Preview: Manchester City vs. Liverpool

The standout Premier League fixture of gameweek eight sees Manchester City welcome champions Liverpool to the Etihad Stadium in a battle between the top two from the past two seasons.

Man City go into this showdown sitting 10th whereas Liverpool have reassumed their position at the top of the table, but only five points separate the two sides and Man City also boast a game in hand, so victory on Sunday would see them move within striking distance of their title rivals.

The unpredictable nature of the 2020-21 season so far means that this is not quite the top-two battle we have become accustomed to seeing between these two sides in recent years, but they remain the favourites for the Premier League title and, even at this stage of the campaign, Sunday's match could prove to be important in the race.

Victory for Liverpool would take them eight points clear of the team they usurped as champions last season - a significant gap to make up on a team as consistent as the Reds even with a large portion of the campaign still to play.

By contrast, a home win would make it advantage Man City; they would move to within two points of Jurgen Klopp's side with a game in hand - not bad considering they have suffered such an uncharacteristically inconsistent start to the season.

Dropped points at Leeds United and West Ham United, as well as their chastening 5-2 home defeat to Leicester City, stand out as poor results, but Liverpool have not been immune to such setbacks either - notably their 7-2 defeat to Aston Villa.

Both teams do seem to be hitting their strides now, though, and those improvements have both stemmed from tightening things up at the back - for Man City that followed the arrival of Ruben Dias, and oddly enough for Liverpool it has followed the loss of Virgil van Dijk.

Man City are unbeaten in eight games across all competitions and have won their last three without conceding, most recently cruising past Olympiacos in the Champions League on Tuesday night.

It is the first time since September of last year that Man City have kept three consecutive clean sheets, while since their 5-2 defeat to Leicester they have only conceded three times in their eight outings.

The flip side of that appears to have been less attacking threat; Man City have only scored nine times in their six league games so far this season, which is their lowest goals-per-game ratio in a campaign since their takeover in 2008.

Indeed, the Citizens have scored exactly once in each of their last four Premier League matches - they last went five consecutive games without netting more than once back in March 2009.

That will come as welcome news to a Liverpool side that has shipped 15 goals already this term - as many as they conceded in their first 26 league games last season and the most they have conceded at this stage of a campaign since 1964-65.

Pep Guardiola will point to the fact that he has been without a recognised centre-forward for much of the season so far and, while Sergio Aguero remains absent for this match, Gabriel Jesus is now back and made an immediate return to the scoresheet off the bench in midweek.

Surprisingly for a team of their quality, Man City are yet to win back-to-back league games this season, but they could achieve that this weekend following their 1-0 win at Sheffield United last Saturday.

Tests do not come much bigger than Liverpool right now, of course, but Man City have an incredible record against reigning champions, winning nine of their last 10 Premier League meetings with the title holders. That said, they have not won any of the last 11 matches in which they have met Liverpool as the champions.

Klopp once again labelled a trip to the Etihad Stadium as one of the biggest tests in football during his pre-match press conference and, while Leicester humiliated Sunday's hosts there in September, that is Man City's only home defeat since December 7, during which time they have won 11 games and scored 38 goals.

Liverpool were on the end of four of those on their last visit, although that did come just days after being crowned champions for the first time in 30 years and the visitors will be expected to put up a much sterner fight this time around.

Concerns over how the Reds would cope without Van Dijk have been eased by a run of five successive wins across all competitions, including back-to-back come-from-behind triumphs over Sheffield United and West Ham United in the league.

Liverpool have now won a league-high 28 points from losing positions since the start of last season and could win three consecutive Premier League games after conceding the opening goal for the first time ever on Sunday.

Of course, Klopp would much rather his side get their noses in front first and keep it that way, but he will also be aware that his patched-up defence, which has seen Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams utilised at centre-back since Fabinho joined Van Dijk on the injured list, will rarely come up against a bigger test than Man City away.

A significant test was also expected against free-scoring Atalanta BC in midweek too, but the Reds made it three wins and three clean sheets from three Champions League games courtesy of an eyebrow-raising 5-0 win in Bergamo.

Diogo Jota was the star of that show with a hat-trick, while Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah also looked very sharp, but it was another clean sheet with Rhys Williams at the back which may have pleased Klopp the most.

It is fair to say that Liverpool's Premier League form has been slightly less convincing than their European form so far, despite the champions rising back up to the top of the table with those successive home wins against Sheffield United and West Ham.

Liverpool have only kept one clean sheet in their last 12 top-flight games and have conceded 27 times in 14 outings since clinching the title, and they may not be too confident of improving that record in back-to-back games against Man City and Leicester City either side of the international break.

A trip to the Etihad is also likely to provide a fierce examination of their away form, which has seen them win just three and lose four of their last nine league games on the road.

The Reds may well have been knocked off top spot by the time they kick off on Sunday, with Leicester, Tottenham Hotspur and Everton among a clutch of teams who are in action before them and could leapfrog the champions in the table.

However, both Guardiola and Klopp will know that it is the team that finishes top after 38 games that matters, and Sunday's match could well be our biggest clue yet as to who that will be.

Manchester City Premier League form: WLDWDW
Manchester City form (all competitions): WWDWWW

Liverpool Premier League form: WWLDWW
Liverpool form (all competitions): DWWWWW

Team News

Man City will once again be without club-record scorer Sergio Aguero, who is not expected back from his hamstring injury until after the international break.

Jesus is in contention to start after his goalscoring return off the bench in midweek, though, and that could see him displace Ferran Torres in the side despite the summer signing's impressive performances of late.

Fernandinho and Benjamin Mendy also remain sidelined for the hosts, but Guardiola was able to rest a number of players who are expected to come back into the starting XI for this one in midweek.

Rodri, Aymeric Laporte and Dias are among those likely to return, while Joao Cancelo's goal off the bench could be enough to earn him a start at left-back in the absence of Mendy.

Liverpool, meanwhile, will again be without Thiago Alcantara as he misses a sixth straight match as a result of the knee injury he sustained in the Merseyside derby.

Van Dijk, Fabinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also remain sidelined, but Klopp brushed off minor concerns over the fitness of Jota following a knock in midweek.

The summer signing from Wolves has been knocking on the door for a more regular start, and his Champions League hat-trick has taken him to six goals in his last four games for the club.

That form could make him undroppable for this match, leaving Klopp with a decision to make about whether he keeps Roberto Firmino out of the team or switches to a 4-2-3-1 formation.

Joel Matip is ready to return at the back and should come straight into the team alongside Joe Gomez, although Phillips and Rhys Williams have done their chances of further first-team football this season no harm at all in recent matches.

Manchester City possible starting lineup:
Ederson; Walker, Dias, Laporte, Cancelo; De Bruyne, Rodri, Gundogan; Mahrez, Jesus, Sterling

Liverpool possible starting lineup:
Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Gomez, Robertson; Henderson, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mane; Jota

Head To Head

Manchester City have won three of the last four meetings between these two sides in all competitions, including a 4-0 victory in Liverpool's first match after winning the Premier League title last season.

Indeed, that triumph means that City have won their last three home league games against the Reds by an aggregate scoreline of 11-1, and another win on Sunday would see them come out on top in four such games in a row for the first time since March 1937.

Liverpool have only won one of their last 11 league visits to the Etihad Stadium and have not kept a clean sheet in any of their last 10, shipping 26 goals in that time.

However, Klopp does boast an impressive record against Guardiola, having beaten the Man City boss eight times in his career - more than any other manager.

Source: SportsMole / Barney Corkhill

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