Manchester City will look to move within 4 points of league leaders Liverpool when they host the Reds at the Etihad Stadium tomorrow, in what is surely going to be one of the biggest games of the season.
The Sky Blues are coming on the back of a 3-1 win over Southampton but will be cautious in their approach as they face high-flying Liverpool, who are still the only English team yet to be beaten this season in the Premier League.
In the build-up to the game, let us take a look at 3 key battles which could have an impact on the outcome-
Sergio Aguero vs Virgil van Dijk
Sergio Aguero has been Manchester City’s leading goalscorer in all competitions this season, having netted 13 goals in just 21 matches. However, an unfortunate groin injury at the start of last month has had a great impact on his overall performance as the Argentine has scored only one goal in his last four league games.
But, Aguero will still remain one of the key players going into this top of the table encounter and therefore, the onus will be on Liverpool’s defensive stalwart Virgil van Dijk to prevent the former Atletico Madrid striker from troubling the Reds’ defence this week.
The Dutch international has already played a key role behind Liverpool’s defensive solidity so far this campaign and his physical dominance coupled with his imposing presence in the backline can be intimidating for any attacker.
However, Aguero’s quick-witted movements and neat touches will certainly arm him with a daunting challenge for the former Southampton defender as he seeks another shut-out this midweek.
Fernandinho vs Naby Keita/Georginio Wijnaldum
Fernandinho’s return to full fitness was a boon for Pep Guardiola last weekend as the Brazilian international was crucial in maintaining City’s control in midfield. And the former Shakhtar Donetsk star will be expected to provide the same kind of security for the backline when he locks horn with a talented set of Liverpool midfielders.
Wijnaldum, in particular, has been one of the unsung heroes for Liverpool this season, often springing his way into the half spaces to ease up his side’s transition game.
He is also useful when it comes to pressing the opponent while Naby Keita is a dynamic midfielder, whose quick-footed movements and excellent control over the ball, will cause problems for any midfield in the world. Additionally, Jurgen Klopp could also opt for an even more dynamic approach by starting with Xherdan Shaqiri.
But either way, Fernandinho will be tasked with providing genuine cover for the backline and therefore, his performance this week will most likely shape Manchester City’s fate in this high-octane clash.
Aymeric Laporte & Oleksandr Zinchenko vs Mohamed Salah
Guardiola is in a bit of dilemma in regards to the left-back position, with Benjamin Mendy ruled out with injury while makeshift choice Fabian Delph is suspended, leaving Oleksandr Zinchenko as the player coming closest to replacing them conventionally.
Therefore, Klopp will definitely be tempted to start attacking ace Mohamed Salah on the right wing, despite deploying him as the false nine in recent matches. Operating from the right, the Egyptian wizard will be able to make the most out of Zinchenko’s inexperience and Laporte’s lack of pace, ultimately putting more pressure on the City backline.
However, Laporte has been rather solid this season and that solidity will surely be tested against Salah this week – making this one of the most intriguing duels in this encounter.