Taking a look at the key points in the build up to this crucial PL fixture.
On Sunday 27th November, Manchester City will travel to Anfield for a game against Liverpool. Live on Sky Sports as the Super Sunday match, Roberto Mancini's men will face another tough test of the credentials as they take on Kenny Dalglish's revitalised Liverpool. Both sides picked up vital wins last weekend, with City seeing off a resistant Newcastle side 3-1, Mario Balotelli, Micah Richards, and Sergio Aguero all on the scoresheet. Liverpool had an even tougher test and went to Stamford Bridge to face a Chelsea team who hadn't lost back-to-back home league matches since Roman Abramovich had taken over at the helm of the club. After going ahead deservedly in the first half through Maxi Rodriguez, Chelsea pegged them back in the second half through a Daniel Sturridge equaliser. For the remainder of the second half Chelsea looked the more likely to snatch all three points but Glen Johnson, formerly of Chelsea, scored a wonderful solo goal with three minutes remaining to perform another Liverpool smash-and-grab at the Bridge and take a crucial three points back with them up to Merseyside. So, here are the key factors and areas which we should all be looking out for on Sunday afternoon:
As mentioned, both Johnson and Richards scored at the weekend after breaking down the right flank with powerful, pacey runs that really panic opposition defences. This will be a key area of the match to see which sides full-backs can break out more effectively. Both Johnson and Jose Enrique love to attack for Liverpool, and Enrique has probably been the stand out player for the Reds so far this campaign. Since moving from Newcastle he has made the left-back position his own and formed a great relationship with Stewart Downing or any other player he's played with down that left hand side. He's athletic, strong, has bundles of pace and energy to burn, and can cross better than almost any defender in the Premier League.
Along with that threat going forward, he's also a rock at the back and has only been dribbled past four times this season, statistics courtesy of Opta sports. For City, Richards is very much like Enrique with possibly even more physical strength than his Liverpool counter-part. On the other side, Mancini will have to make the decision whether to play Alexander Kolarov, who has a ferocious left foot and is deadly from set-pieces but can be questioned defensively, or the more likely option of Gael Clichy, who isn't as strong going forward as Kolarov, Richards, Enrique, or Johnson, but was watched very closely by Liverpool in the summer and can be a more safe option at the back, having been a regular for Arsenal learning how to defend properly under Arsene Wenger. This will be an intriguing battle for both sides, as there is many factors to ponder, such as how wide will each side play going forward, and who will quickest to track back if countered upon.
Possibly the key battle of the entire match. The result of this game of football will almost be solely dependent on how well each team plays in the middle of the park, the battleground area of the pitch. For Liverpool, it seems very likely that Lucas Leiva and Charlie Adam will be paired together once more as Kenny Dalglish has seen very good signs of this partnership so far in the season. With Steven Gerrard missing, Adam has taken his chance in the first team and grasped it tightly with both hands. His delivery from set-pieces is second to Aside from his abilities in dead-ball situations, Adam can also pick a pass from almost anywhere on the field, and has been vital in breaking up oppositions passages of play, most noteably at the Bridge last Sunday when he stole the ball from Mikel to set Liverpool away for their opening goal. Another famous Opta sport stat showed that Adam intercepted the ball ten times in the match against Chelsea, something rarely seen acheived in just a single game. Alongside Adam will be Lucas, voted the best player of 2011 in the North-West last week, ahead of any other player from Manchester City/United, Liverpool, Bolton, Blackburn, Wigan etc. And nobody can deny he's been a revalation for Liverpool in the last year. The way he breaks up the play, seeks out the simple pass, yet adds a certain Brazilian style to the Anfield outfit is truly remarkable, Liverpool are certainly a strong force in that area of the pitch.
