Premier League Preview: Man City v Liverpool
After the chastening defeat against Monaco which saw City out of the Champions League and Pep Guardiola fail to qualify for the quarter finals for the first time in his managerial career, City's players now face a testing three game sequence in the Premier League starting with Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool. The squad need to pick themselves up, dust themselves down and ensure that they can relocate their self-belief to ensure that they are competing at the top table of European football next season.
I hope that Pep has a thick skin or at least stays away from the papers for the next few days as the journos gorge themselves silly on the kind of cathartic feeding frenzy they have been waiting for all season. After having to shelve the 'we told you he wasn't that good' articles following City's blistering start to the season, they began to sharpen their knives as City hit a wobbly patch in the autumn but once again had to save their venom as City's form picked up post-Christmas.
The defeat to Monaco was only the second time that City have lost a game since the turn of the year. P15 W10 D3 L2 GF35 GA15 stands the record in all competitions. Prior to Wednesday unbeaten in 11 matches. Not bad really. Kept the wolves at bay for while...
However the failure to qualify for the last eight of the Champions League, whilst discouraging and certainly worthy of some criticism, has seen the hacks get out their chainsaws and pretty much eviscerate Pep Guardiola based on the back page headlines. Wednesday evening's performance and result gave them the opportunity they have been waiting for...and so they had a field day and finally can sit back satiated, their pens drained of bitter ink, feeling better now that they have finally been able to unburden themselves of the burning vitriol they had had stored up all winter.
They are like the school bullies who finally get the chance they have been waiting for to take the 'cleverest kid in the class' round the back of the bike sheds and give him the kicking they have longed to deliver since the start of term. 'That'll teach him to try and be so clever. Who does he think he is? Coming here with his fancy ideas, all polite and nice, with his sweaters and fancy coat. Smart arse. Take that, clever clogs. Remember...no one likes the smart kid in the class'. Scoring six goals and failing to win the tie; failing to defend a two goal advantage; getting back into the game and then succumbing to a soft set piece goal - these all merit discussion, sober analysis and criticism. City should not have gone out so meekly and should have done better. But from the tone of the back pages on Thursday morning you would think Guardiola had been found guilty of some heinous, unspeakable crime against humanity. Sorry guys, that is taking place in the Sudan, Yemen and much of central Africa and whilst I don't expect the sports writers to discuss those matters on the back pages some form of perspective would be nice. But that would be in a parallel universe so I will move on...
Liverpool's visit to the Etihad on Sunday afternoon marks the first of a defining set of Premier League fixtures which includes away games against Arsenal and Chelsea in quick succession after the International break. Ten points behind the leaders Chelsea the hopes of catching them faded to something that would require an electron microscope to visualise with City's inability to secure all three points at home to Stoke. These next three league games could very well determine whether City can secure a finish in the top four and thus give Guardiola a second crack at the Champions League next season. High stakes indeed.
Jürgen Klopp's team come to Manchester having only won 4 games in all competitions since Christmas. However with three of those victories achieved in the last four matches they might be finding their form again worst luck because, as we all know, this fixture is hardly one where Manchester City have shone in recent years. Setting aside the heroics of Caballero which helped to bring home the league cup last season, City's last victory over the Scousers in the league was in in August 2014 and we have failed to find the net against them in the last two league outings.
So there could be no better time than now to change that record. Pep needs to rebuild his team's confidence and self-belief before Sunday afternoon and the arrival of a Liverpool team that will smell blood in the water. Doubtless 'Millyneymar' (copyright JB) will lead the charge as he burns around his old stomping ground fuelled by some unaccountable grudge against his former team. Fine, play your best mate, but don't do it giving the sort of manic impression that you had been served a huge wrong by City. You were the one who chose not to sign a new deal and wound down the clock on your contract. Coutinho needs watching - he always seems to find the net against us and of course there is Sadio Mané who also offers a significant threat going forward. They always seem to up their game against City - it is time we upped ours against them and delivered another blow to their ambitions for a change.
In team news Sturridge and Henderson will be absent for Liverpool whilst Firmino remains a slight doubt.
Guardiola has a fully fit squad to select from - even the perma-injury slot allocated to Vincent Kompany has been vacated on physioroom.com! Whether this means that we will see the club captain in this fixture is a mystery requiring the same crystal ball that Rising has been using to provide her uncannily accurate 'Beat The Clock' crowd predictions. Rotation at the back is likely with perhaps Zabaleta returning alongside Otamendi and I would expect to see Toure restored to midfield perhaps at the expense of Fernandinho unless the Brazilian is retained in place of De Bruyne. Aside from the keeper and the front three of Sane, Aguero and Sterling trying to divine which combination emerges from Pep's 'Tactical Sorting Hat' for the remainder of the team is one of enduring mystery for most Blues.
However there remains no mystery about what is required on Sunday afternoon - a solid performance and an emphatic victory would do much to dispel the gloom and discouragement felt amongst City fans after the failure in midweek. I would however settle for a 1-0 victory with an own goal off James Milner's backside in added time.
Game on - time for the players and coach to show what they are made of in the Premier League as we refocus on the chase for domestic success.
Come on City!!!