City end the year at the home of the People’s Champions, the perennial ‘Title Winners in waiting’, the Club with ‘History’ (TM any club that isn’t Manchester City) and favourites of media types everywhere…Liverpool.
Joking aside, if City are going to come away with all three points on Saturday evening they are going to throw off the weight of a dismal record at Candlefield. Only three victories have been recorded by City sides at this ground since 1956. In that year it was an FA Cup win and since then only in 1981 and 2003 have we witnessed the silencing of the Kop through securing wins in the league. It is not a good record and one which I am sure Jurgen Klopp is well aware of as he prepares his team for this fixture and encourages the fans to play their part. He knows how to get them going and we can expect a raucous atmosphere in the ground by the time kick off arrives.
After their disastrous and embarrassing show against Leicester at the start of the month Pep Guardiola’s team have knuckled down and ground out three consecutive wins including a vital come back against title rivals Arsenal. I hope that this hasn’t bred any sense of complacency or a feeling that the team have turned any major corners yet because they are in danger of finding themselves in for a very rude awakening against a side that Klopp is moulding into an effective unit and one which is capable of very intensive pressing. As we have seen in previous matches, the fuss made over how Guardiola wants his side to play, over the role he wants his keeper to undertake seems to have resulted in opponents deciding that pressing City high up the pitch and with a frequency and intensity that they rarely deploy against other teams can deliver results. Klopp used this tactic to deliver success at Dortmund and I expect it to be used against City with gusto. If we want this match to avoid the look of a matching ‘bookend’ to the one we witnessed at Leicester then the players had better be ready and Pep had better have a plan.
Liverpool remain without the services of Coutinho which is just as well as he pretty much always seems to score against us. Old boy James Milner will undoubtedly be setting out feeling that he has a point to prove although exactly what it is eludes me. He performed well for City and he chose to wind down his contract and leave for pastures new ostensibly because he wanted to play in a more central role but where he has regularly found himself deployed on the wing or at full back so how’s that working out for you James? Of course it was nothing at all to do with this being his last contract and the availability of a large signing on fee in lieu of a transfer fee. But enough of that. The absence of Skrtel will also be a relief as he was also a regular scorer for the History Boys.
City will welcome the return of Sergio Aguero from his four match suspension hoping that his enforced rest will have allowed him throw off whatever demons seemed to have been plaguing him this season. Two domestic suspensions for effectively displays of petulance against opponents have hampered his ability to make his case for being the best striker in the Premier League this season and seen him flirt with the adoption of Diego Costa’s mantle of being the ‘striker most likely to be in a bad mood’. It can be no coincidence that Costa’s emergence as one of the most lethal strikers we have seen in the league has come after he seems to have largely given up the task set him under his previous manager – get under the skin of your marker, get him on a yellow card or better still get him sent off. His greater focus on just playing football seems to have released him from this pressure and appears to be delivering dividends not least the ability to be offered one chance at scoring and taking it. The confidence which this seems to breed in his team mates at Chelsea is palpable – they know that if they can carve out an opportunity he will take it. Whether Aguero is continuing to struggle to adapt to the Guardiola style of flexible role required of his striker or is simply missing the presence of a strike partner to distract defenders and create space for him to exploit is difficult to assess. What he does need though is to get his head down, work hard and regain the supreme self-confidence which has seen him previously take the hardest of chances as if it were shelling peas. A return for John Stones is a possibility after he departed the pitch against Hull on Boxing Day with a knock to his knee and perhaps we might see something of Sane after his absence from the Boxing Day squad.
Everyone will have to be on their game tomorrow. Everyone will have to work their socks off to match Liverpool and the game may well be played at a pace which will be bewildering. Avoiding the concession of an early gifted goal has got to be a priority and so we must hope that Pep’s astute ability to learn and adapt has recognised that for the time being a back three may not be the best option until he can stabilise the defence with players who are genuinely comfortable in that role.
Out with the old, in with the new is often the saying around this time of the year and so what better time could there be for Pep Guardiola’s side to defy convention, to throw off the shackles of history, to make a mark and step into 2017 with a spring in their step than to leave the pitch on Saturday evening with all three points in their pocket?
Hold on to your hats, the roller coaster continues…
Come On City!!!
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