It may be just the second week of the Premier League season, but Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini has no qualms about describing his side’s clash with Liverpool on Monday as a six-pointer. The visitors to the Etihad were beaten to the Premier League title by their hosts by just two points last season and Pellegrini believes that Liverpool will again be major challengers, despite the loss of Luis Suárez.
“I always say to the players these games are games of six points -- especially when you play at home against one of the most important squads in the Premier League in Liverpool,” he said, according to Manchester City’s official website.
“I watched their game against Southampton and we played against them in the United States. We know what they are doing. It is difficult to say after one game but Liverpool will always miss Suárez because he is a very important player, though they have brought in a lot of important players. They will continue to be a very strong squad.”
City began their title defense with a solid 2-0 win at Newcastle United, after goals from David Silva and substitute Sergio Agüero. Following his exertions at the World Cup, Pellegrini confirmed that the Argentinian is still yet to get up to full fitness, though he is again available on Monday. Also available are summer arrivals Bacary Sagna and Frank Lampard, both of whom could make their debuts although are likely to have to settle for a place on the bench, especially with Pablo Zabaleta and Fernandinho also in contention. It remains too early for Eliaquim Mangala to make his bow in a City shirt, however. The French center-back, the club’s biggest signing this summer, remains short of fitness.
While Álvaro Negredo is also out, Manchester City’s forward options remain eye-catching. Following the loss of Suarez, the same cannot be said of Liverpool, who have just low-key new arrival Rickie Lambert as an alternative to Daniel Sturridge. Manager Brendan Rodgers looks set to address that deficiency by signing another former City striker in Mario Balotelli. While the Italy international is expected to complete his signing from Milan any time now, he won’t be able to take the field against the club he departed just 19 months ago.
There could still be at least two Liverpool debutantes on show at the Etihad, however, after Rodgers confirmed that Serbian attacking midfielder Lazar Marković and Spanish left-back Alberto Moreno will come into the squad for the first time. It has been a busy summer in the transfer market for the Merseysiders as they have tried to not only fill the void left by Suárez but build a squad able to compete in both the Champions League and Premier League. Two more signings, Dejan Lovren and Javier Manquillo made their debuts in a 2-1 win over Southampton last week. Despite having players still adjusting to their new surroundings and getting up to peak fitness, Rodgers has also talked up the significance of the contest.
“Of course, we will perform better and the fluidity will get better as the season goes on,” he explained, reports Liverpool’s official website. “You have to understand a lot of players are coming back late. “But whatever time [in the season] this game comes, it's always very important - and for us, so early on, it's even more significant. We know it's going to be a tough game -- they've been really tough games with Manchester City - and we'll go there and play how we've played before, with no fear and going to look to attack the game.”
Both the sides’ meetings last season produced plenty of entertainment. After a 2-1 win for City at the Etihad in December, Liverpool dramatically triumphed in April thanks to Philippe Coutinho’s late winner. Even in a friendly in the United States this summer, the teams’ shared four goals.
Prediction: While neither team won emphatically, Manchester City were more impressive on the opening weekend of the season. And, with Edin Džeko and Stevan Jovetić forming an impressive partnership and Agüero also in contention, City certainly look more dangerous going forward at this point. Pellegrini was keen to stick to two forwards throughout almost the entirety of the last campaign and is likely to do the same here, meaning there will be much responsibility on the shoulders of new signing Fernando to marshal Liverpool’s array of offensive-minded midfielders. He should be up to the task and City could, like last season, edge a narrow win.
Manchester City 2-1 Liverpool
Kickoff time: 3 p.m.
TV channel: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra