If Manchester City can avoid defeat at Liverpool this weekend, then talk about them going an entire Premier League season unbeaten will be promoted from cursory side-note to full-on narrative. The trip to Anfield is arguably the toughest of the 16 games that remain - if not the toughest of all 38 - for three main reasons.
First is the fact Jurgen Klopp boasts an unrivalled record against Pep Guardiola, with five wins in 11 meetings. Second is the similarity of their natural philosophies and the belief that Liverpool are best equipped to exploit what most people believe to be City’s biggest potential weaknesses. And third is City’s awful record on this ground.
How much historical results really matter is a moot point, especially when you’re talking about a team displaying a level of dominance never witnessed on these shores before. But it’s enough to dictate the pre-match storyline in the blue camp, which some would say is halfway towards creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
City’s last victory in front of the Kop was way back in May 2003 when two late Nicolas Anelka goals overturned a Milan Baros opener. Before that, you have to go all the way back to Boxing Day 1981. And before that, you’re looking at an FA Cup replay in 1956 when Liverpool were a second division side and Bill Shankly was still assistant manager at Huddersfield.
All of which means, over the past 60 years, the Reds boast an imperious record of W33 D15 L2. But perhaps most pertinent of all is the fact that City still haven’t triumphed at this venue in 10 attempts since the Abu Dhabi money arrived in 2008. By way of contrast, compare this to their record of five victories in the last eight visits to Old Trafford.
This City team, of course, should be motivated by the prospect of renouncing such a hoodoo and they can take some comfort from the fact they put five goals past the 10-man Merseysiders in the reverse fixture at the Etihad four months ago. But if Liverpool are still stewing on that result as an injustice, then that could be a powerful edge in itself.
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An abundance of goalmouth action isn’t a certainty but it’s easy to understand why goals are widely expected given the respective strengths, weaknesses and outlooks. City’s ability to control games through possession has masked their deficiencies up to this point, but that could easily change in front of a fervent Anfield crowd that roars on every attempt to press high.
City have been up against some tasty forward lines in other big matches this season and kept them relatively quiet, but the trio of Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane is unique in its ability to swarm in unison and they are capable of exploiting the spaces that will doubtless open up in-behind should the midfield - and Adam Lallana, in particular - find the right pass.
Either way, the option of backing Liverpool and taking a chunk of the draw on the Asian handicap is difficult to resist because this might be the first time this season we detect an element of caution from City. Big statements have already been made at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford, so there’s no obligation on them to over-stake their reputation here.
If both teams go at it hammer and tongs for 75 minutes on the back of a busy festive period and the scores are level pegging in the closing stages, then the idea of an unbeaten campaign might well begin to enter the equation for the visitors. At that point, they possibly cross the fine line between possession with a purpose and simply protecting the ball.
Liverpool +0.25 on the Asian handicap at evens