Steven Gerrard remains the straw that stirs Liverpool's drink.
After a very fortunate result at White Hart Lane which saw Manchester City come away with one point, the Blues welcome Liverpool and new manager Roy Hodgson to City of Manchester Stadium in the second match of the 2010 EPL season. Liverpool themselves are coming off a disheartening draw to Arsenal after goalkeeper Pepe Reina scored an own goal near the end of the match.
After the jump, we'll look at keys to the game for both sides, possible starting XIs, the men in goal, and a prediction.
With the availability of both Mario Balotelli and James Milner, its hard to say how Roberto Mancini will line his men up today. That said, we can give it an educated guess based upon Milner's capabilities and the lineup from last Saturday. These are, of course, subject to change:
Between a man of the match performance against Spurs last week (11 saves) and the subsequent start in the Europa League, Mancini has placed his trust in 23 year old Joe Hart. He'll need to be at his best today against a lineup which features the likes of Steven Gerrard and Dirk Kuyt.
Keys To the Match
- Provide the ball to Carlos Tevez closer to goal. It may seem obvious, but against Spurs, Carlos had to pick up the ball much too deep which prohibited him from making any impact at all once he receieved it. Much of this burden will fall to David Silva and presumably Milner.
- Protect Joe Hart. You're not going to get an otherworldy performance from him each week, so the fewer shots he faces the better. Kolo Toure and Vincent Kompany especially would do well to improve their clearance in the box.
- Finally, with the injuries to Aleksandar Kolarov and Jerome Boateng, a big burden falls on the much-maligned Micah Richard, should he play. He'll need to find a balance between contributing to the attack and not getting burned as badly as he was by Gareth Bale.
There are lingering questions regarding Fernando Torres' fitness, but with him playing over 15 minutes last Sunday against the Gunners and having over a week to heal, I imagine Hodgson would like his most potent attacker in the side against a club of City's capability. If 'El Nino' can't go, expect David Ngog to replace him. Joe Cole is out due to a 3 game suspension, so either Ryan Babel or Maxi Rodriguez could slide into his spot behind the lone striker.
While there's little doubt that Pepe Reina is a world class 'keeper (indeed, he was selected to represent Spain at the World Cup), he'll come into today's game with something to prove after his egregious error in attempting to get hold of Marouane Chamakh's shot. Look for a rebound performance from Reina that will test City's mettle.
Keys To the Match
- Without Joe Cole, the Reds too may find themselves having trouble getting the ball close to goal. With that in mind, Javier Mascherano will have to do a better job than usual in his holding position to allow Steven Gerrard to make his trademark runs into the box.
- If indeed Daniel Agger is out with a concussion, then Liverpool will be faced with acclimating a different fullback to face the attacks of David Silva, which means Martin Skrtel will need to be at the ready for some increased duties.
- Lastly, Manchester City seemed especially vulnerable against Spurs to rampaging runs down the flanks. It'll fall to Milan Jovanovic and Dirk Kuyt to exploit the weaknesses at fullback that are Richards and Pablo Zabaleta.
Although the signings of Milner and Balotelli could prove extremely beneficial in the long term, the short term will see a City squad that continues struggling to gel. Most of the players in the side have not been together long, and with that comes an inability to mount sustained attacks. I expect Mancini to loosen the reins a little bit, being at home, but ultimately play the game safe once again. We may have another entertaining game, but I anticipate a 1-1 draw.