Manchester City and Liverpool will both have an eye on boosting their top-four chances when they meet at the Etihad Stadium this weekend (4.30pm Sunday, live on Sky Sports 1).
Pep Guardiola’s side were held to a surprise goalless draw by Stoke City in their last Premier League encounter, before booking their place in the last four of the FA Cup with a 2-0 success against Middlesbrough on Saturday afternoon.
Man City’s slim title hopes evaporated with that stalemate against Mark Hughes’ men, but there is still plenty to play for in the final two and a half months of the campaign. As well as being one of four teams still standing in this season’s FA Cup, they have a fight on their hands to quality for next year’s edition of Europe’s principal continental club competition. There has been a marked improvement in the team’s performances since the nadir that was a crushing 4-0 loss to Everton in the middle of January. Since then the Citizens have gone nine domestic games undefeated and taken 14 points from a possible 18 in the top flight.
Liverpool have struggled against bottom-half opponents this term, but they managed to squeeze past Burnley and record a much-needed 2-1 victory last time out. It was not a completely convincing performance from the Reds, who were extremely poor in the first half and a little fortunate after the interval, but it was vital that they found a way to win and move five points clear of Arsenal in fifth spot.
Arsene Wenger’s charges have fulfilled two fewer fixtures than Liverpool, though, so there is still everything to play for in the fight for the top four. Jurgen Klopp will be hoping that his outfit’s excellent record against the teams around them continues at the Etihad Stadium this weekend. The Merseysiders remain unbeaten against City (one win), Arsenal (two wins), Tottenham (one win, one draw), Manchester United (two draws) and Chelsea (one win, one draw) in 2016/17.
Guardiola will again be without Gabriel Jesus (foot) and Ilkay Gundogan (knee), both of whom are unlikely to play again this season, but Vincent Kompany could be included in the matchday squad after recovering from a muscular problem. Sergio Aguero will lead the line in Jesus’ absence, with Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling providing support from the wings and Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva offering creativity from midfield.
Liverpool, meanwhile, will be missing Daniel Sturridge (hip), Jordan Henderson (foot) and Danny Ings (knee), but Roberto Firmino should return after suffering a groin strain prior to the 2-1 win against Burnley. Sadio Mane (pictured) and Philippe Coutinho will play either side of Firmino in a fluid and interchangeable front three, with Emre Can anchoring the midfield next to Gigi Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana. At the back, Dejan Lovren could partner Joel Matip after returning to full fitness in the last week or so.
Sunday’s encounter at the Etihad has the potential to be one of the games of the season, with both Man City and Liverpool far stronger going forward than they are in defence. This will therefore probably be an open and high-scoring affair that could go either way. However thinking about this preview’s betting tips, the tempting odds with the main bookmakers available means it is probably more worthwhile backing an away win.
Liverpool’s counter-pressing strategy, which sees them attempt to regain possession as soon as it is lost and go straight for the throat once the ball has been won back, has continually proven much more effective against the bigger sides, who tend to defend with a high line and play out from the back. So Liverpool’s quick counter-attacks could swing the balance in their favour, with Mane’s searing pace making him a likely anytime goalscorer. Our preview’s tips, with best available betting odds, are: