The September 9th clash between title contenders Manchester City and (then) title contenders Liverpool was expected to be an early contender for match of the season. Two managers who set their sides up to press, retrieve, and attack with merciless intent were prepared to mesmerize a football hungry crowd at the Etihad stadium. Cue a Sadio Mané flying head kick and the ensuing red card and what was a closely contested match became a mauling of the Merseysiders, who weren’t capable of handling City’s technical brilliance with 10 men. Guardiola’s star studded men put five goals past Klopp’s weakened side, crushing the momentum Liverpool had from the Red’s 4-0 win over Arsenal on the previous matchday.
Now on January 13th, both english juggernauts are in similar positions: Liverpool are riding the momentum of a 17 match unbeaten run, and City still have yet to be beaten in the league. Like the previous fixture in Manchester, Sunday’s clash at Anfield still carries all the hype however the departure of one Brazilian magician has raised more questions than answers for Jurgen Klopp.
With the fab four broken up, Klopp will need to find an energetic answer in midfield to counter the technicality of a shiny-headed David Silva as well as potential league player of the year, Kevin De Bruyne. Coutinho scored 3 goals and assisted twice over a four game festive period so replacing his numbers will be near impossible. With no natural replacement for the Brazilian within the team, Adam Lallana will be expected to power the Liverpool midfield. Under Klopp, Lallana will be expected to lead the “heavy metal” pressing and work as tirelessly on the ball as he does off it. The Englishman’s box to box prowess was demonstrated in his first match back from injury against Burnley on New Years Day, where he single handedly halted a clear counterattack goal for the plucky Clarets. Liverpool would even feel comfortable allowing City to have possession at Anfield, as a fresh Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane’s pace on the counterattack is probably the best way to disrupt an exhausted City side.
While remaining unbeaten since the beginning of the season, Pep Guardiola’s men have not escaped the fatigue of a crowded festive period. A 0-0 draw away to relegation threatened Crystal Palace and a 90th minute winner against Championship outfit Bristol City have displayed small chinks in the armor of the league leaders. Gabriel Jesus succumbed to injury during the draw with Palace, leaving poor Pep Guardiola to rely on Sergio Aguero, who scored a 90th minute winner against Bristol midweek and heads into Anfield on form. While Aguero hasn’t scored at Anfield in five visits to the historic ground, he will be flanked by club top scorer Raheem Sterling. The former Liverpool winger has grown leaps and bounds this season and returns to his former ground with 14 premier league goals to his name, a testament to his improved finishing since trading red for blue.
While Manchester City may be a tad fatigued, they will be well prepared to stand and trade with the heavy metal Reds. Pep Guardiola has said that his former Dortmund Rival is the “best manager in the world for spectators” and “creates teams to attack the back four”, and Klopp is not one to back down from total football against the most technical team in the division. With Coutinho firmly in the rear view mirror, Klopp is not focused on replacing the Brazilian as much as he is stepping up his side’s play without him. Sunday will be the first test of the post Coutinho era, unfortunately, it comes against the metronomic, albeit fatigued, champions elect. Lallana will need to run, Salah will need to be clinical, and Mane (please, please) will need to keep that boot away from Ederson’s face.