By David Kelly
Brendan Rodgers’ resurgent Reds host high flying Manchester City in Sunday’s much anticipated top of the table clash.
Widely penned as this season’s title decider, Liverpool must channel their aggression and press the Sky Blues in disciplined waves. David Kelly discusses three key areas where the game will be decided.
Swift counter attacks and keeping shape in midfield
Possession and successful passes mirror only part of the story. To quote Damon Runyon, himself a famous sportswriter and author: “The race may not always be to the swift nor the victory to the strong, but that’s how you bet.” While City’s win over Southampton may have been emphatic and resounding, it was also blatantly flattering. They had 44% possession and were out-passed by 472 to 340.
Numbers count for little if you can’t be clinical in your approach. Meanwhile, Liverpool had nearly 64% control, yet only saw off the Hammers in the latter stages. They had 297 more passes than the East London club. Both sides have adopted similar ploys in the Premier League, but the Reds have left themselves exposed at the back, preferring to employ an ‘attack is the best form of defence’ system.
Gerrard, Henderson, Sterling and Coutinho face their biggest threat in Toure, Nasri, Navas and Fernandinho. Rodgers will ponder whether to include Lucas in that midfield pairing. Youngsters Sterling and Coutinho are less likely to fully understand what is required of them defensively, whereas Lucas isn’t afraid to mix it and knows his role. It’s fine when you are on top or need to chase a game, but this ‘cup final’ demands patience and discipline. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Set piece specialities and battle of the strikers
The concession and awarding of penalties has been a feature of late, with Yaya Toure and Steven Gerrard dispatching from the spot. This further underlines the pressure on defenders in the box. Also Suarez’ ability to hit a mean free kick and Kompany’s prolific threat from corners, only add to the excitement. Goals could really come from anywhere.
However, Liverpool’s continued reliance on zonal marking creates undue pressure on Mignolet, something Pellegrini will look to exploit. However, who will he start? Will Silva’s ankle injury force him out? What about Aguero and Negredo? So many possibilities, but it all makes for a cracking afternoon.
This is Anfield, and no normal weekend
The coming week will be an emotional roller coaster for everyone associated with the Reds. April 15th marks the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, which claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool fans, including Steven Gerrard’s cousin, 10-year-old Jon-Paul Gilhooley. The recent beginning of fresh inquests and pen portraits has given the city hope that justice will finally be done.
Kick off starts at 1:37pm, the seventh minute being preceded by a minute’s silence. Hillsborough will always remain part of the club’s fabric, and the supporters will back their team to the hilt. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” will blare out through the loudspeakers and emotions will run high, tears streaming from the stands. Could this finally be Liverpool’s year?