Premier League football returns this weekend and in the first true marquee fixture of the new season, Manchester City host Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday. Two powerhouse squads, two superstar managers and two teams expected to tilt for the title.
Both teams head into the match tied on seven points each with Liverpool sitting second in the table behind Manchester United. City are two places down in fourth, trailing on goal differential. And while Pep Guardiola’s team are most pundits favorites to win the title next May, it’s City who’ve got off to the rockier start.
Seven points – two wins and a draw – from three fixtures is not to be discounted. But City looked labored at times in the opening rounds of the season. It took 70 minutes to find a breakthrough in the season opener against lowly Brighton. They were held to a draw at home by Everton the following week and only pipped a win at Bournemouth on a last gasp goal from Raheem Sterling.
Last season it was the defense that was fingered for most of City’s woes. Despite having given up two goals in three matches, City’s backline looks much improved. However, the high wattage attack assembled by Guardiola has yet to really click. Considering the number of opportunities and shots on goal City generate, they’ve scored precious few goals this season: Two from Sterling, one each Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero, and an own goal from Brighton’s Lewis Dunk.
Part of the problem is Aguero and Jesus. The two seem to want to attack the same space and often make the same runs as one another. Being wasteful in front of goal against the likes of Brighton and Bournemouth is one thing, but against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, it could prove costly.
City’s struggles could be a cause for concern, considering the only time they’ve come anywhere near a supposed top team – Everton – they drew. The team’s current form is especially foreboding in light of Liverpool’s fine record of beating the league’s top teams.
Since Jurgen Klopp took charge at Anfield, the Reds have often struggled against Premier League minnows. But they have the best record of any of the top teams when it comes to playing each other. Liverpool’s record against City might be particularly disconcerting. The Citizens haven’t beat Liverpool since 2014 with Liverpool having won four of the last six meetings between the two. The other two ended in a draw.
Although Liverpool head into Saturday’s match even on points, Klopp’s team have been far more convincing in the early rounds of the season. After giving up a draw in their opener at Watford, Liverpool came roaring back with back-to-back wins against Crystal Palace and Arsenal. The Reds were particularly impressive against the Gunners, shutting Arsene Wenger’s team out 4-0 and denying the North Londoners a single shot on goal.
Liverpool’s progression in the Premier League is all the more impressive considering they also managed to squeeze in a 6-2 aggregate win over two legs against Hoffenheim to qualify for the Champions League.
Speaking of Arsenal, Saturday is likely to give us our first glimpse of former Gunner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in Liverpool colors. During his final season at the Emirates, the England international appeared on the wing, at central midfield, and at full back. Should he appear against City, it will be curious to see where Klopp decides to deploy the versatile 24-year-old.
Saturday could also see the return of Philippe Coutinho to Liverpool’s lineup. The playmaker has returned to training after going away on international duty with Brazil. The 25-year-old was the subject of interest from Barcelona this summer and lobbied hard for a move to the La Liga outfit. Coutinho is rumored to be disgruntled with the club’s unwillingness to sell him, and with only 47 minutes of action to his name this season, it’s unclear whether he’ll factor into Klopp’s plans this weekend.
Watch Manchester City taking on Liverpool this Saturday, September 9 at 7:30 a.m. EST on NBCSN.