However, as with many Manchester City related topics, the motto seems to be 'anything you can do I can do better', and that is true of this case also. Yaya Toure, Gareth Barry, James Milner, Nigel De Jong, the list goes on. City can match any midfield pairing in the country. Now of course as this is a preview I cannot tell you the official team news, but if Mancini sticks with his usual formation he'll be playing with two holding midfielders and one pushing further ahead such as Silva, Aguero, Nasri (more to come of that later). If Toure and Barry play in those two holding roles, which I fully anticipate they will do, they can equally break up Liverpool's pattern of play, pick out a simple yet effective pass, and burst forward from their position with an annoying ease. I think the battle in this area will decide the outcome of the match, it's just that tight.
I've used the word attackers because they come from all over the pitch, even at full-back as I previously stated. Liverpool may go with two up top, with two wingers outside of that, or play a similar way as they did at Stamford Bridge with one man in the assigned number ten role, in behind a main striker. I can only predict of course, but I think as the home side Kenny will want his boys to attack City and take the game to them, with the famous Anfield crowd behind them. Unless the FA find evidence of racist abuse from Luis Suarez's side, I'm quite certain he will play on Sunday. Suarez is the heartbeat of the Liverpool team. He can do things with a football that most of us will only ever dream of doing, and is one of, if not the best footballer in the Premier League, and must be one of the top players in world football currently. His attitude to the game is fantastic, always so eager to play despite having travelled round the world with Uruguay just days earlier. Always wanting the ball and never shying away from it even after a bad miss.
Scaring the life out of defenders, Suarez I think will be partnered by Andy Carroll, as it was this exact fixture last season where Carroll had his best game in a Liverpool shirt so far in his short Anfield career. Carroll is the outball for Liverpool, rarely being beaten in the air and has a surprisingly deft touch for such a big man. Cynically attacked by the media, Carroll has found it tough fitting in to Kenny's systems at times but I'm convinced he can score a goal or two on Sunday given the right service from out wide. Speaking of out wide, I think Maxi's goal against Chelsea may just see him steal a place on the left hand side for Liverpool ahead of Downing, who has also found it tough going this season. Jordan Henderson came on and did magnificantly also on Sunday, and it could be he who starts rather than Dirk Kuyt. Craig Bellamy would be desperate for a starting place as well against his former side City, and Liverpool do have plenty of different options in players and formations going forward that can worry Roberto Mancini in his sides preparation.
But if you want nervous defences, Manchester City will certainly make you weak at the knees when you see them bursting forward. Balotelli, Aguero, Dzeko, Nasri, Milner, Johnson, and the most effective of them all, David Silva, can give you nightmares before a game. Having been rested against Newcastle, Silva I'm sure will be given a starting place on Sunday at Anfield, where he failed to impress last season as Liverpool came out 3-0 victors in the end. Silva has undoubtedly been the best player in the PL this season bar none, his goals, assists, movement, and footwork is admirable. Watching him with the ball at his feet is magical to watch, and some of the passing I've seen from him so far has been no shorter than majestic. He can cause Liverpool big problems on Sunday and I thoroughly expect Lucas to be keeping an eye on his movement at all times. I also expect Aguero to play, having scored at the weekend he'll be looking to shine at Anfield also. His move from Athletico Madrid in the summer for big money raised a few eyebrows, but he has repaid the faith shown in him by Mancini by netting ten times so far this season. City have many other options though, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Balotelli playing on the left hand side, and either Johnson, Milner, or Nasri on the other side. Liverpool will have to be on their toes come Sunday afternoon.
So there you have it, the defining areas of the match. Whoever comes out on top in those three key battles will almost certainly win the match, unless it's a draw of course in which case spoils this whole piece. Liverpool have an unbeaten home record and the strongest defensive record in the league, and face Manchester City who have the best scoring record in the league and are still yet to be beaten this season. Something has got to give. It's a mouth-watering affair, which millions upon millions of people all around the world will be fixated by I'm sure. There's all the necessary ingredients there for a feast of footballing entertainment, with more than just three points at stake, but a real platform for the rest of the campaign. There's bound to be fireworks (no Balotelli pun intended).
Liverpool vs. Manchester City, Sunday 27th November, Anfield, 4pm.