Reds haven't lost since the serious injury picked up by defensive colossus Virgil van Dijk, and since that fateful Merseyside derby they have won all five matches and conceded just two goals.

Joel Matip is expected to recover from injury to partner Joe Gomez in central defence, even though Nathaniel Phillips and Rhys Williams have done well as stand-ins recently. Thiago is still struggling with a knee problem, so won't feature, and Fabinho is also out. There is talk of a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Salah, Jota, Firmino and Jota all in the starting XI.

Gap between rivals closer than market suggests

It's tempting to look at Liverpool's 4-0 hammering at the Etihad in early August and conclude that City are worthy favourites at 2.02, but that price just seems too short to me. By Guardiola's own admission, Liverpool's intensity dropped because they'd already won the title, and the Reds actually started that game really well.

Liverpool have only lost two of their last eight games against City in all competitions, they are facing a City side that has been shorn of its best striker, and they have just wiped the floor with one of the most exciting teams in Europe. Jota is in breath-taking form, and Salah and Mane have already netted 11 goals between them in the Premier League.

I don't think there's much to choose between these two, and on that basis the sensible play is to get the draw and the Liverpool win into our portfolio. I'll lay Manchester City at 2.02.

Intense clash might not yield many goals

There's an assumption that this will be goal-fest, but there's an argument to say that Under 3.5 Goals might be a sensible bet at 1.75. Liverpool have only leaked two goals in their last five games, while City have let in just two in the last six. City will have their first-choice centre-back pairing of Aymeric Laporte and Ruben Dias in situ, and in Ederson and Alisson, the game will feature two of Europe's best goalkeepers. It's also worth considering the absence of Aguero.

These two have met 11 times with Guardiola and Klopp at the helm, and six of those clashes have featured fewer than four goals.

Jota to shine again?

The in-form Diogo Jota is 2.7 to score at any time, even shorter than Sadio Mane, who is trading at 3.0. Mo Salah is Liverpool's favourite in this market at 2.44. Mane has a strong record against City, with six goals scored in 14 matches against them, but it's worth noting that half of those were as a Southampton player.

On the City side of things, Ferran Torres is 3.1 to add a Premier League goal to his Champions League haul, and Raheem Sterling is 2.9 to find the net against his former club. Sterling has scored in four of his last eight appearances.

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