Liverpool Versus Manchester City Could Be the Match of the Year in the Premier League
If you're going to watch one Premier League match this season, make it this one.
Liverpool and Manchester City tangle at Anfield Saturday in what should be a wildly entertaining fixture between two of the most aesthetically pleasing sides in Europe. Due to their style of play under managers Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp -- specifically the way each side presses high up the pitch to win the ball and looks to get forward as soon as they get it -- the Reds and Sky Blues make for a great watch anytime they cross the touchline, but put them on the same patch of grass and it promises to be a wide-open, lung-busting affair.
Goals are fun. End-to-end action is fun. And this match should be incredibly fun.
Let's look at all the factors which make this such a highly-anticipated matchup.
It wouldn't be difficult to make an argument that Klopp and Guardiola are the two best managers in the sport. Sure, Jose Mourinho's career resume is pretty dope and several other gaffers -- Jose Enrique, for one, has won a whole mess of trophies with Barcelona the past two seasons -- are of the utmost quality, but Guardiola and Klopp are at the top of their game.
It's like Gregg Popovich and Bill Belichick facing each other, if they coached in the same sport and one of them went nuts after big plays.
Both -- Klopp with Liverpool and Guardiola at City -- are in their first full campaigns in the Premier League.
The driving force behind Barcelona's "tiki-taka" era of dominance, Guardiola -- this is a big but true statement -- changed the way modern soccer is played. His teams cherish possession, playing short, quick passes to move forward, which can result in breath-taking, "How in the -- whaaat?!" sequences of play. When Guardiola's teams lose the ball, they press -- read: swarm -- like heck to get it back as quickly as possible, but they don't lose the ball often.
Below is a three-minute stretch from a Champions League match in 2013, Guardiola's first season at Bayern Munich, in which his team has their opponent -- Manchester City, ironically -- playing a version of monkey in the middle.
Guardiola has used these tactics to win big throughout his career. This is his eighth season as a manager, and he's won six league titles across his previous stops at Barcelona and Bayern Munich. He's won 21 total trophies -- everything from domestic cups to the Super Cup to the Champions League, the latter of which he's won twice -- and directed what some think may be the club team of all time when he helped Barca capture the treble (winning the league, domestic cup and Champions League) in the 2008-09 campaign.
Klopp doesn't have the overflowing trophy case of Guardiola -- because very few in the history of the sport do -- but he's got an impressive track record, as well. His two most noteworthy stops -- Dortmund and Liverpool -- were similar situations when he arrived. Both clubs are big with rabid fanbases, but they're not superpowers, and each was in the midst of a rough stretch when Klopp arrived.
Klopp took Dortmund to new heights with a sustained run of success, capturing back-to-back league titles in the Bundesliga -- topping German giants Bayern Munich in the process -- and making the club's second-ever appearance in a Champions League final in 2013. Liverpool were floundering when Klopp came in midseason last year, and he righted the ship, guiding them to a Europa League final, where they fell to Sevilla.
Tactically, Klopp has some similarities to Guardiola. Klopp's sides are typically more direct in attack, but both managers are fully committed to deploying a high, frenetic press defensively -- which is part of what should make this matchup so enjoyable. Not only does pressing require the players to go all out for 90 minutes -- Liverpool midfielder Adam Lallana covered 12.5 kilometers (7.7 miles) in a match earlier this year -- but the pressing, when broken, can lead to space and opportunity for the team in attack.
Chelsea -- winners of 12 straight and 6 points clear atop the table -- are the best team in the Premier League at the moment, but Manchester City and Liverpool boast England's top attacks. The Citizens and Reds live on the front foot and sit at the top -- or near it -- of the Premier League in just about every offensive stat.
