High noon at the Etihad


De Bruyne has been in fine form since returning from injury.

MANCHESTER City’s Premiership clash with Liverpool at the Etihad this weekend is the biggest game in the early stages of this season and it is one that both sides will go to great lengths to avoid defeat.

Depending on how things unfold tomorrow, both Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp, at the end of the day, might consider a draw a decent result and look forward to their next fixture.

But we can, to some extent, expect a fierce onslaught upfront from both quarters as they endeavour to carve out a victory.

Champions Liverpool are three points clear at the top of the standings, and despite being 10th at the moment, Man City can climb to within a mere two points of the Reds with a win — and with a game in hand.

And therein lies the needle. A win for Liverpool will push them eight points in front of the greatest threat to their title.

Man City’s lowly placement on the log is a little misleading and one shouldn’t write too much about where they are right now.

However, if they lose for the first time in nine matches across all competitions, there could be some justification for concern on their part.

What really whets the appetite for tomorrow’s showdown, though, is the quality of both squads. In particular, are the ruthless attacking styles employed and the personnel entrusted to create as much devastation as possible on the opposition’s goal.

City and Liverpool are British football’s two leading teams over the last four or so seasons (in the case of Citizens, that’s a bit more), and indeed they are among the best in Europe.

So this coming together has all the ingredients of a stirring and fiery encounter that should feature a few goals, but perhaps have only one (goal) separating the two sides.

Both were in imperious Champions League form in midweek, highlighted by polished performances in which neither conceded a goal. Liverpool hammered home five against Atalanta in Italy and City carved out a 3-0 Etihad triumph over Greek champions Olympiakos.

Impressive new signing Ferran Torres, who has filled in for the injured Sergio Aguero down the middle of their attack, and Gabriel Jesus, who is just returning from injury himself, starred for City in that home win.

Now they will be expected to pick up from where they left off and along with Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling, who again comes up against his former club, should lead the charge tomorrow.

City’s form is beginning to look a lot like when they won the league title two seasons in a row, before Liverpool came along and snatched it last term. That sort of form is bad news for everyone, Liverpool included, and they know it.

But Klopp and his gallant squad are unlikely to be fazed by this. They believe in themselves enough to have won the title in record fashion and swept aside Europe en route to the Champions League crown 12 months prior.

That they managed to win all five games since Virgil van Dijk’s long-term injury and do so while conceding only two goals, has been impressive.

In that period, Liverpool have had Diogo Jota come in to his own, following his move from Wolves in the off-season. He has made such an impact that there is now serious discussions whether Roberto Firmino will warm the bench a lot more this season. Jota’s hat-trick in midweek took his goal tally to seven from five matches.

Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips have stood in for van Dijk in the centre of defence after Fabinho tore a hamstring, and performed with distinction.

One cannot be sure who will start next to Joe Gomez tomorrow, but some back Phillips, who debuted in the league last weekend, while Williams featured in midweek against Atalanta.

All the same, there will also be much attention paid to the forays of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.

These two Liverpool wingers should add a massive injection of speed, artistry and intrigue to a match that will enjoy a global audience of no small measure — a match that neither team will want to lose, no matter what.

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