Back and forth, back and forth, until one team trips up. That is the usual pattern in a league title race, with twists and turns aplenty.
But with Manchester City and Liverpool – separated by just a point heading into Sunday’s clash – the status quo is ripped up. Nothing illustrated that more than 2019’s title race, described as ‘flawless’ by Gary Neville on Sky.
From March 3 onwards, with both teams having nine games remaining, 18 wins were produced right up until the final ball is kicked. City emerged triumphant – and it illustrates why this weekend showdown is already being billed as a title decider even though both teams will have seven games left after this.
Liverpool and Manchester City were faultless in their 2019 run-ins while battling for the title
Pep Guardiola got the better of Jurgen Klopp three years ago but who’ll come out on top now?
Much like three years ago, Liverpool are a point behind. Yet this time it is in their hands. A win and they go top. The onus is on the Reds.
Yet Jurgen Klopp has – despite often enthralling encounters – struggled to nail a winning formula at the Etihad. One victory in his last six visits to the home of the champion shows this.
So how can Liverpool win their biggest game of the season? Sportsmail takes a look at the options available to Klopp.
PLAY FOUR OF YOUR FAB FIVE?
In this fixture last season – taking place behind closed doors in November 2020 – Klopp shocked many with an aggressive starting XI selection.
Out of his four mainline attackers – Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota – he started all four.
The net result? Liverpool took the lead early on through a Salah penalty, won via Mane occupying a clumsy Kyle Walker while all four players made themselves available in the penalty area.
This time round, Klopp’s decision on his system of play and personnel is even tricker. Because now, January signing Luis Diaz is also in the mix.
Klopp has a big decision to make regarding who starts up top – does he go with the tried and tested trio of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino?
Or does Klopp pick in-form Luis Diaz and Diogo Jota (L) for Sunday’s crunch title clash?
The Colombian starred in Tuesday’s win at Benfica and, alongside Jota, is arguably in better form than Mane and Salah.
It’s a tough call for Klopp to make. Go with form in his two newest acquisitions or go with the tried and tested triumvirate of Salah, FIrmino and Mane?
Playing four, once again, makes that decision easier.
Liverpool beat City in the 2018 Champions League quarter-finals by catching them cold
Mohamed Salah was lethal in both legs and Liverpool will need him firing on all fronts again
…BUT WHAT DOES THAT DO TO THE MIDFIELD?
While Liverpool’s famously intense press would be in full flow should they choose four up top, it would leave the rest of the team open if City beat that initial press.
In that game last season, Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum were the ones forced to cover – and indeed the acres of space available led to City’s equaliser, with none other than Kevin De Bruyne in the pocket.
Fabinho will play this Sunday, as a natural No 6 tasked with minimalising the effectiveness of City’s captain.
Fabinho will play as a natural No 6 tasked with minimalising Kevin De Bruyne’s influence
Alongside him, Jordan Henderson, Thiago and Naby Keita are competing for two, maybe even one spot in the team.
You’d have thought the Guinea midfielder – who started on Tuesday – would make way for club captain Henderson, whose leadership will be vital on this mammoth occasion.
Thiago should start too, especially if’s the likely three in midfield. They’ll need willing runners to do the hard yards on that gigantic Etihad pitch, that’s for sure.
Captain Jordan Henderson should come back into the starting XI – his leadership will be vital
EITHER WAY, FIND THE SPACE IN BEHIND
No matter whether it’s three of four up top, Liverpool’s route to success is obvious.
With City likely to have more of the ball, utilising the space in behind with the pace of those picked to lead the line will be vital to the outcome of this match.
Back in 2018, when Liverpool’s intensity and pace of play was too much for City in the Champions League quarter-finals, the route was down the right – over the top to Salah.
Fortunately for Jurgen Klopp, he’s got just about the best in the world from that position in feeding his front players in right back Trent Alexander-Arnold, who shone again in midweek.
Andy Robertson, too, is more than capable of providing an overlapping outlet on the opposite flank.
Trent Alexander-Arnold’s pinpoint accuracy over the top of the City defence will be crucial
Klopp’s side should focus their attacking attention down the flanks, behind City’s back-line
Should Liverpool catch City napping again, and make their chances count, it could be the blueprint to their success this Sunday – and in this title race.
A ‘WIN AT ALL COSTS’ MENTALITY
As illustrated at the top, Liverpool’s attitude going into this one might just be the deciding factor.
Many would take a draw at the Etihad. In fact, nearly every team would.
But that simply won’t do for Liverpool. They need to win – and their players need to have a ‘win at all costs’ mentality.
Liverpool need to win – and their players need to have a ‘win at all costs’ mentality
Man City did not slip up back in 2019 and Liverpool can’t rely on them to this time round
Relying on City to drop points – especially when Liverpool have arguably the tougher run-in – is a position no Liverpool supporter wants to be in again.
With this in mind – and Liverpool will no doubt have the three points right at the forefront of their thinking – it should make for a frenetic clash on Sunday.
We won’t be able to keep our eyes off it.
JURGEN KLOPP’S RECORD AT THE ETIHAD STADIUM
Draw: November 2020 – Man City 1-1 Liverpool
Loss: June 2020 – Man City 4-0 Liverpool
Loss: January 2019 – Man City 2-1 Liverpool
Win: April 2018 – Man City 1-2 Liverpool
Loss: September 2017 – Man City 5-0 Liverpool
Draw: March 2017 – Man City 1-1 Liverpool
Win: November 2015 – Man City 1-4 Liverpool