Here's where each stacks up in a few key offensive numbers, with the Premier League ranking in parenthesis.
|Goals||45 (1st)||39 (2nd)|
|Possession||59.2% (2nd)||61% (1st)|
|Shots Per Game||18.1 (2nd)||16.9 (3rd)|
|Shots On Target Per Game||6.4 (2nd)||5.8 (3rd)|
|Passes Per Game||614.2 (1st)||586.5 (2nd)|
|Pass Success Rate||83.6% (4th)||84.8% (1st)|
Liverpool's attack is as potent as it is deep, and they are averaging a pristine 2.5 goals per match.
The Reds have seven players who have scored at least three goals, with newly-acquired attacking midfielder Sadio Mane leading the way with eight goals, including this solo beauty against Arsenal.
Sadio Mané's goal against Arsenal was voted Match of the Day's Goal of the Month. #LFC pic.twitter.com/nCv8FSn1QD
— The Anfield Talk (@TheAnfieldTalk) September 11, 2016
Lallana has tallied seven goals with a team-leading six assists, nearly accounting for as many goals as last-place Hull City (14). Lallana has been especially dangerous at Anfield, either scoring or assisting on eight goals in seven home matches. Five other players -- Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho, Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Divock Origi -- have at least five combined goals and assists. Unfortunately, Coutinho will still be out due to his ankle injury.
City are more reliant on one true striker, Sergio Aguero, to get them goals. Fortunately for them, he's among the best in the world at it. Aguero, who will be back for this game, is clinical in front of goal. He's scored 10 goals in 11 league matches this season, and he has totaled 50 goals in 59 Premier League matches in the two seasons prior.
Aguero's two suspensions have forced other players into goal-scoring roles. After a disappointing first year with City, attacking midfielder Raheem Sterling has looked like a rejuvenated player under Guardiola. He's nearly matched his goal-scoring output from a year ago at the (almost) midway point of the season, posting five goals and three assists in 15 appearances.
Forward Kelechi Iheanacho has seen more first-team run than usual with Aguero out, and he's responded with four goals and three assists while appearing in 12 matches, just four of which were starts. Midfielder Kevin de Bruyne has dished out league-best nine assists, and midfield pace-setter David Silva has set up four goals while completing 88.4% of his 60.9 passes per match.
In 12 months, Klopp has come to Anfield and made the Reds a ferocious, relentless side that's a joy to watch. Liverpool press hard, get forward in the blink of an eye and have a plethora of goal-scoring options in the top half of the formation.
The Reds sit in second and are a surprise title contender. They haven't won a Premier League crown since the 1989-90 campaign, but this year was only the fourth time in the past 26 years that Liverpool were in the top two at Christmas.
Guardiola is viewed as such a managerial magician that it feels like a disappointment City are in third place. Guardiola's teams don't do third place. But this is a year in which the parity atop the Premier League is unrivaled, and it's not like the Citizens were a well-oiled machine last year, clinging to a fourth-place finish on goal differential.
As much as any manager, Guardiola craves certain types of players to fit his system, and while he made some moves last summer -- most notably bringing in center back John Stones and goalie Claudio Bravo -- he almost certainly doesn't have the roster he desires.
City are a work in progress, and so are Liverpool. Where that's most apparent is on each side's back line. City have allowed 20 goals, the second-most for any team in the top six of the Premier League. They only top-six side who have conceded more? You probably guessed it: Liverpool.
The shaky defenses should only add to the entertainment of this match. After all, who doesn't like goals?
Liverpool have won four of the last five league meetings between the two, including a pair of one-sided 3-0 and 4-1 victories a year ago. But this is the first Liverpool-City clash with Klopp and Guardiola on the touchline.
With the form Chelsea is in, neither the Reds nor Citizens can afford to drop points, adding yet another spoke to the wheel of intrigue in this match. It's listed as a pick 'em with an over/under of 3, so it should be a tight, high-scoring fixture. Hard to ask for more than that.
Blistering attacks, suspect back lines, big-name managers and two title-contending sides -- this match may very well have it all, and it should be a treat to watch.