Here’s something for you to debate with your mates when you first return to the pub: what’s the biggest football match ever which meant absolutely nothing? Whatever your thoughts on the matter, this game has to be a contender.
Manchester City’s 2-1 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last Thursday crowned Liverpool as champions of England for the 19th time. The result meant that Pep Guardiola’s team were 23 points adrift of the Reds, and 24 ahead of 13th placed Newcastle.
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Jurgen Klopp’s side have socially distanced their way to the title, having kept at least two points away from every other team since August 24 last year. If the Reds win here, City’s maximum possible total for the season will be 81 points, a tally Liverpool passed way back on March 7.
So, we a have match between two teams whose records over the past couple of years mean they can lay serious claim to being among the best in English football history, yet it means nothing for this season. But while that’s true, it’s an opportunity for both teams to lay down a psychological marker ahead of 2020/21.
And while having to politely provide a guard of honour to the champions will fire City up, the fact of the matter is that their record against Liverpool is pretty dismal.
The sides have clashed 10 times in all competitions since Guardiola joined Klopp in the north-west of England, and the Citizens have won just two of them in normal time (plus a penalty shoot-out victory in the Community Shield).
Even then, one of their wins featured a first-half red card for Sadio Mane, and while City would probably have won anyway, Liverpool’s backline that day featured Ragnar Klavan, Simon Mignolet and Alberto Moreno. It may as well have been 100 years ago for all the relevance it has here.
With Fernandinho absent due to his red card at Chelsea, Liverpool’s front three will be delighted to see Nicolas Otamendi stepping in. With Sergio Aguero – who has scored in all seven of his league games against Liverpool at the Etihad – missing too, the smart money has to be on an away win. You won’t see Klopp’s team at this good a price for a long while.
Whatever the match outcome, it should be entertaining. These are the top two scoring teams in the Premier League, and even though the Reds have the best goals-against record too, they rarely keep a clean sheet in big away games.
Even Virgil van Dijk only has three clean sheets from his 15 Liverpool appearances against the rest of the big six when the game takes place away from Anfield. As the 2019 Champions League final was one of them, that probably makes up for the others, to be honest.
Combine that with City’s rickety, patched up defence and it’s reasonable to assume both teams will get on the score sheet in this one.
It’s easy to knock Otamendi. Fun, even. But he has scored a goal at the Etihad in a league game against a big team this season, which is something Gabriel Jesus hasn’t done since November 2017. The Brazilian should feature with Aguero out of the picture, though his record doesn’t imply he’ll be among the goals.
Raheem Sterling only has one league goal this year, so – revenge motives against his former team aside – he may struggle to score too. It looks like Kevin De Bruyne is our man, as he has scored in all three of his starts since lockdown. Two of the goals might have been from the penalty spot, but the ref is from Manchester so you never know.
If Mohamed Salah scores or assists a goal, he’ll be second only to Alan Shearer in terms of being the fastest to 100 Premier League goal involvements. However, while he scored at The Etihad in a Champions League game in April 2018, his last ‘big six’ away league goal was in 2017, so if we’re discounting Jesus for similar form, we should do likewise here.
Plus the Egyptian has only scored two away league goals this season anyway, preferring to put the boot in at Anfield. The opposite is true of Roberto Firmino, who has eight league goals on the road in 2019/20, and has scored three times at City over the years. As that’s at least twice more than any other current Red, Firmino’s your man.
Tips for Manchester City v Liverpool
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