Sergio Aguero may be back for Manchester City and if he is, that would be a major boost for Manuel Pellegrini, who could also be without Winfried Bony as he struggles to recover from a hamstring injury. Vincent Kompany missed both Belgium’s internationals with a calf problem, while Samir Nasri, David Silva and Pablo Zabaleta are all major doubts. Without Bony for the final 65 minutes at Aston Villa, City were held to a 0-0 draw and if Aguero isn’t fit enough to start, this is a major test of their attacking depth.
Liverpool will be without Mamadou Sakho and Jordan Henderson, but both Daniel Sturridge and James Milner should return. Jordon Ibe is a major doubt.
Those back-to-back home wins in which City put 11 past Newcastle and Bournemouth seem a long time ago now. Goalless draws against Manchester United and, especially, Aston Villa, have again raised questions about their attacking fluency. That said, two victories against Sevilla in the Champions League, plus a 5-1 demolition of Crystal Palace in the Capital One Cup have ensured that the general mood at City is upbeat.
Liverpool are still getting used to life under Jurgen Klopp. After the raft of draws, wins over Bournemouth in the Capital One Cup, Chelsea in the league and Rubin Kazan in the Europa League sparked optimism before the 2-1 home defeat to Crystal Palace brought them down to earth.
City comfortably beat Liverpool at home on the second weekend of last season, but were beaten 2-1 at Anfield during the three-at-the-back-inspired 13-game unbeaten run.
When City collapsed at Tottenham, it was without Joe Hart, Kompany, Zabaleta and Silva, with Aguero not fully fit and Yaya Toure suffering a hamstring injury early in the second half. There is perhaps no top side so reliant on their spine and, while suffering all those injuries simultaneously was freakish, Liverpool can perhaps draw encouragement from the fact that, of those six, only Hart and Toure are likely to be at full fitness even if they are able to play.
That said, Nicolas Otamendi has settled, so Kompany’s absence may not be quite so decisive as it was a month or so ago, and the form of Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling means that there is creativity without Silva. What there may not be, though, is a cutting edge.
LIVERPOOL’S FORWARD OPTIONS
For the first time since he took over as manager, Klopp should have something like his first choice midfield and attack available, with only Henderson certain to be missing. Up till now, he’s been making do but this ought to give an indication of how he sees the front end of the team.
Does he stick with the physical power of Christian Benteke or go for the greater technical prowess of Daniel Sturridge? Or can he find a way of playing both? And does Lucas retain his place in midfield when Emre Can could be paired with James Milner, or will Milner continue to operate in a wider role. Will it be 4-2-3-1 or the 4-3-2-1 he used in his first couple of games after taking the job? If it’s the latter, Liverpool may struggle to contain the attacking intent of City’s full-backs.
There may also be a sense that, while Benteke has played perfectly well under Klopp, he is less likely to cause Otamendi problems than the more mobile Sturridge.
THE COUTINHO POCKET
One of the reasons for Philippe Coutinho’s good form over the past season or so has been his capacity to find room to the sides of the defensive midfielders and in front of the full-backs. That was perhaps a natural feature of the 3-4-2-1 Brendan Rodgers introduced – and similarly of Klopp’s 4-3-2-1 – but he is good at finding those spaces even in a more orthodox 4-2-3-1. For a City holding pair who haven’t always been the most defensively alert, dealing with the Brazilian will be a significant test.
The overwhelming sense is that Liverpool at 5.50 look long. City can’t be relied upon to score, while Liverpool have improved defensively under Klopp. It’s easy to imagine a hard-fought 0-0 or 1-1 draw in which City have more of the ball but end up frustrated. It’s intriguing in that regard that Over-2.5 goals is favourite, meaning Unders can be backed at 2.06.
There’s always the temptation in such circumstances to start Dutching correct scores bets, backing low-scoring Liverpool wins and draws, but the best thing here is probably simply backing Liverpool +0.5 which is as long as 2.33.