Manchester City V Liverpool Tactical Preview


Liverpool are top at Christmas for the first time since Rafa Benitez left Anfield, but will be overtaken unless they can avoid defeat at The Etihad on Boxing Day.

Both City and Liverpool recorded wins at the weekend, with Manuel Pellegrini's powerful side now trailing the Reds and Arsenal by one point.

City's home form has been perfect so far this term; the club taking maximum points at the Etihad. But the irresistible form of Liverpool's Luis Suarez cannot be underestimated ahead of this Christmas cracker of a top of the table clash.

Probable line-ups
       

Man City's top goal scorer Sergio Aguero remains absent through injury, as does Matija Nastasic. Eden Dzeko should continue up front alongside Alvaro Negredo, while Pablo Zabaleta's injury problems mean Gael Clichy could continue as a make shift right-back.

Liverpool are without long term absentees Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard. Jordan Henderson has been excellent in Gerrard's absence, though, and Luis Suarez has hardly been shy in front of goal since his strike partner Sturridge has been out injured - so while two of their most significant stars are missing, it won't appear as much of a blow for the league leaders.

City's home dominance

Manchester City have been perfect at home this season. They've kept five clean sheets in their eight home games, netting an impressive 35 goals in the process at an average of 4.4 goals per game.

Away at Fulham, even without the brilliant Sergio Aguero they managed to score four times. City have goals throughout their side and of the four goals scored against Fulham there were three from midfield and one from centre-back Vincent Kompany.

On home turf, City's attacking threat has to be taken particularly seriously. This is a side that has scored 16 goals in three games against Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. and have the ability to take any side apart who visits the Etihad naively.

Liverpool's sloppiness at the back

Liverpool, while possessing their own fire power, might have to take a pragmatic approach against such a rampant attacking side, or risk being over-run. The club's defensive record is not brilliant, with them conceding sloppily again at the weekend versus Cardiff City. Only Manchester City of the top five Premier League teams have conceded more goals than Liverpool's 19, which suggests a goal frenzy here.

Liverpool have actually kept just two clean sheets in their last twelve Premier League games and it doesn't look like they'll manage to shut out this prolific City side. During this run of games Liverpool conceded three times at Everton, twice at Arsenal and three times at Hull. This will genuinely be a concern for Brendan Rodgers, who might have to try and get his side to outscore their opponents, given their frailties at the back.

Luis Suarez against a beatable Man City defence

Despite being rampant in front of goal, and boasting a decent defensive record at the Etihad, Manchester City are not as solid at the back as they have been in previous years. The way in which they allowed Fulham back into the game at the weekend, leaking two poorly defended goals being a case in point, as were the three goals they needlessly shipped at home to Arsenal.

Against Liverpool then, who are the second top scorers in the Premier League (after City), they have to be better at the back, especially with Luis Suarez in such majestic form. The Uruguayan striker has now scored 19 goals in 12 league games, making him the top goal scorer in the Premier League thus far.

Not only does he promise goals but there are few forwards in the league with a more all action style than Suarez, who will run at City's back four and torment them relentlessly. Against Norwich, a game in which he scored four times, he was a handful all game long, making something from four out of an attempted seven dribbles in the final third:
 

As we can see from the above graphic, some of these were in wide areas, so we can expect him to peel off into the channels and get at City's full-backs, as well as just to run in behind (and at) the two centre-backs.

In fact, City's makeshift back four will be vulnerable to Suarez's dynamism, particularly given that Martin Demichelis is not the most mobile defender. Meanwhile, Philippe Coutinho will look to thread through balls in behind to Suarez to run onto and exploit.

Conclusion

This big match up sees the Premier League's two top scoring sides meeting head to head and as such we should expect goals from what could prove to be a crucial fixture in the Premier League title race. With City's rampant attacking style at home and Luis Suarez's brilliance, this game will not disappoint like the Arsenal v Chelsea game of Monday night. Whatever the outcome here, it will provide fascination and high entertainment, as City battle to hold onto their supreme home record, and the resurgent Liverpool attempt to show they're the real deal.

Best Bet

Over 3.5 goals at 2.16.