It’s make or break for Liverpool

Jota (right) could prove invaluable at City. — AP

WITH only 12 league games to decide whether or not they can still qualify for next season’s Champions League, Liverpool will have to treat each match as a final, starting now.

Having unceremoniously lost a league game to Bournemouth 1-0 before being booted out of the Champions League by Real Madrid last month, just prior to the international break, the Reds will need to play way better than they have mostly throughout the season.

The next few matches will be crucial, starting with Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium before they travel to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea and host Arsenal at Anfield – all within nine days.

These three matches will be a precursor as to whether Liverpool can climb into the top four.

Liverpool need to start showing up, with everyone from the starting line-up to the bench being counted on and not just being present as a player.

With just seven points separating the Reds and fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur, anything is still possible.

Against Manchester City, Jurgen Klopp will need to ensure his team gives the other side a proper fight.

Both sides have always been neck and neck with one another in the last few years.

In the 13 league games between Klopp’s Liverpool and Pep Guardiola’s City since 2016, they have each won four times.

And just earlier this season, Liverpool edged City in a hard-fought 1-0 win.

Liverpool have always been pumped up when facing City as if they are the only team to beat, and it will not be a surprise if the Reds do come away with three points.

Fortunately for Klopp, he will have just about a full squad to choose from.

Only Thiago Alcantara, Calvin Ramsay and this season’s breakout star Stefan Bajcetic are unavailable due to injuries.

Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and Harvey Elliot will most likely start in midfield.

Naby Keita and Curtis Jones, who both featured and shone for their respective countries during the international break, could also appear in cameo roles.

The back four will largely be unchanged, with Virgil van Dijk partnering Ibrahima Konate in central defence and Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson manning the flanks.

Having returned from an injury suffered before the start of the season, Diogo Jota is still finding his feet and could be on the bench.

Luis Diaz, who is also returning to fitness and is back in full team training, will most likely not start against Man City as it may be too soon for him.

The Colombian could still be selected from the bench but has not played competitively for the Reds since last October.

Mohamed Salah, who scored two goals in back-to-back Africa Cup of Nations group stage matches against Malawi, will surely start.

Darwin Nunez, who suffered a cut to his ankle and withdrew from the Uruguay national team, is reportedly back in contention to start alongside the Egyptian.

Cody Gakpo, who fell ill while with the Netherlands national team, seems to have recovered, having played for 45 minutes against Gibraltar in their UEFA Euro qualifier, and should also be in contention to start.

However, Man City will still be the punters’ favourites against an unpredictable Liverpool side.

Kevin de Bruyne, who bagged two assists and a goal against Germany during a friendly in midweek, will again be the player Liverpool should be aware of.

The Belgian does like to pop out of nowhere to score some worldies and weigh in with some defence-splitting passes.

Guardiola will, however, be sweating on the league’s top scorer Erling Haaland’s fitness.

The Norwegian hotshot, who picked up a groin injury last week, is said to be doubtful and is currently undergoing rehabilitation.

There is a chance that the 22-year-old could be fit in time to feature against the Reds, with the club seemingly encouraged that the injury was not a serious one.

Phil Foden is out after an operation for appendicitis last week.

Even if Guardiola were to lose both players, the Spaniard could still call upon Julian Alvarez to play up top while being supported by Riyad Mahrez, Jack Grealish and Bernardo Silva.

In midfield, Rodri and Ilkay Gundogan would be the two players expected to start, while the back four should be Nathan Ake, Ruben Dias, Manuel Akanji and Kyle Walker.

With home advantage, City will no doubt want to go all out on offence to claim all three points.

They have not given up on catching league leaders Arsenal, with only eight points separating them, and City still have a game in hand. With so much at stake, it is a match both teams cannot afford to lose.

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