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Soccer matches do not come much bigger than this. No trophies will be handed out at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, but the winner of this game will be in pole position to be crowned Premier League champions.
The gap between the top two could hardly be narrower: with eight rounds of fixtures remaining, Manchester City have accumulated one more point but Liverpool have a superior goal difference.
Pep Guardiola’s side will feel they have thrown away a position of great strength. City were nine points clear at the turn of the year, but their failure to beat Southampton, Tottenham Hotspur and Crystal Palace has allowed Liverpool to reopen the race.
In fairness to the champions, they have won 17 of their last 20 Premier League matches. It is to their challengers’ credit that such an excellent record has still not been enough to be sitting comfortably in first place.
City will certainly not be panicking, though. They have won the Premier League title in three of the last four seasons, and this pivotal game will take place at the Etihad – a ground on which they have not lost a league game to Liverpool during Guardiola’s tenure. Moreover, their remaining fixtures – on paper at least – look kinder than Liverpool’s: the only other top-half teams City are due to face are Wolverhampton Wanderers and West Ham United.
Guardiola’s side warmed up for Sunday’s clash with a 1-0 victory over Atletico Madrid in the Champions League, before which they eased past Burnley in a 2-0 win. City are not conceding many goals at the moment, which should stand them in good stead on Sunday and beyond.
City dropping points in those three aforementioned matches allowed Liverpool to close the gap, but it was by no means inevitable that they would take full advantage of the opportunity.
The Reds have been magnificent in the last two and a half months, winning 10 games on the bounce to claw their way back into the battle. They have conceded only two goals in this period, which began with a 3-0 triumph over Brentford in the middle of January.
Liverpool have not always played well in this winning run. They were fortunate to beat Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park and were second best for large periods of last month’s clash with Arsenal. Even in last weekend’s defeat of relegation-threatened Watford, Klopp’s side took a while to get going as the visitors to Anfield created several opportunities to score in the first half.
But Liverpool have continually found a way to win. The ability to triumph even when you are not playing well has long been hailed as the mark of champions. Klopp will certainly want his team to raise their game for the run-in, but Liverpool have shown they can win with dominant soccer or they can win ugly.
There is an argument that the best squad in the Premier League now belongs to the Reds: Whereas City regularly field youngsters on their bench, Liverpool’s matchday squad tends to be full of proven talent. The attacking riches at Klopp’s disposal are remarkable: any three of Sadio Mane, Diogo Jota, Roberto Firmino, Luis Diaz and Mohamed Salah could start Sunday’s game.
After nine months and 30 games, there is only one point between Manchester City and Liverpool. When they do battle at the Etihad on Sunday, there is a good chance there will be nothing separating the two teams either: a draw is the way to go in this one.
Those favoring a Manchester City win will point to the fact Guardiola’s side have home advantage. City tend to turn up at the big games in front of their own fans. The atmosphere at the Etihad will be electric and the home team can use that to their advantage, particularly in the early stages.
Liverpool are undoubtedly the form team, however. They have demonstrated an ability to ride out periods of pressure, most notably in the first half against Arsenal in March. And their speed on the counter-attack and array of attacking options could cause problems for a City backline that will be missing its main man in Ruben Dias.
With all due respect to Bundesliga champions-elect Bayern Munich, these two teams are the best in Europe right now. If you can make time to watch this match on Sunday, you are unlikely to be disappointed.
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|Manchester City vs Liverpool Information|
|Teams||Manchester City vs Liverpool|
|Location||Etihad Stadium, Manchester, England|
|Time||Sunday, 10 April 2022, 11.30 AM EDT|
|How to watch||USA Network|
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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