Although both Liverpool and Manchester City have had their share of mishaps and embarrassments in 2016, there is potential for a beautiful game as we wrap up the year. With innovative approaches from both teams causing slight falters in the first half of the campaign, these highly ranked clubs are looking to put their woes behind to compete with a full field of title contenders. The three concepts discussed below signal distinct challenges for both teams with the potential for fireworks.
1. Defensive composure will be a telling factor
Both teams have been taken to task for defensive inconsistencies this season as Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola manage projects where everyone, including the keeper, is a midfielder. Will one exploit the other’s defensive inconsistencies or will the recent progress of both teams’ backlines make for a more evenly pitched, hard-fought match?
The Blues were frustrated against Hull City but a fleet of players are now fit, eligible, in form, and eager to realize the dream of high-flying football. However, Liverpool has an intense collective approach to defense that can be stifling. Although the Reds' center-backs and keepers have been vulnerable, when they get on the front foot, their resolve to maintain possession and get chances has kept them in the top tier of the table.
Jurgen Klopp’s men have the ability to get rolling on their home turf and City has been just as uncomfortable as Liverpool in their own box this season. A more settled approach to possession in front of their goal has been a benefit to the Blues recently. Tampering with the talents and tactics of Liverpool’s quick, multi-faceted attack has to be their greater concern.
In seeking to keep pace with Chelsea, both teams are gaining composure and determination. The ability to play with more traditional center-backs, to tackle and stop direct runs from wingers and central-midfielders, to play like it is a final where mistakes are absolutely minimized, will be of the greatest importance.
2. City will be looking to prove their scoring prowess
The need to score early and often has been looming like a shadow over City’s impressive possession statistics. They’ll have a number of options in their favor that could help secure three points and increase their goal differential.
Sergio Agüero hasn’t played in four weeks and will have obvious objectives to lead the charge.
Raheem Sterling has contributed to the score sheet recently but would surely like to stamp his name on the score line with much greater frequency.
Guardiola made uncharacteristic criticisms of an individual player after the Boxing Day match when he said that Sterling passed too much, saying he needs to be more direct. Sparking greater performances from Sterling, Jesus Navas, and Nolito would be a distinct advantage with Agüero and others moving around the box.
Kevin De Bruyne has been helpful to others in the goal-scoring effort but his own chances have gone askew. David Silva has played an equally important role in setting up his teammates but has shared De Bruyne’s frustration in finding the back of the net. Yaya Touré has proved himself important for City’s success this season with scoring potential and decisive movement at both ends of the pitch.
As the Sky Blues seek to find a consistent stride in dissecting opponents, all of these players have demonstrated versatility of positioning through overlaps and rotating triangular passing to create chances. They’ve often encountered feisty midfielders or staunchly posed back lines where their creativity is impeded.
Coordination has blossomed in moments like City’s second goal against Hull when De Bruyne directed Kelechi Iheanacho to the far post where Silva could feed him. Liverpool’s front-footed mindset could open up space for the further development of an all-out City attack.
3. Potential for supreme football
The unique approaches of these two teams and their pioneering managers could result in a supporter’s dream on New Year’s Eve.
Liverpool’s charismatic coach will conduct Anfield’s faithful if he feels the team needs an extra boost. Guardiola will try to diffuse their excitement by holding Liverpool off the ball. He appears to be increasing the general resolve throughout the squad to recognize situations where faster transitions are necessary.
The desire to get ahead of Liverpool will be ringing like bells around the blue side of Manchester but they can’t neglect Sadio Mané and Co.’s ability to make lethal turns.
With all that’s on the line, both teams can be expected to play with a lot of character. Speed and precision will play important roles but the ability to stay sharp for a hundred minutes could be the most telling of who will stand second to Chelsea on New Year’s Day.