Thrilling top-of-the-table clash

Argentine forward Julian Alvarez returns from international duty to face Liverpool today. — AFP

Liverpool’s face-off with Man City at Etihad may see a case of ‘who blinks first’

PREMIER League leaders and champions Manchester City host second-placed Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium this weekend in a scintillating top-of-the-table clash.

Man City, the perennial favourites to lift the league trophy, will maintain their stranglehold on the top spot if they overcome the Reds.

City boss Pep Guardiola, however, has some injury concerns with his squad, with several first team players seemingly in a race against time to be fit for the showdown.

Current league top scorer Erling Braut Haaland, who has 13 goals to his name, went down clutching his ankle during the match against Faroe Island while with Norway last week and was left out of the team that played Scotland last Sunday.

Norway manager Stale Solbakken had indicated that Haaland’s injury was not serious while the Norwegian hotshot himself had also noted that he would try to recover as soon as he could and is expected to be fit to face the Reds.

Ederson, who also suffered a foot injury during the 4-4 draw with Chelsea before the international break, will most likely be fit.

Rodri, who was left out of the Spain national team to face Cyprus in the UEFA Euro qualifiers match last week due to an apparent injury, played in the 3-1 win over Georgia over the weekend and should be in the starting line-up against Liverpool.

Others reported to be injured included Matheus Nunes, Mateo Kovacic, Nathan Ake, Sergio Gomez, Kevin de Bruyne and John Stones.

Apart from Stones and de Bruyne being on the sideline for a period of time, the others will be monitored closely by the club’s medical team to determine whether they can play a part this weekend.

Even without his injured stars, Guardiola could still select a top quality side to face the Merseyside club.

Kyle Walker, Ruben Dias, Josko Gvardiol, Manuel Akanji, Kalvin Phillips, Bernardo Silva, Phil Foden, Julian Alvarez and Jack Grealish are all fit and available.

Another player available is summer signing Jeremy Doku, who has lit up the league with his pace and trickery and already got two goals and five assists to his name.

The 21-year-old Belgian’s most significant contribution for the Sky Blues was in the 6-1 win over Bournemouth, in which he scored one and made four assists, and will be the one player earmarked as one of the main threats to Liverpool.

As for Liverpool, Ryan Gravenberch, Curtis Jones, Joe Gomez and Ibrahima Konate will have to pass late fitness tests or miss out on the trip to Manchester with their injuries.

Andrew Robertson, Thiago Alcantara and Stefan Bajcetic will definitely not be involved.

If Gomez and Konate are out, Juergen Klopp would have no choice but to select Joel Matip to start alongside Virgil van Dijk in the heart of defence, flanked by Trent Alexander-Arnold and Kostas Tsimikas.

In midfield, Klopp may have to take a risk and play his South American stars, who returned late from their involvement in World Cup qualifiers and international matches.

Alexis Mac Allister could be sent straight into the line-up, alongside Dominik Szoboszlai and possibly Cody Gakpo or Harvey Elliot.

Darwin Nunez, who netted twice against Bolivia in midweek, could also start, alongside Mohamed Salah and either Diogo Jota or Luis Diaz.

Manchester City are unbeaten in seven home Premier League matches against Liverpool.

They won four and drew the other three. The last meeting between the clubs at the Etihad ended in a 4-1 thrashing for the Reds.

Liverpool also do not have a good record at the Etihad, winning only once in all competitions since 2018, with the last league victory going back to 2015.

As evidenced against Chelsea, City’s defence is not flawless and Liverpool’s attacking threat is capable of causing damage.

And with most of the players from both teams having just returned to their respective clubs following the international break, there could be the odd slip-up, lethargic display or loss of focus, leading to mistakes and goal-scoring chances. It could be a case of who blinks first.

A win over Man City will do the Reds much wonder while a draw may not necessarily be a bad result.

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