If Jürgen Klopp was worried that Stoke City were going to be seen as the middle child, forgotten and ignored in between Everton and Manchester City, then goodness knows what he thinks the visit of the nouveau riche from along the M62 is equatable to. Perhaps an uncle who won the lottery but acts as if he’s always had money and deserves more respect? However you want to extend the metaphor, Pep Guardiola’s Citizens are coming to Anfield hoping to spoil the party and put themselves in pole position to chase down Antonio Conte’s Chelsea side.
The Liverpool manager declared in his pre-match press conference that if he wasn’t obliged to be at the match as our boss then he would “100%” be trying to get hold of a ticket. He’s expecting fireworks and I’m not sure that I can blame him. This one has all the makings of a classic, including the fact that our fans will have been off all day waiting for kick-off and are sure to make it a raucous occasion. The only thing we really need to know is are Liverpool able to end 2016 on a high and send us into 2017 full of optimism and hope?
Philippe Coutinho was desperate to make his comeback in this game. The last time the Reds faced City at Anfield in the midst of a title race he scored the winning goal and sent the Kop into raptures. Sadly the manager revealed during his press conference that the Brazilian won’t be ready in time and is unlikely to make the Sunderland game less than 48 hours later. Thankfully we’ve found a way to cause teams problems without everything needing to go through the Little Magician and hopefully he won’t be too keenly missed.
Defensively we’re unlikely to be much changed. At the same time that Klopp confirmed Coutinho will miss the visit of Manchester City he also declared that Joel Matip is still having trouble with his ankle. The Cameroonian has been a revelation since he arrived in the summer and has helped the defence to look settled and at ease. Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan have both had what I’m going to euphemistically refer to as ‘moments’ in Matip’s absence, so that could be something that City try to play on.
The biggest conundrum facing the manager once again comes in the final third of the pitch. Divock Origi looked much more of a team player against Stoke, playing some excellent balls to Sadio Mané in particular. He’s still young, however, and much more of a blunt instrument when compared to Daniel Sturridge. The England striker showed just how good he is against Stoke and Klopp must surely be toying with bringing him into the starting XI. My team: Mignolet – Clyne – Klavan – Lovren – Milner – Henderson – Wijnaldum – Lallana – Mané – Firmino – Origi.
Ilkay Gundogan and Vincent Kompany are the only definite absences from Manchester City’s starting line-up, though John Stones is also expected to miss the game because he picked up a knee injury early on in their game against Hull on Boxing Day. That’s likely to mean that Pablo Zabaleta will move into the centre of the City defence alongside Aleksandar Kolarov. That means that neither of City’s central pair are specialised centre-backs, something Liverpool will surely be hoping to exploit.
The bad news for the Reds is that both Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho have both returned after their suspensions. Aguero has been their top scorer for five seasons in a row and has already netted ten times in twelve league games so far this season. Our main hope is that he’s a bit rusty after having missed their last four games. Leroy Sane is likely to be absent but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the bench. Yaya Toure has returned to the fold after having been frozen out by Guardiola as the Spaniard initially laid down the law with his new charges.
The form of both teams is remarkably similar. Both lost games that they were expected to win and have since won their last three games. The only difference is that Liverpool’s loss came at the start of their last five games and was followed by a draw, whilst City drew their first game and lost their second. For Liverpool things have been quite pleasant since that 2-2 home draw with West Ham. A comfortable 3-0 win away at Middlesbrough was followed up with a dominant performance at Goodison Park capped off with a late 1-0 win. The 4-1 battering of Stoke was the perfect preparation for this match.
City’s draw was in a Champions League dead rubber against Celtic but their loss was away to Leicester City in the Premier League. They conceded four goals against the defending champions who have otherwise struggled for goals this season. City kept clean sheets against Watford and Hull, beating them 2-0 and 3-0 respectively. The 3-0 actually flattered them a little and those results were sandwiched between a 2-1 win over Arsenal that was far from convincing. Which City side are we likely to encounter?
There are times when games get a huge build-up but fail to live up to the hype. I don’t think that’s going to happen this time, somehow, but I’m honestly finding it difficult to decide how this one is going to end. As is always the case on New Year’s Eve, though, I expect fireworks. Here are my betting tips:
It’s been difficult to tell recently whether Liverpool have started games slowly or the opposition have come out of the traps in an attempt to stamp their authority on games. Both Everton and Stoke began the games at full pelt and dominated proceedings for the first thirty minutes or so. Stoke were rewarded with a goal after just twelve minutes and nearly scored a second a few moments later. If the game starts the same way against City I can envisage a match in which the Reds are couple of goals down before they’ve even had a chance to figure out what’s going on.
The flip side of that, of course, is that Klopp will be expecting an early burst from City and will ask his charges to go toe-to-toe with them. He’ll be banking on our fitness being better than theirs and hoping that we can out-last them over the course of the game, so giving them a rocket in the opening period could see their makeshift defence tested. For that reason I can’t ignore the 7/4 for The First Goal To Come From 0-15. If you agree there’ll be an early goal but want bigger odds then you might look at Liverpool To Lead After Fifteen Minutes, which is 9/2.
Old Acquaintances On The Scoresheet?
New Year is a time when we ask, “Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?” We’ll certainly be hoping that one of our old acquaintances is well and truly forgotten when Raheem Sterling lines up in the Sky Blue colours of Manchester City. The England winger has looked impressive since his move to The Etihad and Sterling is 5/2 To Score Anytime. For Manchester City there’s an old boy of their own to worry about in the form of James Milner. The England midfielder has been deployed as a left-back by Jürgen Klopp but still takes our penalties, so 4/1 for Milner To Score Anytime looks long to me.
If neither of those old boys cause trouble then who will? Well it’s often forgotten that Daniel Sturridge spent some time in Manchester, playing for City’s senior team from 2006 until 2009, scoring 5 goals in 21 appearances. If you followed my tips for the Stoke match then you’d have earned a decent amount of money from Sturridge scoring the last goal of the game and I’m going to make the same recommendation here. Sturridge is 11/2 To Score The Last Goal and I can well see him coming off the bench and scoring just as he did in our last home game.
Both Teams To Score
Call me a cynic, but there’s no way in which I can’t see both teams scoring in this game. City’s attack is amazing but their defence is weak and our team isn’t really all that different. The odds aren’t amazing but I think sticking a bet on Both Teams To Score and Liverpool to Win at 3/1 is about as good as you can get.
The result of this one feels like it could be akin to tossing a coin. That’s why I’m going to avoid being too certain with my predicted outcome and instead opt for The First Goal To Be Scored between 0-15 at 7/4. If you are more confident than me that the home side is going to get the winner then Liverpool To Win and BTTS @ 3/1 will be very tempting for you. Up the Reds and here’s to an amazing 2017!