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RECENT history and the present day are set to collide at Anfield this Sunday as the most meaningful Premier League fixture of the season to date commences.

The present sees Manchester City head down the M62 in pristine form, having strung together 16 matches undefeated across all comps prior to this Wednesday’s hosting of Copenhagen. Against Luton in the cup last week almost everything they ventured came off, as illustrated by 15 of their 17 attempts on goal finding their target. Against Manchester United at the weekend the Blues struggled to hit the proverbial barn door but still prevailed via attrition, high quality and sheer numbers.

In one of the most one-sided derbies on record, City amassed 27 shots and had 69 touches in the opposition box. United were sure to break at some point and they duly did.

In both games – and this hasn’t always been the case across this run they’re on – their build-up play was clever and incisive and what particularly impressed was the variation of their play. Over-loads were sought. Balls were played to feet inside the penalty area. Shots were undertaken from range.

That latter approach is interesting because it was never really a practice associated with them, but this season it is. No team has scored more goals (10) from outside the box.

Which brings us to Phil Foden, a player who waged at times a one-man war against United last Sunday, racking up nine shots, four on target, two resulting in goals.

In the form of his young life, the City midfielder is habitually taking games by the scruff of the neck and perhaps it’s pertinent that he has done precisely this before at Anfield, when the visitors won 4-1 in 2021.

Only Erling Haaland and Ollie Watkins have scored more non-penalty goals in the top-flight this term.

‘The Sniper’ Foden is well-priced at 47/20 to score anytime at Anfield

Then of course there is Haaland himself, supposedly experiencing a dip on last year’s phenomenal output yet still boasting a goal every 102 minutes.

And lastly, it would be entirely remiss to overlook Kevin De Bruyne, the conductor of Guardiola’s symphonies. Back to his brilliant best, in the league he has assisted the same number as his opposing number Alexis Mac Allister in 2023/24 despite the Belgian’s season not starting until mid-January. Across all competitions he has assisted every 57 minutes.

It’s a bold claim but here it is, nonetheless. If these three players all bring their A-game to Merseyside then City will comfortably win.

That is not to talk down the league leaders. Indeed, to do that would be madness.

If the mark of a great team is how they deal with adversity then this current bunch can look their 2018-2020 vintage square in the face after the manner in which they have overcome a horrendous injury crisis of late.

After flying through this season, averaging 2.3 goals per 90 from August to mid-February and all while losing just twice – both times in North London – many believed Liverpool would hit a speedbump when their absences grew and grew.

But to their enormous credit, by utilizing their kids and peripheral talents, a League Cup has been secured, Southampton have been navigated in the FA Cup, and Luton and Nottingham Forest have been bested in the league, the latter courtesy of a last-gasp header. Darwin Nunez’s dramatic finish incidentally was the 22nd goal contribution by a Liverpool substitute this term.

It was also the Uruguayan’s fifth match-winner and his return is a significant plus for the hosts, even if some find his numerous misses amusing. A striker who averages 2.2 shots on target per 90 is always going to be a threat no matter how often other attempts go astray.

Back Nunez to have over 1.5 shots on target at 19/10

Moreover, Dominik Szobozslai and Mo Salah are back in contention, the former’s intelligent scheming much missed from Liverpool’s midfield. As for Salah, it is debatable how match-sharp he will be but the potential rewards still heavily outweigh the risks. No player has created more big chances this season while the Egyptian has previously contributed 17 goal involvements in 20 versus City.

Regarding any negatives that are undermining Jurgen Klopp’s men – aside from still being deprived of some key personnel – offering up 16 big chances in their last five league outings suggests they are being charitable at the back. And semi-connected to this, the Reds have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last five league games at Anfield.  

For City, their main worry focuses on a bizarre propensity to concede from the first shot on target that they face, doing so on 14 occasions in 2023/24 across all comps.

This odd Achilles Heel has contributed to them going behind 12 times in the Premier League. Only once has that happened more in the Pep Guardiola era.

It will also perturb the visitors that Liverpool have scored six times this season on the counter.

Half time Liverpool, BTTS and over 1.5 goals in the second half offers up a tempting 23/5

So that’s the present day covered. What about the recent history mentioned above?

Well that eludes to this fixture being unique and distinct from any other, even the corresponding clash held at the Etihad each season. There City typically hold all the aces, unbeaten in seven.

At Anfield however, the Blues compromise on their ideals, ever-fearful of enduring a multi-goal blitzkrieg in a short period of time as they have suffered before three-fold in recent seasons.

In this regard, their 4-1 victory in 2021 was an anomaly and not just in scoreline. It also happened to be the only fixture between these sides played there in front of no supporters. 

“The motto ‘This is Anfield’ is no marketing spin,” Guardiola said in 2019. “There’s something about it that you will find in no other stadium in the world. They score a goal and over the next five minutes you feel that you’ll receive another four. You feel small and the rival players seem to be all over.”

City have been rattled at Anfield before. They have doubted themselves there before. They have even gone too far the other way and refused to compromise when hoofing it clear and regrouping was the wisest course of action.

If the visitors hold their nerve this Sunday, amidst all the noise and emotion and a team playing on fast-forward because of it, they should be fancied to win, changing the narrative at the top of the table completely.

If they don’t, it might be a very different story.

Guardiola knows that control – in every sense – is key against Liverpool and this is reflected in their discipline. The Blues have picked up just 1.4 yellows per 90 in their last 10 encounters compared to 2.3 for Klopp’s men. Back Liverpool most cards at 5/4

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