If you told me Liverpool’s title challenge took its final breath after the loss to Brighton, I’d maybe have believed you – but if they lose to City in what is now the most definitive game of the season to date, I’ll have no choice but to agree.
Paddy’s already made him mind up – after paying out on Manchester City to win the title on Friday afternoon – and with Guardiola’s charges seven points ahead of the Reds with a game in hand, even a draw here is no good to Liverpool.
For City, a loss here wouldn’t even really deter them and that’s probably the biggest indicator that they’re in cruise control. For all that their opponents have been hit by injuries, the presence of Sergio Aguero has hampered City significantly – it’s just that they’ve reshaped and gone again.
Liverpool have gone again alright, but we’re still waiting for them to come back. Here’s a Bet Builder ahead of City and, still in my mind, their only genuine rivals for the title, Liverpool.
Liverpool v Manchester City
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There just isn’t a path to victory for Liverpool is there? Let’s consider the three contributors to them pulling out big results in recent years. The first is the quality of their players. That much is still undoubted, but given their attacks generally start from centre-halves stepping up into space – and those centre-halves now resembling a comedic stage musical – we can rule out the functional nature of brilliance.
Secondly, the fear factor that other sides have of playing Liverpool at home because of their record. Would City have taken a point here a month ago? Probably. Now, it feels like anything other than three points is a wasted opportunity to put another title to bed.
And finally – the atmosphere. I don’t like stressing this point, because Celtic always do it and Ireland always do it, but there genuinely is something unique about the energy created around Anfield when they need a result.
It’s one of the very few things in football that defied logic. Now, the only illogical stance is seeing the Reds sneaking a point.
A very casual six Premier League clean sheets in a row doesn’t tell the whole story here, either. It’s the fact Guardiola now sets up his team to maintain possession in attacking areas rather than midfield which means sides can’t capitalise on a sloppy pass and break in a favourable situation.
Given that Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson now can’t go beyond halfway without absolute security from a holding midfielder (Henderson will be otherwise occupied) covering their vacated duties means there are even fewer chances for them to break effectively. Liverpool’s width will have to come from their actual wingers now, and they’re ineffective when Mo Salah and Sadio Mane aren’t within a touch or two of the six-yard box.
The last ‘striker’ to score from open play against Liverpool in the Premier League was Heung-min Son back in mid-December. It might seem like a positive, but the picture it really paints is that without Virgil van Dijk and a partner who’s up to scratch, Liverpool back off to defend deeper so they’re not caught out by central strikers.
There’s such a commitment to aiding the deputising defenders that players off the ball end up free and in good positions. Right now, Phil Foden is the best player in the Premier League at anticipating where space opens up in dangerous areas and I’d back him to bag here.
There was an argument at Liverpool that Raheem Sterling wasn’t quite world-class because he wasn’t a clinical finisher. Since his move to City, he’s become so much more than that – and while he never became a world-class striker, I’m not so sure he hasn’t reached that level as an all-round player.
But Sterling references this frequently in quite mature fashion and there wouldn’t be a better way to echo that resounding message to his former club than finding the net. Ironically, I’m backing him to take shots rather than score because I believe every word of the above.
* All prices are bang up to date with our snazzy widget, while odds in copy are accurate at time of publishing but subject to change.
Liverpool v Manchester City Bet Builder tips
These four selections in a Bet Builder will give you odds of around 17/1 with Paddy Power.
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