So it comes to this, a meeting of two unquestionably brilliant, generational sides, each with a much-coveted title in their sights and with a handful of games left to play. Only one point separates them. Not a lot else does.
Does that mean we are about to witness a title decider at the Etihad this Sunday? All their subsequent opponents will have something to say about that, but so relentless are both teams that it’s hardly the wildest claim that whoever wins this weekend will have one hand clasped to the Premier League crown.
That’s assuming of course that one side betters the other, because the narrative that takes us up to kick-off must be given due importance and that puts the possibility of a draw front and centre.
Liverpool know that a win has them two points clear and firmly in the driving seat and though they will still have some tricky terrain left to navigate it is worth noting that Klopp’s Reds have won seven-plus on the bounce on six occasions since 2018. They are presently riding the wave of ten straight wins, conceding on only two occasions along the way.
Typically, against City, they go hell-for-leather from the off, attempting to prevent their more considered rivals from settling into a rhythm. With victory so precious we can absolutely expect the same strategy to be deployed on Sunday.
City meanwhile will be acutely aware of the value of a draw. They have – on paper – an easier run-in and as for their probable requirement to win seven on the spin thereafter, in 2018/19 they won twice that number on the home straight to deprive their Merseyside nemesis.
With the Blues unsurpassed masters at controlling a game’s narrative don’t rule out a low-scoring stalemate, for all of Liverpool’s ferocity.
The Wingmen cometh?
Dissecting the tactical differences between the sides focuses the attention on Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, a double-act that have terrorised the Premier League once again this season but crucially who have failed to have much of an impact in this contest of late.
Between them, the pair – who have their own online show called the ‘Wingmen’ – have assisted every 206 minutes in the league this term, a remarkable return for provisional full-backs. Indeed, to extend on this, 40.2% of Liverpool’s goals this season have been assisted by only three players, Mo Salah being the other.
Yet against their biggest rival, Alexander-Arnold has yet to score or assist while Robertson was last directly involved in a goal back in 2019 and it’s not coincidental that their minimal influence on proceedings has come during a period when Pep Guardiola’s City have gained the upper hand in this fixture, losing only one in the last eight.
By entrusting Rodri and Bernardo Silva to act as cover, the Catalan worked out a way to nullify Liverpool’s main creative threats out wide. It now falls on the Wingmen to come up with a response.
Big game players
The biggest games are so often dictated by the biggest players and this fixture is no exception, as evidenced by the corresponding clash at Anfield last autumn.
Then, Mo Salah scored a sensational solo effort and was instrumental throughout, while Kevin De Bruyne was central to City’s excellent showing before bagging a late equalizer.
We can anticipate both to be pivotal once again and better yet, from a neutral’s perspective, these magnificent players are each in a rich vein of form.
De Bruyne has scored five goals in five and with a fire burning in his belly the Belgian has reclaimed centre stage from Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez. He’s running every show.
As for the ruthlessly prolific Salah, no other player has notched more match-winners this term in the top-flight and all told he has converted every 112 minutes. The Egyptian boasts seven in 13 against City.
Empires built on solid ground
Understandably, it is both team’s attacking merits that get the most plaudits and dominates the conversation when their four-year duopoly of the Premier League is highlighted.
At the back though, Klopp and Guardiola have forged defensive set-ups that arguably only bow to one team and one team only, that being Chelsea’s rock-solid misers of the mid-2000s.
As already stated, Liverpool have been breached in the league on just two occasions since the start of January. To put that into proper context, that’s two goals conceded in over 15 and a half hours of competitive football. It’s a parsimony that is largely explained by Joel Matip enjoying career-high form alongside Virgil Van Dijk simply being Virgil Van Dijk.
To date, City are posting their best defensive numbers post-takeover and even if they head into this mammoth clash minus their leader Ruben Dias, in John Stones and Aymeric Laporte they have first-rate compensation. Both have put in outstanding individual displays vs Liverpool in recent seasons.
Both defences have kept 18 clean sheets this term – with nobody else coming close – and for all the immense talent they’re tasked with neutering this Sunday expect these phenomenal back-lines to have a major say.
Records and highs
Unsurprisingly, these rare creations are racking up some striking stats in 2021/22 and these are well worth including in a cheeky bet builder.
Combined, Liverpool and City have taken on 18.8 shots per game this season while on an individual footing Salah has taken on a league high of 118.
Liverpool have only failed to find the target once in their last 40 league outings while City have gone ahead on 23 occasions and triumphed each time.
A word to the wise however: both team’s corner counts have dipped in recent games. That feels illogical but it’s true nonetheless.